Has Paradise been regained on the snowy slopes of Jammu and Kashmir? And in its markets and valleys? Is everything bright once more this Monday 5th day of August in the year 2019? Will tourists and pilgrims flock into the union territories henceforth without the shadow of a gun? Will the economy of the region grow unfettered at last? Has Modi 2.0 delivered on one of the longest standing promises of the BJP within its traditionally Teflon first 100 days?
The triumvirate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval solving the problems associated with the vexed quango status of Jammu and Kashmir is a momentous event on par with the coming down of the Berlin Wall within the annals of contemporary Indian history.
The Indian economy may be bad at present, but the solving of the building of the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya after similar decades now seems within reach too. There is enormous credibility restored to the Modi government at one fell swoop, after acute criticism on the handling of the economy in recent times. But with this, there will be no doubting Modi’s leadership for the rest of this second term. The economy, one feels sure, will also be properly and effectively addressed by the Modi government.
‘Heaven on Earth’ is how Mughal Emperor Jehangir described the territory in itself for its sheer beauty, when he visited it in the 17th century. But Kashmir has been long lost in the mire for 72 unfortunate years. This situation probably began via the petulance of the last Maharaja, Hari Singh, of the erstwhile undivided kingdom. The haughty and status quo-ist attitude of Singh and his Hindu Dogra predecessors was indulged by the British Raj.
They probably wanted access to a quiet paradise that many holidayed at, recuperated in, or retired into. The touch-me-not ism of the kingdom, indirectly ruled by the British through a Resident, was encouraged. It was an India, after all, that stretched from the borders of Afghanistan to distant Burma, and included Sri Lanka and the Gulf States within its remit. And there was just one paramount power. And it flew the Union Jack.
In 1947 however, to teach a reluctant Hari Singh a lesson for his stubborn hubris, Lord Mountbatten, decided to intervene. Singh was jolted for choosing independence in a vastly changed world by the last Viceroy, and by then, the first Governor-General of India. Mountbatten allegedly encouraged his Pakistani counterpart, MA Jinnah, to quickly overrun part of Hari Singh’s territory before he had time to react with his largely decorative princely army. What Jinnah’s “irregulars” took, is what is today’s PoK, and the high reaches of Gilgit-Baltistan. This forced Singh into the hands of a waiting Nehru, like a comfortable cricket catch.
Nehru huffed his way to the United Nations, accusing Pakistan of aggression, asking for help for the restoration of PoK, but he didn’t really have his heart in it. He didn’t, it appears, particularly want PoK back as an act of tacit goodwill. Nehru, quite naive for all his intelligence, hoped that Pakistan would content itself with what it had wrested out of Kashmir. This, alas, was not to be. This more so after his daughter Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister helped to lop off East Pakistan into Bangladesh in 1971. In an attitude of revenge since then, Pakistan has been fomenting trouble via its policy of “a thousand cuts”, not only in Jammu and Kashmir but wherever it could within India.
To a certain extent, the Pakistani GHQ’s raison d’être is based on its hostility to India, which it calls an existential threat. Its terrorist-based war machine, backed by its intelligence agency ISI and regular troops, is today in trouble. Kashmir is now a Union Territory integrated into India. Fighting it becomes warring with India directly, and not aid to a so-called homegrown separatist movement. It cannot be portrayed as such.
The recent military resolve of India, enabled by the Modi-led government’s pro-active as much as reactive policy, in response to Pakistani aggression is also something that has reduced the Islamic state’s room to manoeuvre. But even in the original sin of the initial surrender, Hari Singh’s ego held out for bizarre exceptionalism, eschewed by over 500 of the other Princes. Muslim majority Hyderabad and Junagadh did try to hold out with specious arguments, before caving in and signing their Treaties of Accession tamely, and on the dotted line.
Since then, the growing mess created by Article 370, Article 35A, in Jammu and Kashmir, as it came to be known, has haunted both India and Jammu and Kashmir. It has been a long seven decades of the politics of blackmail and entitlement practised by Sheikh Abdullah, his family of successors, and other Valley politicians, mostly his relatives, aided by the mainstream Congress Party. It has kept Jammu and Kashmir a perpetually disturbed State and consumed the lives of many people and enormous resources that India could ill afford.
The legal beagles will pore over the audacious action of the Modi government and cheesepare at the provisions of the Presidential proclamation for some time to come. They will examine the gazetting of its provisions, the Home Minister’s speech in the Rajya Sabha, the bills and acts pertaining to it, the debates and arguments presented in parliament and outside it. But is there any worthwhile political will to back a challenge? From the looks of the opposition camps, it looks very tepid.
Besides the stunning fait accompli is such that it stands little or no chance of being effectively challenged, let alone over-turned by legal means.
The integration of Jammu and Kashmir into separate Union Territories — at Ladakh without legislature and in Jammu and Kashmir with a legislature — has ended the constant political friction probably once and for all. It is, however, natural for those who benefited from exploiting the earlier arrangement, to protest the sudden set of steps taken over the last few days, culminating in the decisions taken on the 5th of August. Can they upset the apple cart though? This is no more likely than the effects of Maharaja Hari Singh’s displeasure.
Will the spirit of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, martyred in the cause of Kashmir’s integration, animate future development in an integrated Jammu and Kashmir plus Ladakh? Mookerjee is a towering figure and inspiration for the present dispensation. He was also the founder of the Jan Sangh, the predecessor of the BJP, and the saviour of West Bengal from being swallowed up by Pakistan. This apart from being a leading light of the Hindu Mahasabha and a sometimes minister in the Nehru Cabinet.
Under the architects of the integration of the newly named Union Territories, mainly Modi, Amit Shah and Ajit Doval, Mookerjee’s vision of a Kashmir as a fully integrated part of India, will certainly go forward.
Can we expect bloodshed and revolt in the Kashmir Valley and parts of Jammu, and its echoes in the rest of India including New Delhi? It is most unlikely. Instead, it will expose the lack of traction of those who have long claimed that any attempt to revoke Article 370 would result in mayhem.
Congress, long a supporter of the former arrangement in Jammu and Kashmir, is caught in a cleft stick. Though it may be emotionally and materially opposed to the new development, it is, on balance, wary of being seen as its most vehement opponent. Many within it, including legal luminary Abhishek Manu Singhvi, called the Modi government’s move “politically astute” irrespective of its legal underpinnings.
What effect will it have on Pakistan and the wider world beyond it? Pakistan will be worried about Indian claims on PoK and Gilgit Baltistan intensifying now.
Others, including ally China, America, Europe, Russia, the United Nations, the Gulf and North African Arabs, Saudi Arabia, or the OIC in general, are unlikely to back any Pakistani protest.
Turkey and the Palestinian authority might, but they are in no position to make a difference. It is, quite clearly an internal matter for India despite Pakistani efforts on behalf of Pakistani separatists.
In recent days, Pakistan had attempted to revive its proximity to America, using the Afghanistan Taliban as a bargaining chip. This may suit America that is eager to leave Afghanistan to its own devices after nearly two decades of futile effort to subdue its warring factions. But, the new Pakistani tilt towards America probably does not go down well with China, invested to the tune of many billions in the CPEC.
China may well be inclined to back any renewed Indian claim on PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan over the medium term, in exchange for a softening and limited engagement on the part of India with the One Belt One Road and CPEC initiatives.
A new world of improbable opportunity may have just opened up.