Modi-Shah’s WE.DON’T.KNOW Political Gamble in Kashmir
Can Modi-Shah deliver on their promise of converting a wretched Valley into a development paradise? WE.DON’T.KNOW!
11:15 am, 5 August 2019. I stood stunned and immersed in a time-lapse video as Home Minister Amit Shah read out the Resolution abrogating Article 370 and the state of Jammu & Kashmir in the Rajya Sabha. Excited journalists scurried around, talking in high-pitched voices that had morphed into distorted, distant, hollow sounds. Everybody was speaking in black or white tones.
If you were a liberal, you castigated, by rote – “the Kashmir Valley will now become India’s Gaza.” If a conservative, you celebrated, almost crudely – “we will make the Kashmir Valley into another Switzerland.”
But I stayed quiet – consumed by a deep, viscous silence – as I tried to understand this political whiplash. I did not want to give a quick, adolescent reaction.
Three Cataclysmic Political Events From Personal Memory
So, I dug into my four decades of memory around India’s cataclysmic political events (and I use “cataclysmic” to define scale and impact, without any pejorative implication).
16 December 1971: I was 11 years old, and don’t remember exactly where I was or what I was doing. But I do recall the euphoria triggered by Gen Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi’s surrender in Dhaka, along with over 90,000 enemy soldiers. India had sliced Pakistan in two nations, liberating Bangladesh. The streets swelled with dance and joy (and yes, even laddoos). Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was riding the crest of unprecedented popularity. But hidden in the crevices was an economy ravaged by aggressive price controls, pervasive job losses, nationalisation and statism. In less than three years, Jaiprakash Narayan had smashed through Indira’s (emphasis supplied), paralysing the country. I then learnt how evanescent political euphoria can be in the face of a sinking economy.
6 June 1984: I was in my early twenties. Around mid-day, I had just finished my COBOL class in Nehru Place, New Delhi, when a huge roar went up. A jubilant middle-aged man clutched me by the shoulder, yelling “oye maar ditta Bhindranwale noo” – Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the dreaded terrorist holed up in Amritsar’s Golden Temple, had been killed in the Army’s Operation Bluestar. India erupted in an unrestrained celebration. Once again Indira Gandhi was feted and deified. But once again, the euphoria evaporated. Less than five months later, Indira was shot dead by her own security guards who refused to accept her violent (emphasis supplied). Thousands of innocent Sikhs were killed in horrendous riots across North India.
6 December 1992: I was in Mumbai (nee Bombay), holed up in my sister’s apartment in Bandra when the late afternoon bulletin on BBC World announced that “the Babri Mosque had been nearly demolished in Ayodhya.” But Indian media was eerily silent. The whole country was sprinkled with inflammable tension. Why were the security forces still in the garrison, reluctant to quell the unruly, murderous congregation? Was the state conspiring with the criminals who were tearing down India’s constitutional fabric in plain sight? But Prime Minister Narasimha Rao had locked himself up in the puja (prayer) room. He was unreachable, indecisive; eventually, his (emphasis supplied) got questioned. Perhaps Rao hoped the Congress would win over the Hindu majority’s votes; instead, it lost the trust of the Muslims, wiped out from Uttar Pradesh.
I have deliberately chosen these three cataclysmic political events (and ignored other prospects, for example, the Emergency of 1975 or the nuclear tests/weaponisation of May 1998) because they hold tangential insights into how the J&K situation could play out for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
Mandate, Method & Morality of Invoking Article 370 to Kill Article 370
I totally disagree with people who censure Modi and Shah for political treachery. Let it be said loud and clear. The Bharatiya Janata Party has consistently asserted, in one manifesto after another, over decades, that they would abolish Article 370 whenever they had the mandate. And since their overwhelming majority in May 2019 was democratically won, they had the to create this new law. Period.
But yes, we can and should argue with the employed by them. On the face of it, their manoeuvre seems quasi-constitutional (since I am not a learned judge, I would hesitate to call it outright unconstitutional). To first dissolve the J&K Assembly, vest all powers in an appointed Governor, and use that manufactured/arrogated authority to justify the legality of your own action – prima facie, the Modi-Shah government has acted as the judge, jury and executioner, all by itself. At best their can be called unsavoury/stealthy, at worst it was unscrupulous/fraudulent.
Finally, we come to the of their actions. Here, the Modi-Shah government is on truly slippery terrain. An entire populations is locked up at home; leaders are arrested; communications and mobility are jammed; the whole state is put under the jackboot – and then, in the silence of this graveyard, the government passes a law which requires (under the Constitution) to be sanctioned by the will of the people! To even think that what has happened is “politically moral” is to become complicit in a dangerous, malicious denial.
On an aside, just imagine if PM Modi and HM Shah had pulled this off after getting a majority vote in the J&K Assembly to endorse the new law – they would have attained immortal statesmanship!
To summarise, they had the Mandate, but their Method was highly suspect, and their actions lacked political Morality.
How Will It Now Play Out Once the Kashmiri People Are Freed?
This is impossible to predict. It depends on several questions whose answers cannot even be guessed at this stage:
- How hopeless and disenfranchised do people feel? Remember, a hopeless person is the world’s most dangerous species.
- How vulnerable/susceptible will people be to invocations of violence and revenge?
- How lethal can Pakistan be (or want to be) in brainwashing young recruits and stoking terror?
- Will China play a stabilising or trouble-making role?
- How honestly and fairly will the Lt Governor’s administration work in alleviating people’s distress?
- Can Modi-Shah deliver on their promise of converting a wretched Valley into a development paradise? Or will people feel short-changed by jumlas (empty slogans)?
- What if the general economic funk continues, or gets worse? In that case, God help the Emperor!
Since the answers are unknown and unknowable at this stage, we should stay away from either triumphalism or cynicism.
And pray that sabko sanmati dey bhagwan (God grant good sense to all).
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