Measuring Modi-Shah’s Kashmir Gamble on Mandate, Method & Morality

Modi-Shah’s We.Don’t.Know approach in Jammu and Kashmir has left a lot of unanswered questions.

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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 abolishing Article 370 and the state of Jammu & Kashmir in Rajya Sabha. 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. I wanted to assess the government’s invoking of Article 370 to kill Article 370 on the three touchstones of Mandate, Method and Morality.

I totally disagree with people who censure Modi and Shah for political treachery. Let it be said loud and clear: The BJP 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 Mandate to create this new law. Period.

But yes, we can and should argue with the Method they employed.

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.

Finally, we come to the Morality 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.

As 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 then, they had the Mandate, but their Method was highly suspect, and their actions lacked political Morality.

Now to the really critical question: 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 to alleviate 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). Because WE.SIMPLY.DON’T.KNOW.

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