Amidst heavy deployment of troops in Kashmir, Amit Shah the Indian Home Minister presented the controversial Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill in the upper House to remove article 370 from the Indian constitution.
This article gives a special status to Jammu and Kashmir allowed it to have its constitution, flag and power to make its laws except for finance, defense, foreign affairs and communications. The new bill bifurcated the disputed State of Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim majority state into two Union Territories- Jammu and Kashmir with legislature and Ladakh without it. Many legal experts believe it as unconstitutional as this bill has to be concurrently approved by state constituent assembly which was dissolved in 1956.
The plan was well orchestrated, around 40,000 additional troops were deployed, curfew was imposed, all major leaders including pro-Indian was put under house arrest, and internet & phone service were severed to counter people’s reaction. This shows how deeply this tinkering with article 370 runs against the wishes of people. For us living in AJK, a familiar trajectory of events started-off with intense cross Line of Control (LoC) firing at in AJK, resulting in the loss of lives of innocent civilians. Several advisories issued by the government of AJK, uncertainty at LoC was also indicated something big is in offing. Though expected from BJP but no one anticipated it coming out in such a disturbing way. By stripping the autonomy of Kashmir without any due process and caging its people, the only link between Delhi and Kashmir is also scrapped
In the Valley, a gradual build-up of fear, insecurity and uncertainty was alarming. Schools were shut, tourists were ordered to leave and panic gripped when the government issued security advisory for curtailment of Amarnath Yatra citing security threat as a reason with not much weight. The psyche of the occupier is the same everywhere; create chaos and confusion among oppressed people to break them, if not physically but emotionally. For the first time in the recent history of Kashmir, pro-Indian parties of the valley were caught off- guard, pushed to the wall and insulted by the treatment of New Delhi over article 370. This is a mistrust of BJP led government on even pro-Indian parties of the Valley.
The scrapping of Article of already hollowed article 370 will have far-reaching repercussions on the restive state. Importantly, article 35A which was introduced in 1954 under 370 repealed which guarantees special privileges to residents in government jobs, buying property in the state and for educational scholarships among others. Separatist leadership has been constantly accusing India of its design to abolish article 35A to allow non-Kashmiris to buy land and property which in the long run would alter the demographic pattern.
Though BJP has been arguing that article 370 hindered Kashmir’s integration with India but the latest pretext was “terrorism”. The process lacked any serious consultation, it was full of deception and secrecy, opposition parties were unaware, and even the Delhi nominated Kashmir Governor Satyapal Malik had no clue about it.
The Home Minister who faced severe criticism illogically tried to build a binary of “terrorism” and 370. GN Azad, P. Chidambaram and other Congress leaders at an upper house called it a mockery and murder of the Indian constitution. Trinamol Congress leader Derek O Brien, member of Rajya Sabha called it cheap stuff and said: “Congress won the Kashmir and BJP today lost it”. Interlocutor Radha Kumar called it the black day in the history of India. Strong reaction from opposition and civil society of India would serve as great support for the besieged people of valley in coming days. Pro-Indian leadership can also take it as an impetus to begin a new chapter in their politics by reducing differences with Pro-leadership, and people of Kashmir. As said by Mehbooba Mufti, occupation is the only relationship left between India and Kashmir. The choice is theirs; New Delhi decided to corner them, but that is how history goes in Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah the confidant of Pandit Nehru also fell out and was jailed for more than a decade.
Spaces for separatist leadership were closed long ago. The youth of Valley is marginalized, depressed from Indian democracy and pushed to the wall for just asking for the right to live a respectful life in their land with freedom and dignity. The polarization within India on this issue is obvious. India time and again proved that for India what matters the most is Kashmir but not the Kashmiris.
Pressure from the international world was mounting, United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) follow-up report was very critical on India calling for Commission of Inquiry, and a bold statement of mediation from POTUS was a tough call to BJP led NDA government in India to defend.
There are issues and complexities beyond the legal dimensions of the conflict. Kashmiris are in no mood to reconcile with India. Kashmiris learnt to live in worse conditions, their generation understands the complexity of politics so well, and they read politics in New Delhi better than Delhiites. They developed resistance literature, rally support from International civil society and are building a constituency of a support group within India. Kashmiris have the art of unparalleled resistance. Reaction on abolishing special status from the valley and other parts is obvious. Kashmiris are particular about their identity; they paid a huge price for it. They consider abrogation an assault on their identity.
The strategy of countering political dissent through force would never be a logical choice which could prove fatal for both Kashmiris and India as-well. They are likely chances of civilian killings, which will further complicate the situation. For the first time in the near past, India has not a single significant political force from Kashmir on its side
Kashmiris got another chance to further expand their narrative that could be more inclusive of all parties and regions. This would possibly catalyze revival of inclusive Kashmiri identity in the long run.
Pakistan meanwhile also got chance to mobilize the international community and highlight the impending humanitarian crises in the valley. Though this is an assault on the identity of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, but largely this was an arrangement between New Delhi and Srinagar which was never approved off by Pakistan.
Modi led government has a sustained policy of non-engagement which over the period got further heightened by reducing intra-Kashmir trade and travel. The fall out of crackdown in the valley would impact Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) in many ways. The level of resistance would rise, as this is an existential threat to Kashmiris. LoC could turn hostile anytime; chance of escalation is always there. The possible engagement between India and Pakistan in near future seems a distant cry now. There is a shared test case for the civil society of both India and Pakistan to take people of the valley out of this possible mayhem. There is a renewed hope that Kashmiris across the divide and within the valley might come up with a more robust consensus on the future course of action.
Note:Dr Waqas Ali belongs to Rawlakot AJK and currently he is serving as Head Department of Public Policy NUML Islamabad
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org