Op-Ed: A Sledgehammer Approach on Kashmir Would Backfire

By Sandeep Sahu

Prime Minister Narendra Modi struck all the right notes in his address to the nation, explaining at length the circumstances that persuaded the government and to all but abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution, which has been the basis of the relationship of Jammu & Kashmir with the Indian Union since 1950, and charring out the road ahead , on Thursday evening. But two questions remained unanswered.

First, given the fact that all communication links are suspended in Kashmir, who exactly was the PM addressing: the people of India or the people of Kashmir? Though the speech concerned the people of J & K, one got the feeling that it was aimed more at the people in the rest of the country rather than the former. Second, while Modi did promise a return to full statehood when the situation becomes normal, why did he stop short of telling the nation when will the all-pervasive security blanket in Kashmir be lifted? After all, the situation cannot become normal with the debilitating restrictions in place, can it?

In the atmosphere of triumphalism prevailing in the country, anyone raising questions about the government’s move is in serious danger of being promptly labeled ‘anti-national’ or ‘Paki agent’. But these, and several other questions, need to be asked – and answered – because the decision has far reaching implications for the polity, security and international relations of the nation. At the same time, there is a need for concern at the ugly and shameful chest-thumping by an overwhelming majority of the population as reflected in tasteless jokes about buying land in Kashmir and marrying beautiful Kashmiri damsels on social media. The concern of the people should instead be how the situation in the trouble-torn state would pan out in the days ahead.

As I see it, the ‘historic’ decision to neutralise Article 370 and split the erstwhile state into two union territories would have an immediate fallout in three broad areas: legal/constitutional, security and international relations, including ties with Pakistan and, to a lesser degree, China. One can only hope that the Modi government has factored in the possible ramifications in these areas before going ahead with the decision to fundamentally change the covenant that governed the state’s relation with the Indian Union since Independence.

It would be interesting to see how the Supreme Court would rule on the petition challenging the decision. Will it reiterate its earlier ruling that there was nothing ‘temporary’ about Article 370, a key argument proffered by the government to justify its annulment, or uphold the decision? The reactions of the world have been on predictable lines. While Pakistan – and China- have expectedly condemned the decision, the world at large, including the UN, has stopped short of questioning it, restricting itself to raising concerns about a potential worsening of the human rights situation in the Valley.

It is, however, the security aspect which causes the real apprehensions. With the Centre now wielding all the powers in the Kashmir Valley, it is possible large scale protest and violence would remain under check for some time. But there is no mistaking the simmering disquiet and anger in Kashmir, which can be trusted to boil over at the first available opportunity. If the Government of India has not been able to arrest the growing disaffection and anti-India feelings among Kashmiri youth and contain the widespread violence for three decades despite Article 370 and one of the largest deployment of army anywhere in the world, there is no reason to believe that the people of Kashmir would quietly reconcile themselves to letting go of their special status and living as just another state of the Union. And given the past conduct of Pakistan and its reaction to the fresh developments in J & K, an escalation in terrorist acts is very much on the cards. You cannot keep people under subjugation under the barrel of the gun forever, can you?

While every effort must be made to foil sinister Pakistani designs to give a fillip to cross-border terrorism, we must stop pretending that the people of Kashmir are just waiting to embrace India once the security blanket is lifted. The follies of successive central governments, including the one in power now, since Independence have ensured that the vast majority of people in the state want nothing to have with India.

Make no mistake. Article 370 is now a thing of the past, unless f course the apex court overturns it – which looks a remote possibility given the court’s pronouncements in various important cases in the recent past. If the mood of the nation post ‘abrogation’ of the article is anything to go by, it would be an audacious, even foolhardy, government which can dare to reverse it in future. But it would be naïve to believe that Kashmir would now automatically be ‘an integral part’ of India and once again become the ‘heaven on earth’ that it once was.

The real challenge in the days ahead will be winning the trust of Kashmiris and healing their hearts by convincing them about how the decision is going to benefit them. Any escalation in the security clampdown on stone pelting and other forms of street violence runs the risk of further hardening of attitudes among the people of Kashmir, the youth in particular, and make the Kashmir problem even more intractable than it already is.

A sledgehammer approach will simply not work. If anything, it could backfire.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)