There are times when history creates personalities. Other times, individuals create history. Last Monday, history’s child Prime Minister Narendra Modi rewrote the present to define the future by correcting the past. On his advice, President Ram Nath Kovind made Article 370 irrelevant with a stroke of his pen. An hour later Home Minister Amit Shah informed Parliament that Jammu and Kashmir was no longer a state with special status. In fact, it was no longer a state at all, but one of India’s newest UTs.
In 2019, the slogan “Modi hain to Mumkin hai” (With Modi, anything is possible) was derided as mere rhetoric. However, Modi made cutting the Kashmir Gordian knot— considered impossible for 70 years—possible in less than 70 minutes, Congress filibustering notwithstanding. To the chagrin of liberals and global marketphiles, he gave Kashmiris the ‘Indian’ label for inclusivity in national confidence. Since they had full rights to move anywhere in India for employment and property, he gave similar rights to other Indians in Kashmir.
The demise of the Article, which divided rather than united the nation since Independence, changes the Kashmir paradigm. In his last term, Modi’s ‘reach-out’ was rejected by locals. He was taken aback: after all, he was the first PM who spent Diwali in the Valley when it was flooded; the Centre opened its pockets for flood relief as it would for any other state. But his overtures were rewarded with a spurt in terror, violence, incendiary speeches and stone pelting that held the Valley to ransom. He felt a strong demonstration of state power was required. Unlike his predecessors, Modi has a unique political and ideological DNA. He replaced “carrot and stick” with “don’t spare the rod” for flouting the Union’s authority. The PM’s determination to banish the article of unfaith from the Constitution only became stronger.
Since he became a full time RSS pracharak, he believed in the principle of ‘One Nation, One Constitution’ and the special provision for J&K as a threat to India’s geographical and political identity and a constant danger to communal harmony. The Constitutional isolation of the state is responsible for the Valley’s separatism and poverty. While the rest of India grew rapidly, it was abandoned to poverty and dirt. While other states were setting up technology parks, modern airports, luxurious hotels, state of the art hospitals and forward educational institutions, Kashmiris were denied even basic health facilities and infrastructure at home.
As their political leaders and secessionist satraps plundered the state, the poor faced terrorist bullets and bombs. Denied jobs which had stagnated due to secessionist and Pak-prompted rage, unemployed youths were communally seduced to take up arms against their own. The sinister separation of the state from the Republic through the insertion of the Article has cost the nation billions of rupees and thousands of lives over the last seven decades. Kashmir was a milch cow for NGOs, journalists, retired defence experts and lobbyists to gain name, fame and money as interlocutors and middlemen. The government has now choked their money trail. Modi and Shah pitched in parliament that Article 370 was subversive. From his front desk in the Lok Sabha, Shah lamented, “Over 41,000 people wouldn’t have been killed since 1989 if there wasn’t Article 370.”
Though junking the contentious article would take time to emotionally integrate the Valley with the rest of India, the process has been set in motion. The stratagem is not a knee-jerk reaction to divert attention from the sluggish economy as Modi’s adversaries are propagating. The prime minister has chosen to walk the talk after careful planning and extensive brainstorming with a small group of trusted advisors. Farooq Abdullah’s desperate diatribe that, “Even if Modi becomes the Prime Minister ten times, he wouldn’t have the courage to abolish Article 370”, provoked the PM to launch the final legislative assault earlier than planned. Modi is known for thinking miles ahead by starting work on a mission today which would achieve results a few months or a year later.
He started on Operation Abolish 370 even before the Lok Sabha elections. Loyalist Satya Pal Malik was appointed the governor—the first politician to enter the Raj Bhavan when J&K was in turmoil soon after the fall of the PDP-BJP government. Subsequently, scrapping Article 370 was made a prominent part of the BJP manifesto. When Modi reconstituted his Cabinet, he shifted Rajnath Singh from Home to Defence. Since solving Kashmir and terrorism were on top of his agenda, Modi drafted Amit Shah as Home Minister.
From day one, Shah’s attention was on security solutions. Not only did he bring in various legislations to arm the forces and agencies with more powers, he ordered investigations into the corruption of local politicians and separatists whose careers depended on fomenting trouble while amassing riches and sending their children to study abroad. Over a dozen prominent paladins were raided and arrested for money laundering and making money through suspicious means.
Even former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti were served notices and interrogated by various anti-graft agencies. As a precautionary measure, the Home Ministry cut short the Amarnath Yatra by two weeks. The Air Force was deployed to airlift pilgrims from Srinagar and evacuate every tourist before the day of reckoning. He simultaneously instructed his legal team to suggest a plan to dilute the relevance of Article 370 without formally abrogating it. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta was tasked with evolving a legal framework to bring J&K at par with other states.
Mehta studied the history of Article 370 from its creation to subsequent amendments and outlined the State Reorganisation Bill which wouldn’t need a Constitutional amendment and brought the state permanently under central government control. Since J&K is now a Union Territory, the Union Home Ministry has the final say in the selection and postings of police personnel and the ownership of land resources. Ladakh, which is presently in the Kargil sector, will be run from New Delhi, thus preventing terrorists from across the border to foment trouble. With the demise of Article 35A, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir will attract investment and spur economic growth and give Kashmiri Pandits a strong reason to return to their roots.
Modi’s move will replace separatism with development and attract the local population to join the Bharat Vikas Yatra. His legislative masterstroke has won the hearts of his core constituents and even the largely neutral middle class. But his liberal foes will blame him for subverting the Constitution. History will judge Modi both objectively and subjectively. Wherever the gavel lands, he is certain to be hailed as the new Sardar from Gujarat who unravelled the saga of Nehruvian flirtation with Kashmir’s destiny.
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