One of the abiding myths of the right-wing in Indian politics has been that Jammu and Kashmir enjoys some sort of unwarranted constitutional status and that the problems there stem from the special treatment Kashmiris receive thanks to Article 370 of the constitution.
From now on, at least, that complaint will no longer apply – with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bharatiya Janata Party calling their own bluff by doing away with this troublesome article.
Not only has Union home minister Amit Shah stripped Article 370 of its essence, he has gone one step further and abolished the entire state as well, replacing it with two ‘Bantustans’ – grandly called ‘union territories’ – in which key decisions on a range of issues like law and order and land will be taken not by the people and their elected representatives, but by bureaucrats from New Delhi.
So after being pampered and appeased, the poor Kashmiris – whose ‘special status’ brought them benefits such as ‘human shields’, ‘half-widows’, pellet blindings, fake encounters like Pathribal and Machhil, torture and disappearances – need to brace themselves for a bout of tough love.
That Shah’s bombshells were accompanied by the kind of measures one normally associates with a police state – the stealthy introduction of major constitutional changes, the lack of adequate time for debate, the late night arrest of mainstream political leaders in Kashmir, the prohibition of public gatherings, the shutdown of internet services and even landlines – adds the sort of odour one normally associates with coups. The message is clear: there will be no room in Kashmir for free politics of the kind every integral part of India takes for granted.
But as I said, the RSS’s old bluff has now been called – bifurcation and trifurcation of the state has been their old demand, as has the scrapping of Article 370 – and those people in the rest of India who are now dreaming of buying plots of land there will soon get to see just how magical a solution to the problems of the state this will be.
Except, J&K has already enjoyed the rigours of Central rule for nearly 10 of the past 45 years, and has turned out none the better for it. The last 12 months have seen Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself calling the shots, through the president and governor, but the situation there continues to be even worse than it was when the BJP helped run the state government along with the People’s Democratic Party from 2015 to 2018.
Modi’s five-year raj has seen higher levels of violence as his policies have led to increased alienation and, consequently, greater local appeal for the ongoing insurgency. The graph below, based on data the government gave parliament in February 2019 about the number of terrorist incidents in Kashmir and the number of security personnel killed, tells its own story: