Author : Sushant Sareen

Originally Published 2019-08-06 05:36:15 Published on Aug 06, 2019
If Kashmiri parties boycott polls, they’ll be marginalised; if they participate, it will mean accepting new realities
A redrawn landscape: Anticipated impact, unintended consequences

In one fell swoop, the Narendra Modi government in its Season 2 has altered the political landscape in the state, sorry Union Territory (UT), of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. For more than a week, the air was thick with rumours of something big was going to happen. Most people thought it would be abrogation of Article 35A, some believed that the government was going to undo Article 370, and still others were apprehending a trifurcation of the state. No one expected all three to happen in one go. But the government left everyone blindsided by using the provisions of Article 370 to completely defang it, thereby obviating the need for a complicated procedure for a constitutional amendment. And once this was done through the instrumentality of a Presidential Order, it moved for a bifurcation of the erstwhile state, and converted the two new entities into Union territories.

The deed having been done, now everyone is bracing for the fallout of this extremely bold, and, perhaps, a risky gambit. The impact of what happened on August 5 will be felt not just in the erstwhile J&K state, but also on the national politics. Modi has cemented his constituency, and fulfilled one of the core agenda items of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) political programme. His stock is sky high, not just among his core constituency, but also among many others on the fence. The Opposition will find it difficult, even politically suicidal, to oppose the bifurcation of the erstwhile state. This is, therefore, a done deal.

But the real challenge for the Modi government will come in J&K. Ladakh will, of course, celebrate its UT status, a long-standing demand, at least, in Leh. How Kargil reacts remains to be seen, but the odds are that it won’t like it. In the newly carved out UT of J&K, it will be the worst of both worlds. The Jammuites will be happy with the UT status, but will be extremely resentful of remaining lumped with Kashmir. The demand for a separate state or UT in Jammu, which will free Jammu from the ‘yoke’ of Kashmir, has been there forever. The new delimitation plan, which is expected to ensure an equal distribution of seats between Jammu and Kashmir regions, will also not assuage the sentiments of the hardline Hindu elements in Jammu. This is because the extra seats in Jammu region are most likely to come from the Muslim-majority districts.

The real concern is how the Valley will react. That it will not take kindly to what has happened is a no-brainer. There is a real possibility of widespread protests and violence as a reaction to the dismemberment of the state and the dilution (virtual death) of Article 370, which many Kashmiris (rightly or wrongly) saw as a marker of their separate identity and of the nominal autonomy that the state enjoyed within the Indian Union.

Worse, Kashmiris fear that not just their identity and culture, but also their majority will be swamped by outsiders who will stream in to settle in the state, thereby changing the demography in the Valley.

Most of these fears are, of course, unfounded. There will be no large scale state-sponsored settlement of outsiders in Kashmir; nor will millions of people stream in to buy properties and settle in the Valley. People migrate to places where there are economic opportunities, which can sustain them. Kashmir doesn’t fit the bill, even less so because for the foreseeable future, things are likely to remain extremely disturbed.

This is so because the resentment and alienation against the Indian State could peak in the Valley. It is possible that the kind of lockdown that there is in the Valley might keep a lid on things for now. But this lockdown can’t be forever. As soon as it is lifted, there is likelihood of mass protests and increased terrorist violence. But this would have been factored in by the Centre when it went all in on changing the dynamic in Kashmir.

For at least six months, maybe even a year, the UT will remain under central rule. The authorities will be hoping that things will cool down by the time the UT is ready for elections. The dilemma for the mainstream parties is that with their bluff on Article 370 having been called, they are caught between a rock and a hard place. If they boycott the elections, they will become even more marginalized because new people will step in to fill the vacuum, as happened after the local body polls; if they participate, then it will be an acceptance of the new realities.

But all of this is what can be anticipated. The worry is about the unintended consequences of the epochal changes that unfolded on Monday.

These include not just things that might happen in the Valley, which haven’t been factored in, but also what happens on the regional and international stage, where there is a lot of flux and major realignments are taking place.

This commentary originally appeared in Hindustan Times.

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Sushant Sareen

Sushant Sareen

Sushant Sareen is Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. His published works include: Balochistan: Forgotten War, Forsaken People (Monograph, 2017) Corridor Calculus: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor & China’s comprador   ...

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