The irony is hard to miss. While the nation celebrates the Narendra Modi government’s move to abrogate Article 370 and bring about the ‘final merger’ of Jammu and Kashmir with the union of India, people of the state are in quarantine imposed by unprecedented deployment of Central Armed Police Forces. The state itself has been divided and its status reduced to two union territories of J&K and Ladakh.
The Modi government will face its first big test in J&K when curfew is lifted and people hit the streets to vent their frustration. The protests will be unprecedented with separatists and mainstream political parties of J&K joining hands. The heavy deployment of security forces is anyway unprecedented and, therefore, there is every chance that the situation may spiral out of control.
How the government and the security forces handle these protests will determine the future course of events in J&K.
Opting for the crude way
The writ of the Constitution prevails over the territory, but not necessarily in the hearts and minds of the people. The abrogation of Article 370 is nothing more than an ideological and emotional victory for the BJP government. It is likely to give impetus to the insurgency in Kashmir.
Articles 370 and 35A had outlived their life and deserved to be abrogated. But as a responsible constitutional democracy, we should have done it with finesse and constitutional propriety. We should have secured the willing cooperation of the people rather than pushing it in a crude manner.
Upholding the Kashmiri identity
The merger of J&K – the only Muslim-majority state to willingly merge with India – was a result of the ‘Kashmiri identity’ prevailing over the ‘Muslim identity’. Articles 370 and 35A symbolically upheld the ‘Kashmiri identity’ and ensured that the religion of the majority did not occupy centre-stage in the state. It was the political failure of successive governments at the Centre that led to religious identity becoming the primary motivation for the insurgency in J&K since 1989.
While political parties in the state and at the Centre have always tried to politicise Article 370, people of Kashmir have always seen Article 370 as an emotional bond with the rest of India.
Recall the thunderous applause received by then-Prime Minister Vajpayee when he coined the slogan “Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat” as part of his Kashmir policy. People of Kashmir welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he invoked Vajpayee’s Kashmir vision during the 2014 assembly election campaign.
The Vajpayee vision for Kashmir, once the pride of the BJP, has been flouted with impunity on all three counts – Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat.
A deliberate insult
Now with Article 370 set to be abrogated, the ‘Muslim identity’ will permanently prevail over the ‘Kashmiri identity’ and fuel the insurgency. To reduce one of the largest pre-Partition princely states of India into a union territory will be seen by the state’s majority as a deliberate insult.
This will polarise the state’s Muslim population. In the last decade, insurgency was restricted to the Valley. Now, I foresee a return of the insurgency in the Muslim majority areas in southwest and southeast of the Pir Panjal Range.
Further, in the last five years, the regional parties in J&K have been politically sidelined by the BJP. With Article 370 gone, there is little to distinguish them from the separatist political entities. Cadres of both are likely to join forces to emerge as the political face of the revived insurgency.
Push from Pakistan
As an ‘honest broker’ in Afghanistan, Pakistan is back in favour with the US. Far from being isolated, as it appeared post-Balakot, it is now in a pivotal position in the region, enjoying the support of US, China, Russia and the oil-rich Islamic nations. Pakistan will seize the opportunity created by the abrogation of Article 370 to upgrade the proxy war.
I foresee infiltration of better-trained Pakistani terrorists and smuggling of arms and ammunition in greater quantities in J&K to give a boost to the proxy war. The religious polarisation will also be exploited by pan-Islamic terrorist organisations, like the al-Qaeda and the ISIS.
Stick to time-tested model
Given the ease with which the BJP-led government was able to ‘scrap’ Article 370, backed by an emotionally charged nation, it will be tempted to come down on terrorism with a heavy hand, making no distinction between terrorists and sympathisers, as seen in the recent past.
But it would be prudent for the Indian Army to continue with its time-tested people-friendly model in Kashmir. The armed forces must gear up for the long haul to deal with revived insurgency. The government, instead of riding on military strategy, must begin the political process to win people’s trust.
Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.