The current situation in Kashmir could make one argue that the Narendra Modi government’s strategy for Kashmir all along was to create a scenario where scrapping Article 35A would become a necessity. Achieving this underlying and primary objective of Modi’s Kashmir policy would not only save the face of Delhi and the Bharatiya Janata Party but also stand to show that the broader concerns of national security have been dealt with.
It seems that the harsh, tough posturing was to build an intense psychological pressure, achieve a sense of fatigue, and a level of disenchantment with the conflict that would result in desperation for breathing space. The idea must have been to strategically break the backbone of the resistance by a hard blow on its morale, and use the ensuing phase of inactivity, fatigue, and depression to abrogate Article 35A.
An ‘all-out’ operation
First, intense pressure was created by a multi-faceted, aggressive posturing. It was visible in the statements made by the governor, the Prime Minister, the home minister, the Army chief, and the regional and national leaders of the BJP. The mainstream national media exposed the political parties in Kashmir – the PDP, the NC, and others – and the separatist Hurriyat as the real culprits that gave false dreams of ‘azadi’ to ordinary people and worsened the Kashmir conflict. This gave rise to the now-dominant narrative that the jihadi/Caliphate ideology controls the Kashmir movement with no space for non-Muslims.
According to informal sources, psychological and typical information operations were unleashed to create an atmosphere of panic and fear. The Balakot air strikes had achieved the desired effect of making the common Kashmiris believe that cross-border supporters could also be ruthlessly dealt with, that New Delhi won’t allow forces of terror to threaten India’s integrity and stability.
After the Ramzan ceasefire of 2018, the security forces in Kashmir went into an “all-out” mode, annihilating all the prominent militant commanders. This happened amid massive public support for militancy, reflected in almost all cordon-and-search operations being accompanied by heavy stone-pelting and civilians attempting to rescue militants. There were incidents of civilian casualties and other forms of collateral damage, but that hardly seemed to dampen the resolve of the Modi government to crush Pakistan-sponsored insurgency. Instead, it hardened its stance against militancy.
This generated the intended psychological effect. The restive youth and the militant organisations took it on their ego. More recruitment followed. However, the militants continued to be neutralised without mercy, just as public support for militancy grew with funeral processions of militants witnessing massive attendance. The Modi government doubled down, resulting in more encounters and more deaths. The crackdown was accompanied by rigorous measures like closing of highways, strict security check-ups, and more barricades, intensifying public discomfort to the point of breakdown.
Along with this, there was a massive crackdown on Jamaat-i-Islami and the National Investigation Agency (NIA)’s drive against terror financing made a significant dent against militancy. Suffocated and choked with Delhi’s sturdy stand, the separatist and pro-Pakistan constituency in Kashmir hoped for the BJP’s defeat in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, the final blow came when the BJP returned to power with a bigger majority than the last time. On the day the election results came out, the militants’ poster boy, Zakir Musa, was killed, which the Army announced the following day.
Fatigue, alienation sets in
Since 24 May 2019, Kashmiris have been in a state of acute depression, fatigue, alienation and fear. Informed interlocutors from South Kashmir told me that people were scared after Amit Shah was sworn in as home minister. Rumours that stone-pelters will be shot at from drones and choppers have been doing the rounds in the region. Though youth are still joining militancy, people largely have lost the will to continue the fight. There is strong disenchantment with mainstream politicians, the Hurriyat, and even Pakistan.
Informed sources told me that people are mentally prepared for the abrogation of Article 35A. Several mainstream politicians said that they have no stamina left to fight the state power, while many are fearful of stern action in corruption cases. They also said that if Kashmir loses its special status, there will be no confusion in people’s mind and the phase of ‘dual loyalties’ to India and Pakistan will end. “It must be settled, once and for all, even if that brings violence,” a prominent woman separatist leader said on the condition of anonymity.
All the traditional institutions are fast collapsing in Jammu and Kashmir. One can witness a vacuum that needs to be filled. Hence, the Modi government has no option. If it abrogates Article 35A and fills that vacuum through the total integration of Jammu and Kashmir with India, one can hope for development and good governance in the state. If the government is unable to see the abrogation through, then the vacuum will be filled by anarchy and chaos.
No backing out now
Kashmir has gone through intense jihadi radicalisation in the past five years, and, in the present scenario, offers the best hunting grounds for the al Qaeda and the ISIS. Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s recent call for “united Jihad” in Kashmir demonstrates the desire to capitalise on the state’s current situation. With Pakistan exposed as an opportunistic player, a widespread sense of alienation and depression, and the young population heavily into drugs, the ground is all set for transnational terrorist groups to find recruits. With a rise in suicide bombing and IED attacks, it is clear that the militancy in Kashmir is going the West Asian way.
Moreover, if the Modi government fails to scrap Article 35A, the estranged, cornered, and demonised mainstream politicians will be emboldened. It will be a victory without Pakistan’s support. For them, such a scenario will offer a new opportunity to revive their waning political careers and legitimacy, otherwise marred by allegations of corruption. Capitalising on the intense Islamist fervour that the society is undergoing and the hatred for India, in future, their politics will sharply veer towards separatism and Islamist extremism.
This is not to argue that scrapping Article 35A and Article 370 is the ultimate panacea for all the ills plaguing Kashmir. Abrogating them will bring forth new challenges. However, that is not the focus of this article. The point I want to drive home is that it was a deliberate government policy to bring Kashmir into that critical phase where abrogating Article 35A would become inevitable. Now that the state has been brought to that stage, the Modi government must go for it. If it fails, it will not only be the most significant loss of face for New Delhi but also a de facto surrender of Kashmir to transnational Caliphate-styled forces of jihadism.
The author is a policy analyst specialising in counter-terrorism, India’s Foreign Policy and Af-Pak geopolitics, and a graduate of Public Policy from Cornell University. His book on radicalisation will be released soon by Vivekananda International Foundation and it has a special case study on Kashmir. Views are personal.