August 5, 2019 will be remembered by a generation of Indians for a long time to come. It has been a long wait for Indian citizens and more so for the Kashmiri Pandits. Forced to leave their land with Islamists ruling the valley and an apathetic administration that fled to London, the Pandits waited for three decades and the moment finally arrived.
Today the Home Minister of India moved the Rajya Sabha to revoked Article 370 and also introduced a bill to declare J&K and Ladakh as two separate union territories. A long standing demand of the ruling party and more so of the founder of BJS, Dr Shyama Prasad Mookherjee, Article 370 finally was revoked by the Indian State. I am not going to go in to details of what 370 was and the damage it caused to J&K. This piece does that wonderfully.
The story of the day today isn’t just the abrogation but also the political will and spine showed by PM Narendra Modi and HM Amit shah to get this through the house. For years the politicians in the valley had tried to create some sort of a panic mode that if 370 is revoked then Kashmir will go into chaos and that Kashmiris don’t want this and so forth. In the process the Kashmiri politicians – a smattering of failed dynasts, separatists and ex separatists were only echoing what a part of the Sunni majority wanted. They were not speaking up for the Kashmiri Hindus, people living in Jammu or Ladakh.
With the valley going in chaos because of their sheer incompetence and Article 370 preventing Kashmir of many investments and other opportunities’, it suffered. The Indian citizen on the other hand would not get the same privileges in Kashmir as the citizens of Kashmir in other parts of India because of Article 370. It was discriminatory, halting the progress of Kashmir and undoubtedly had to go. Many parties privately agreed to it with the BJP consistently opposing it since its inception.
So what changed today? Why the sudden move to scrape it?
First of all, the government finally had the numbers in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha that it could ensure the smooth passage of the bill. The groundwork for this was laid out by Arun Jaitely in March itself. And with a home minister who could enforce it, and a PM with a political will to back it through in spite of the backlash from sections of the opposition the die was cast.
The speculation with the activities last week or either a trifurcation or 35A going but PM Modi went for the jugular- revoked Article 370 and proposed (and now passed) a bill to bifurcate the state into two union territories. Now the CM of J&K has the same powers as an Arvind Kejriwal or V Narayanaswamy. The constituent assembly’s powers too are significantly curtailed and it gives the Indian state to enforce the same laws as they do in other parts of the country.
How the changes will take place and what happens next needs a deeper analysis which needs to be done after conversations with various stakeholders. But for now the unthinkable has happened and PM Modi has managed to do something that many Kashmir analysts and political watchers like me thought would never happen. What this has ensured is that the valley will be opened up for other citizens and Jammu which kept getting a raw deal from the state government will have its interests looked after too.
The separation of Ladakh as a UT too is a welcome sentiment and one only had to look at the ground situation today to see how different it is from the Valley. Whereas the valley was under curfew, it was normal service in Ladakh and this move too was welcomed by the Ladakh MP.
But the bill didn’t go without hiccups from the opposition. From not letting the HM speak, to adopting an odd line the Congress tried to do everything they could to stop it. The Congress has to decide how it plans to remain relevant in the future. Does it want to be Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Congress which apologized for Afzal Guru to get one extra vote of Engineer Rashid to ensure Mr. Azad’s election? Or does it want to look at the larger national interest and stop listening to left wing NGOs which will ensure the party’s defeat?
This is what led to the Congress’s demise in Gujarat. The overdependence on NGOs and activists defining their politics. Ironically it was the same CM-HM duo that is now the PM-HM that defeated them then and continue to defeat them now. Apart from the Congress though the other UPA constituents too opposed it.
The surprise came from parties like BSP, ADMK, BJD, YSRCP, and TDP all of whom supported the revocation of article 370. And ultimately all the bills introduced today passed with a 2/3rd majority. So much for the panic created by parties decades ago about how this would fail. Ultimately the political will that was shown by PM Modi prevailed and ensured this.
Which brings me to the beginning of the piece. Why did I start the piece with the Pandit exodus and not the politics of it? Because the revocation of article 370 is more than a political message for all Indians- it is also a civilizational message. The civilizational connect that has been around for thousands of years is what joins all Indians today in celebrating this landmark day. It politically integrates the land of Sharada Peeth with India stronger than ever before. It sends a message to all our brothers and sisters who had lost their homes and weren’t sure if they could go back. It tells them, your home awaits you.