Shah faces bigger test now than in securing nod of Parliament in deleting 370.
In hindsight, junking Article 370 was the easier part. A supine Opposition and a gung-ho ruling party ensured that the extraordinary Constitutional sleight-of-hand devised to undo the 70-year-old provision was gone in a matter of hours. The Congress offered weak resistance, but it itself was unsure of its opposition to a measure which had in the popular mind become a symbol of Kashmir’s separateness and an alleged source of all the mayhem that has bled our soldiers and the public purse for decades. People were desperate for an end to what they call the Kashmir problem and had come to believe that abrogating Article 370 was the only way to do it.
However, more than a month later the situation is far from normal in Kashmir. It continues virtually under total lockdown, the official claims to the contrary to be taken with more than a pinch of salt. The government has to be prepared for a huge protest as and when the grip of the security forces is eased. And eased it must be sooner than later, considering various meetings of global forums in the next couple of weeks. India may have done well to stave off the Pakistani effort to embarrass it in multilateral bodies thus far, unless Kashmir is returned to a semblance of normalcy with basic freedoms demonstrably restored India’s friends may not be able to defend it against the Pak-China-Turkey-Iran axis. It will be highly embarrassing for the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations to stand by India should Kashmir continue to be locked out to the outside world.
Besides, as and when the curfew is lifted and people granted the right to move about freely, an eruption of pent-up anger is inevitable. How sensitively and tactfully the security forces handle the situation arising from the first big protest will set the template for the demonstrations of anger that will follow. Nobody can deny that the security forces, despite the secularist-liberal propaganda to the contrary, have handled the Pakistani-instigated Kashmir insurrection with their one hand tied behind their back. Yet, in the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting later this month what will matter is the latest situation in the valley. Should things take a particularly violent turn, it might turn out to be a PR disaster for India on the global stage.
In other words, domestic and international opinion needs to be prepared by the government to anticipate an expression, even a violent expression, of protest by the Kashmiris who have had their civic freedoms curtailed vastly since 5 August, when the history-making abrogation Bill was moved in Parliament. Home Minister Amit Shah fronted the onslaught against what, admittedly, was all along meant to be a temporary provision. Even if it had been neutralised for all practical purposes over the years, yet its very presence in the statute book was an eyesore to the nationalists who believed its deletion was the panacea to “solve Kashmir”.
Now, Shah faces his biggest test. Ensuring a modicum of normalcy in the coming days and weeks when the stringent clamps on freedoms are gradually lifted is a challenge for the Indian State. The world will be keenly watching the reaction of the Kashmiris at the first flush of recovery of their civic rights after they were rid of the essentially psychological cover of Article 370. No less importantly, the world will take note of the response of the government as to how it handles the collective outpouring of anger and hatred. Whether it is able to channel it in a least harmful manner avoiding loss of life and widespread acts of arson and rioting is a moot point. A graduated release of bottled-up pressure street-, locality-, town-, region-wise, etc., might help, but the danger in such an approach is that an uncontrollable situation in one place could lead to a chain reaction elsewhere.
Shah cannot underestimate the mischief potential of Rawalpindi GHQ and its active and sleeper agents in Srinagar and elsewhere in the country. However, the fear of an uncontrollable eruption cannot, should not, keep Kashmir under lockdown indefinitely. Our global friends and sympathisers too cannot defend us indefinitely unless we restore “normalcy” in Kashmir sooner than later—at least before the middle of this month.
A SUITABLE REPLACEMENT
Meanwhile, a search for replacement of Satya Pal Malik as Governor of J&K continues. Malik, a regional politician, is fine for performing the usual ceremonial duties expected for a head of a Union Territory. But the situation needs a specialist who is clued up in the ways of the administration. Ideally, former J&K Governor and Central minister, Jagmohan, was a suitable choice. But Jagmohan, nearing 90, is now bed-ridden, too frail to walk on his own. Till a couple of months ago he had maintained his long-time routine of reaching the library in the India International Centre, Lodi Estate, at ten in the morning and leaving for home at its closure at eight in the evening. Age-related complications have kept him away from his favourite place.
The other day Home Minister Amit Shah and acting BJP president J.P. Nadda met Jagmohan at the latter’s house. That Jagmohan, an authority on Kashmir’s troubled history and fully familiar with the intricacies involved in managing the ISI-fuelled insurrection, and the Modi government are on the same page goes without saying. He too would have loved to help, but due to health constraints he cannot be of any use to the beleaguered J&K administration. As for Malik, he is virtually a figurehead without any role or contribution to the resolution of the present stalemate in the valley.
TIHAR? PC’S HEART BLEEDS FOR ECONOMY
Hypocrisy comes naturally to a certain kind of politicians. While being led away to the Tihar jail, former Home and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram seemed to suggest that his own unenviable position was of little concern to him. But he was worried about was the state the economy, the 5% growth rate. Of course, the GDP numbers would have been far from Chidambaram’s mind at that time when he had done everything possible to stay out of prison—I am 73 and a former Home Minister, he had pleaded, asking to be house arrested.
A couple of days earlier, Chidambaram speaking to newspersons outside the courtroom had also criticised the government for the fall in growth to 5% in the latest quarter. But he failed to mention that in 2013, when he was the Finance Minister, he had said, “Growth slowed down to 5% in 2012-13 and it is expected that it will remain flat in the first quarter. But even so we are in better health than many other countries…”
Why was 5% growth under your watch okay, and not a matter of concern, Prisoner No…? Of course, you don’t expect him to respond. If at that time 5% growth was still higher than growth in “many other countries”, the same situation obtains now.
While still on 5% growth rate, a Hindi television anchor, recently given a controversial award, lamented the sharp fall in growth, implying that the Modi government had mismanaged the economy. But in 2013, approvingly echoing Chidambaram, he had said that 5% growth was still much better than that in most other economies. Yet, our celebrity anchor boasts fidelity to fair and independent journalism even under trying conditions. Such a hypocrite!