Call it a coup de grace or coup de main. Seldom has a feat, involving strategic application and political forethought, been executed with such finesse in India as the Centre’s decision to bifurcate J&K, reorganise the state and abrogate Articles 370 and 35A, knowing the implications could travel beyond the geographical borders and trigger seismic waves within the country. It appears that the project was thought through so carefully that there was no misstep.
It was fraught with provocations for the political Opposition and civil society but that was the BJP’s agenda. It relishes nothing more than goading the Opposition to react or overreact, so that it earns brownie points from a larger constituency. From the party’s viewpoint, the move served three objectives: it fulfilled a long-standing promise that was inextricably woven with the persona and politics of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, a Jana Sangh founder, who fought for the repeal of the statutes giving J&K special status and died mysteriously in the custody of the Sheikh Abdullah government, and further accentuated the ideological divide between the BJP and the Congress/Opposition.
On the face of it, the Congress had no choice but to oppose the repeal of the statutes because Jawaharlal Nehru is regarded as the leader who piloted the inclusion of Article 370 in the Constitution, albeit as a ‘temporary’ provision, to facilitate Kashmir’s accession to India. It was an article of faith for the Congress and disavowal for the BJP. At the first Congress Working Committee meeting called after the passage of the amendments, the senior members reaffirmed their beliefs in the party’s core certitudes but the younger representatives turned doubters and questioned why the Congress was not in synch with the prevailing mood and why it spoke out against the repeal. Clearly, the ideological stream, nurtured and watered by the Congress for decades, ran dry while a newer runnel of opposing thought, that struggled to be heard for years, was spreading and influencing adversaries.
Second, the scrapping of the Articles demonstrated the BJP’s resolve to fight in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges because upending the Constitution, tempting as it was for the party, was a bait that Vajpayee and Advani wouldn’t bite. Indeed, the late Pramod Mahajan, a key political strategist of Vajpayee, never tired of telling journalists that of the three core issues enshrined in the BJP’s manifesto — building a Ram temple, legislating a common civil code and ending Article 370 — the last was nearly unachievable, until and unless the BJP was in a majority both in the J&K Legislative Assembly and Parliament.
Third, the events in the just-concluded Parliament session proved that the BJP’s generational shift was indeed far-reaching. PM Modi and his Home Minister Amit Shah have redrawn the terms and recast the rules of political engagement to such lengths that the Opposition is lost for a compatible response. Large traces of the Indira Gandhi era are visible in their style and syntax of functioning, but did the Congress ever imagine an opposition party could step into its shoes and flatten the system in the way its own governments did when a recalcitrant Northeastern state had to be tamed?
Notwithstanding a battered and bruised Opposition, Modi was sufficiently canny to recognise that there were knots to be cut and pitfalls to skirt in the course of implementing the Centre’s decisions on J&K. His address to the nation on August 8 packaged and projected these in the idiom of development and growth. Sceptics, who are all too aware of the less-than-robust state of the Indian economy and the rather unreasonable expectation of investors landing in droves to put in money in a security fortified region, are bound to question the claims.
When the PM spoke to his Cabinet on the last day of the monsoon session, he reportedly tempered the show of aggression over J&K from his ministers with a warning that the time for triumphalism had not come. Solid work would have to precede celebrations. The BJP’s dilemma is by conflating a state-specific ideological issue with the larger plank of nationalism, a slip-up in J&K would echo in the country and beyond. The Centre has invested huge strategic and political capital in a region that cannot be treated as another province. It could be terror strikes, military-civilian confrontations, sullen dissent or open rebellion that would challenge proxy rule from Delhi and end up in the use of a combat-boot approach, dismantling the avowed intentions of the Modi government.
For the moment, the BJP’s cadre and the larger swath of well-wishers seem unprepared to reflect on the larger ramifications. The messages from the ground were that a Muslim-majority state, that crowned the map, was about to be demographically diluted after the abrogation allowed citizens from the other parts to buy land and invest in J&K. That was the sub-text, much as the BJP leadership portrayed the government’s decisions in terms of development and welfare. On the ground, an oft-repeated sentiment was that the Valley’s people were ‘pampered’ by funds creamed off taxpayers’ money but their allegiance was to Pakistan. That duality had to go.
The first test of whether the BJP scored an ace will be seen in the Assembly elections in Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra. Given the Opposition’s condition, the BJP was already projected to start with an advantage, although its Maharashtra ally, Shiv Sena, had pitched afresh demands. The parliamentary coup silenced the Sena. The Centre’s decisions have the potential of transforming state polls into a referendum on Modi and Shah and giving the BJP a big lead over its opponents.