Article 370: Bold decision taken in haste?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has once again shown how he is very different from the previous BJP Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The difference was even more evident in the way Jammu and Kashmir have been politically handled under his watch so far.

Vajpayee is remembered in Kashmir for his slogan of Insaniyat, Jamhuriyat, and Kashmiriyat. It was a sentiment home minister Amit Shah recently assured Parliament that his government is committed to—but without a compromise on security. In practice, PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah’s Kashmir policy and their historic decision to abrogate Article 370 is all about (ekikaran) integration. But BJP must be aware that the onerous task of integrating Kashmiris has just begun.

The first challenge will be on maintaining security. Rewind to 2016 when the death of PDP leader and chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in 2016 proved to be a turning point in J&K’s politics. Mufti’s daughter Mehbooba’s indecisiveness to lead the coalition gave hawks within BJP a handle to look for a bold solution. The traditional parties and leaders were slowly losing their sway and it was a young, leaderless uprising that initiated and sustained violent protests on our security forces. The 2019 Lok Sabha elections witnessed disturbingly low levels of electoral participation (Srinagar 14%, Anantnag 13.63% voting) and led to most experts pointing out how Modi’s muscular Kashmir policy had failed abysmally.

While many political parties have backed the government‘s decision, the second challenge is misgivings about unilateralism, irrespective of the pros and cons of the decision. The government should have taken opposition leaders into confidence before taking such an important step. India’s decision to insert Article 370 into the Constitution in 1949 was not done in a hurry. It saw lengthy deliberations and a fiery debate in Parliament.

The decision to abrogate Article 370 requires a similar open conversation. Even if the majority of Indians support the decision, it is one that will have long-standing consequences and it should not give the feeling of having been done in haste.

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