Being Modi: The political dynamics of abrogating Article 370

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the nation at 8 AM on Saturday, in the backdrop of Chandrayaan-2's lander Vikram losing contact with ground stations. Photo: PTI file

Was it coming? Some would claim they were the first to predict. They got it right only partially though. They could not imagine the government could actually repeal the controversial Article 370, granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and go on to bifurcate the state to the extent of downgrading the status of a full-blown state to a centrally administered Union Territory.

The government on its part did more than just that to catch even the political pundits off guard by getting the presidential notification duly gazetted before the Home Minister walked into the Rajya Sabha and announced the Modi Cabinet’s decision and the constitutional follow up to that.

By the sheer surprise the decision generated, it was timed well. Measured on the spunk scale, Modi scores a perfect ten. And yet the political gamble of Modi 2.0 has the potential to etch his name in gold in the annals of political history of India, post-independence. But there is a lingering downside too, considering the misadventure of a purportedly ‘bold’ decision borne out of an unadulterated, toxic narcissism than out of sheer practicality of it all.

After shadow boxing with Nehru’s ghost past five years for being the agent provocateur of all the ills that have visited India despite and in spite of him, Prime Minister Narendra Modi partly unhitched India with what he claimed to be an inglorious past that marked the entry of Article 370 in India’s Constitution. Putting NDA’s brute majority to good use, and riding on the back of a supremely ineffectual opposition in the Upper House, Modi not only managed to scrap Article 370 that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir but also bifurcate the state into two Union territories, thus denying state players the final say in Jammu and Kashmir’s governance hence forth.

Also read: Article 370: India should dread outsourcing its fate to 3 men in a hurry

And yet, the decision has sought to trigger a 360-degree turnaround for Kashmir politics that so far revolved around the import of Article 370, that drew New Delhi apart from Srinagar more than it brought them together. Not that the relevance of Article 370 shall be any less, its exit shall make its presence even louder now. As they say, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

In one fell swoop, the government has been able to change the discourse on Kashmir from the point of view of Article 370 to that from the perspective of India and the Indian Constitution. With the attendant Article 35A also struck down, Indians from outside the state shall be able to buy property in the state. So what does Modi’s new India has been led to believe? That Article 370 was the biggest impediment to Kashmir’s fuller integration with India. That it only led to radicalization of the masses. That it was discriminatory and biggest impediment to growth.

Not that the 72-year of status-quo helped. If at all, it only helped build a climate of alienation and distrust. It only helped New Delhi to mount one military intervention after another in the beleaguered state. It only helped in introducing new weapons of keeping the stone-throwers at bay. Nothing worked. Neither talks nor pellet guns. Funds from New Delhi could never keep pace with the speed which they were drained by those holding levers of power. The state vacillated between an orgy of mistrust, anger, pessimism and an unadulterated optimism that Article 370, a temporary constitutional provision, shall restrict New Delhi ( read Congress ) from a misadventure in Kashmir.

But BJP was no Congress and Article 370 is one issue the party swears by. It was built into the party manifesto for the umpteenth time. Modi-Shah duo were not to buy into the Kashmiri optimism. The new India pied piper has grown accustomed to playing and listening to tune laced in nationalism. Here was an issue that exemplified Modi’s muscular nationalism waiting to be visited upon.

Also read: BJP dumps Article 370 and political niceties; portends ominous possibilities

And after Modi’s magnificent win it shored up the government’s chances of implementing its unfulfilled agenda with unrestrained vigour and confidence, on display in oodles as Amit Shah walked into Rajya Sabha and tore into opposition arguments and walking out with an emphatic win in piloting the new bill of reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir state along the lines of Union Territory. By bifurcating the state into two and by taking away full statehood from Jammu and Kashmir the Modi-Shah duo have kept the remote control of the State’s governance in their own hands.

One may argue though against the manner in which the government sought to build up for the denouement in Parliament, the manner it went about abrogating Article 370. The state was shut down, heavy contingent of Army moved in, top Kashmiri leaders placed under house arrest, Amarnath Yatra crudely cancelled. We were led to believe there were looming terrorist threats, though under its cover government was planning to set right what it all along considered a historical wrong. Why such hush hush moves? Did the government fear a backlash? Did it take a decision to appease, for once, State’s minority population as against the majority population?

By bypassing the Assembly on the abrogation of Article 370 the government has conveyed in no uncertain terms it cares two hoots for the spirit of federalism. For a government which has to hold elections to the state sooner than later, the idea of revoking Article 370 in the midst of a President rule could have been tempting, without allowing the opportunity to an elected assembly to exercise its the power to give its assent to a controversial decision. Is it a precursor to a more dangerous trend? Do other states have to fear anything?

One may also argue the case of Nagaland and how the special provision of article 371 A of the Constitution protects the customs, laws and property rights of the Nagas. Though it has not solved the Naga problem fully, incidentally, the Modi government is in talks with the Naga insurgent groups to resolve the decades old political problem. Do the Nagas have anything to fear after Centre’s abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir?

Did Modi get a good night’s sleep last night for telling one and all in his New India junta durbar that unlike his machismo, back in 1947 India played like a sissy participant in a game in which it held all the aces. Modi would get a good night’s sleep for having brought India in sync with the dreams of saffron-robed ‘Bharat Mata’, of course, triggering a myriad dreams in the Pariwar elders that their prodigy was on course to live up to their dreams of realizing an Akhand Bharat, sooner than later.

And yet, knowing the man that Modi is, who also has his ear to the ground and almost always reading the pulse of the nation right, marred only by pangs of delusions almost always striking midnight, he should know a good night’s sleep is more likely to be disturbed by the nightmares likely to visit the Kingdom he has ushered the country into by his Kashmir gamble. And herein lies the dichotomy of delivering to the muscular image he has sought to build around himself.

Also read: Modi-Shah surgical strike on Article 370 exposes Constitutional flaw

(The writer is a senior journalist and founder-editor of YouTube channel The NewsBaaz. The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not reflect the views of The Federal.)