With Parliament approving the revocation of the Constitution’s provision of special status to Jammu & Kashmir, and division of the state into two Union Territories, the Narendra Modi regime has its task cut out in the Valley. The hard labour of politics must now begin. So far, it has appeared to duck that challenge, first by taking a momentous decision that redraws the map of Jammu and Kashmir without wider consultations and then by announcing it as a virtual fait accompli in Parliament after imposing a severe clampdown in the Valley, cutting off phones and the internet, placing political leaders, including two former chief ministers, under house arrest and declaring a curfew.
Right through his speech in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke of Article 370 as a historic blunder, creating a divide between Kashmir and the rest of India, benefiting a corrupt and entitled few and perpetuating deprivations for the majority. He spoke of their special status so far as a curse for the Kashmiri people, and of the Modi government’s project as one of empowering them, delivering to them the rights that are available to their fellow citizens. On Monday, he told the Rajya Sabha, “I want to tell the youth of Kashmir Valley that have faith in the Narendra Modi government. Nothing negative will happen. All these (Opposition) people are telling you lies for their own politics. Don’t listen to them”. Whether they are convinced or comforted by Shah’s words, however, is a question that can begin to be answered only when the people are allowed to come out of their homes, speak to each other, get their phone connections back.
As Day 2 of the restrictions segue into Day 3, the Centre must recognise that the need to engage the people of Kashmir is urgent and that it can ill afford to deepen the impression that it is imposing a decision that gravely impacts their lives, by force. It has demonstrated political support for its move, summoning the numbers not just in the Lok Sabha which it dominates, but also in the Upper House, where it still lacks a majority. It has caused cracks in the ranks of the Opposition, including within the Congress — more and more of its leaders are speaking in support of the Government’s move. But there can be no room for triumphalism.
An ambitious political project such as the one in which the government apparently situates this decision on Kashmir demands arduous work. To win the trust of an alienated population kept in the dark needs an openness to all voices, including those of dissent. Security cannot be an alibi to muffle these voices. For starters, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Sajjad Lone must be released, and access to communication and freedom of movement and expression in the Valley restored. That is the first step in the long way forward.
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