By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, August 10, 2019: No Risk Is the Highest Risk of All. An overcautious attitude by the previous union governments towards Jammu and Kashmir over the last seven decades virtually kept India’s one of the most picturesque states isolated from national mainstream.

No Indian government in the past made serious attempt to address the issue concerning the strife-torn state largely due to vote bank politics. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the uncanny knack of taking controversial and risky decisions and has finally pulled off a major historical decision by defanging provisions of Articles 370 and 35A to end the special status that Kashmir has historically held under the Constitution.

Scrapping of Article 370 was one of three basic agendas of the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party for quite long time. The other two are Uniform Civil Code and construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Parliament on August 6 endorsed a resolution abrogating special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution and a bill for splitting the state into two union territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. The former will have a legislative assembly, like Delhi and Pondicherry, and the latter will not.

Incidentally, Ladakh – where 90% of population are tribes, will greatly benefit from government’s decision to make it into a Union Territory, which had all along received step motherly treatment from the now-suspended Jammu & Kashmir government, despite occupying some 60% of the erstwhile state’s geographical area.

With the revocation of J&K’s special status and creation of Ladakh as a separate Union territory (UT), the historic and continuing wrong is expected to be corrected and Modi government has earned kudos from people of Ladakh, who have been demanding separation from J&K.

Kashmiri women are thrilled with the restoration of their rights to property, while real estate in the newly formed Union Territory looks forward to an unprecedented boom and businessmen anticipate a flood of investment.

Modi on Thursday assured all-round development, early and transparent elections and end to terrorism. Defending his government’s move to scrap the provisions of Article 370, Modi asserted they only gave separatism, corruption, family rule and were used by Pakistan as a tool to spread terror in Jammu and Kashmir.

In a nearly 40-minute televised address to the nation, Modi also sought to mitigate concerns of the people after his government bifurcated the state into Union Territories, saying Jammu and Kashmir will not remain a Union Territory for long.

Arguing that Article 370 stood in the way of economic development and deprived citizens in the region of many rights, Modi said, getting rid of it would improve the ease of living of the region’s underprivileged.

However, Kashmir remains a major hot spot, which in the past has seen two deadly wars between India and Pakistan as both sides dispute how much control they should have over it ever since it was partitioned between the two countries in 1947.

The legality of abrogating provisions in articles 370 and 35A has already been challenged in the Supreme Court which has the power of judicial review and can strike down the J&K Restructuring Act if it deems fit. Besides, some foresee bloodshed in the Valley sparked by Kashmiri sub-nationalists and the diplomatic repercussions vis-à-vis China and Pakistan.

The state virtually has been under curfew since Sunday as a precautionary measure like enhancing military presence in the Valley and putting top political leaders under house arrest. However, Modi in his address to the nation promised the government is making all sincere efforts to ensure that the people in the region have no difficulties in celebrating Eid which is on Monday.

The main opposition party, Congress, however, opposes the move describing the abrogation of Article 370 as undemocratic. The Congress Working Committee in a resolution said, “The CWC deplores the unilateral, brazen and totally undemocratic manner in which Article 370 of the Constitution was abrogated and the State of Jammu and Kashmir was dismembered by misinterpreting the provisions of the Constitution. Every principle of Constitutional law, states’ rights, Parliamentary procedure and democratic governance was violated.”

However, the fledgling party is quite helpless in the face of the BJP’s determination to carry forward its agenda. What is still worse is that even the parties like the AAP, TDP, BSP, BJD and YSR Congress have openly backed the NDA and others staging a walkout in the parliament.

Modi seems to have mastered winning public endorsement for highly contentious policies. The nation-wide support for the suspension of J&K’s statehood gives the BJP an edge in the upcoming Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana, Delhi and Arunachal Pradesh, pushing Congress to a blind alley.

Nonetheless, Modi faces an acid test in the coming days from inside and outside the country. Critics point out that the Modi government has attempted to amend the Constitution without following the procedure laid down in Article 368 and it is a direct attack on the basic structure of the Constitution, specifically on federalism.

It will be worth watching the responses of China, USA and UK in the coming days. Pakistan has already responded to the crisis by announcing plans to expel India’s top diplomat and to suspend trade. But its attempt to internationalize the issue has not succeeded so far.

On the other hand, UN chief Antonio Guterres referred to the Simla Agreement of 1972, a bilateral agreement between India and Pakistan that rejects third-party mediation in Kashmir after Pakistan asked him to play his “due role” following New Delhi’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

Modi’s move will be closely watched after restrictions in Kashmir are lifted. His handling of likely backlash in Kashmir will set the tone whether there will be an end to one of the most fraught disputes in the world.

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