Confined to Clubhouse

As Digvijay Singh episode reveals, the diffidence to even talk of reviewing the repeal of Article 370, let alone do something about it, applies to all political parties across the country

IT was instructional to see the Congress get defensive after its senior leader Digvijay Singh said during a Clubhouse chat that the party will relook at the revocation of Article 370 if it came to power. The BJP latched on to the statement to direct some public outrage away from it following the backlash it got during the catastrophic fallout of the second Covid-19 wave that killed thousands of people. And considering that the Congress has chosen not to defend Singh, and left him to fend for himself, the BJP has scored an effortless perception win - in a sense, once again establishing itself as a party that echoes the public sentiment in India on Kashmir.

Needless to say, Kashmir, Muslims, and Pakistan are the three issues around which much of India’s electoral politics is played out now. And here the BJP has no political competition as its adversarial stance in regard to each of them resonates most with the people, not least because the secular parties are too scared to press an alternative point of view.

And this reality is unlikely to change anytime soon. The BJP could take a harder nationalistic line to try and appease a large section of the population angry with the ruling party over the total breakdown of governance during the second wave. Kashmir, being one of the most polarizing issues in the country, could come in handy for it.

In that sense, Singh’s statement on Article 370 was a Godsent opportunity for the beleaguered party. And Congress was left with little option but to accept defeat. Even Singh, who is usually more forthright in defending secular values, backtracked calling the BJP leadership “anpadh (illiterate)”, for not understanding the difference between “shall” and “consider”. And by which he meant that Congress will only ‘consider’ relooking at the revocation of Article 370, something that doesn’t necessarily oblige the party to actually do so.

This diffidence to even talk of reviewing repeal of Article 370, let alone do something about it, applies to all political parties across the country, creating a structural reality that is inherently aligned against the Kashmir Valley. And people in the Valley are deeply conscious of this fact. The new situation has created a deep sense of disempowerment in Kashmir, something that Farooq Abdullah in an interview with Karan Thapar last year, described as “a feeling of slavery”.

Does this reality leave any scope or space for a peaceful struggle for rights and empowerment in the Valley? On the face of it, it doesn’t, Gupkar alliance, notwithstanding. The truth is should a demand for the restoration of autonomy become a part of the political agenda of the Kashmiri parties either separately or collectively, this would hardly bother New Delhi. In the existing situation, these parties will hardly be in a position to take this demand to the streets. And even if they did and held a peaceful rally or a protest, so what? The Valley has little political clout at the national level to force any ruling party at New Delhi to change its mind, let alone the BJP.

Also as for the revocation of Article 370, there is now a broad consensus across the political spectrum in the country, Congress included. Congress may have once been a party to Gupkar declaration, but at the national level, the party is only against the manner in which Article 370 was read down, not the act of doing so. For the BJP, on the other hand, acting tough with Kashmir wins it more popular support. And in the remaining three years of its power, the party thus seems set to take its project to remake Kashmir in its own image to its logical conclusion.

This reality neither affords space to local politics nor lends it any power to force the centre to modify its existing approach to Kashmir. As of now, the importance of the Gupkar declaration is only in giving the establishment parties an agenda point that makes their politics relevant to the transformed situation. They have something to go to people with, something to fight for. Nothing more, nothing less.
But should they seek to press their demand, they will be up against the new national consensus on Kashmir that sees the integration of the former state into India as a fait accompli. It is also difficult to predict when the Supreme Court would decide the petitions seeking reversal of Article 370 and what its verdict would be.

This makes the demand for the restoration of Article 370 just like the one for autonomy, self-rule, and now forgotten Achievable Nationhood. Much will also depend on the evolving geopolitics of the region and how India’s equations with China and Pakistan will shape up, and also whether Afghanistan will pass again into the hands of Taliban. It still remains to be seen how these developments will impact Kashmir. As of now, an observer in Kashmir has no option but to stay with his fingers crossed.

  • Views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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