The establishment parties have little space to fight back in the new scheme of things where the dissent has been made inherently infructuous and the resistance redundant
IF anything, the meeting with prime minister Narendra Modi has starkly underlined the limits to which the establishment parties can stand up to the centre. Both, the run-up to the meeting and its aftermath have generated a contentious debate in J&K and across India. The argument has gone along the following two axes: one, mainstream leaders, especially the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Alliance should have boycotted the meeting to express their opposition, even hurt at the withdrawal of the J&K autonomy and the downgrading of the state into two union territories. Second, the PAGD should have gone and articulated forcefully the case of the restoration of Article 370 that granted J&K autonomy under India’s constitution.
The alliance has done neither: they attended the meeting without even a feigned show of reservations. And as for what happened at the meeting, the dominant accent was reportedly on the return of statehood - ironically the demand on which both the centre and the mainstream parties are in agreement. The home minister Amit Shah has, on the floor of the parliament, promised to restore statehood “at an appropriate time.”
But at the meeting, the PM wasn’t willing to relent even on this apparent area of agreement. The statehood was the last in the sequence of the steps he set out to return Kashmir to democratic rule. Both the PM and the home minister were, on the contrary, keen on completing the delimitation exercise and holding elections within the union territory framework. As is apparent, the restoration of statehood is going to be a long haul.
The aim is clear: the statehood shall follow once the ideological and strategic objectives behind the withdrawal of Article 370 have been achieved. The delimitation commission is a key to do so: The exercise which is expected to give Jammu more seats in a future Assembly would create an artificial political parity between the two regions, The redrawing of the constituencies, people in Kashmir apprehend, is geared to turn the demographic majority of the union territory into a political minority, further reducing their power in a future political dispensation.
At the same time, the elections in a union territory would change nothing: the ultimate power will continue to vest with the Lieutenant Governor, who will also be in control of the security, which has a dominant role in the affairs of a long-troubled region. The only redeeming change will be some accommodation of the local faces in the regional governance charged with the delivery of some basic services.
Would statehood follow the elections? This is unlikely to be the logical next step. Such a prospect would depend on two important conditions: If the party or the coalition in power threatens to challenge the revocation of Article 370, or is seen in a position to overturn some of the administrative and legal measures passed over the last two years, statehood is unlikely to be restored. So, a ‘good behaviour’ on the part of an elected government would be an unspoken pre-condition for returning statehood.
An ideal arrangement from the centre’s point of view would be a government dominated by the BJP, whose chances following the delimitation of seats look brighter. Or, at least, a government of the party or parties which have reconciled to the loss of the autonomy as a fait accompli. Even then, the statehood to be granted is unlikely to be full but a truncated one where the real power would still be with the governor. So, in effect, there is little that would change on the ground.
Now, the question is whether the establishment politics could make any difference to this state of affairs? It can’t. The choice for the mainstream leaders is stark: between being rejected by the centre in favour of the pliable alternatives or falling in line with its expectations. They have little space to fight back In the new scheme of things where the dissent has been made inherently infructuous and the resistance redundant. There is little that is happening in terms of resistance in Kashmir that could bring the centre to terms or, at least, persuade it to engage with Kashmiris to dole out concessions.
Had the PAGD refused to meet the PM, the centre would have invented ten other so-called political stakeholders to participate and all of whom would have played along with its stance on the former state.
There's also a chorus among a section of population in Kashmir that the PAGD should threaten to boycott elections in the UT if the exercise is not preceded by the grant of statehood. But the issue is can they? For one, this is what the centre under the circumstances would cherish: this would pave way for the small and the pliant parties to win the seats by default and either make a centre-friendly government themselves or lend their support to a Jammu based party, preferably the BJP. Such a government would be happy to do the centre's bidding on Kashmir.
Out of power, the traditional parties could be confronted with an existential threat of their own. They could suffer engineered desertions and become the target of wrath of the centre which is certain to raise not only the cost of their dissent but also do everything to push them to the margins of the region's political landscape.
Views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- The author is the Political Editor of Kashmir Observer
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