After four years, the Supreme Court has finally decided to hear the Article 370 petitions every day from August 2. Incidentally, the decision to do so came shortly after a team of judges visited Jammu and Kashmir. The timing of the hearings is also significant for another reason: it will be only nine months before the general elections. So, the BJP will be interested in the case being decided during this period and in its favour. This will be a shot in its arm just before the polls which it is already favourite to win.
But the party will also be aware that being the favourite doesn’t necessarily translate into a definite win. In 2003, the favourably placed Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government failed to secure a second term despite running a high-decibel Shining India campaign which appeared to resonate with people. So, ideally the BJP may not like the case about Article 370 passing into the hands of a successor government, should that be of an opposition party or a broader alliance of anti-BJP parties. They may choose not to defend the case as aggressively as the BJP does.
This is but only one way of looking at the issue. That said, it would be very interesting to see how a non-BJP government would approach the case, should it by any chance succeed the saffron party. Would it be lukewarm in its defence? And if so, will it be politically easy for it to do so? There is no clear-cut answer as of now. The questions belong to a future that may or may not pan out.
But the BJP has every reason to be mindful of what might happen should it lose the power in May 2024. So, the party would prefer if a favourable decision on Article 370 comes along in the next nine months.
However, framing the issue in terms of party politics alone detracts from the understanding of what the case about Article 370 represents now. The reading down of the constitutional provision may have been on the BJP’s agenda, but its opposition by the other parties has become more nuanced now. The past four years have witnessed emergence of a certain political and social consensus in India around the erasure of Article 370. One can’t now find even the pretense of a contrary view on the issue as a broad spectrum of regional and national parties deem that a large majority in the country supports the move. Whether this approach outlives the end of the BJP rule remains to be seen.
As things stand, the Modi government seems to have set a new Kashmir template which also aligns with India’s core interests in Kashmir. The dominant perception outside Kashmir is that the region has been pacified. And It does appear so to the untrained eye. While the devil may lie in the details, it won’t matter as long as the situation stays calm. Appearances may be deceptive, but it is the appearances that count.
In the altered paradigm even appearances don’t matter now. The withdrawal of Article 370 is no longer just an attempt to restore peace, or to reign in separatists and keep Pakistan at bay, it is about resolving Kashmir on New Delhi’s terms. And calm over the past four years has given New Delhi confidence that it is on track to achieve it. And in this pursuit, the powerful countries in the world seem to have played along with New Delhi. A grumbling Pakistan, on the other hand, has chosen to watch the situation from the sidelines.
Such far-reaching ramifications of the repeal of Article 370 has made the move far bigger than the fulfilment of the BJP’s political agenda. In this situation, one can only wonder aloud as to how the court would approach the case. Would it go ahead and deliver the judgment? Or will the case drag on for decades? Nothing can be said with certainty.
There are other questions: For example, what would a favourable judgment entail for the BJP? And, of course, for the future of Jammu and Kashmir? What about Assembly elections? What about statehood? What about the hangover of the turmoil of the past three decades? What future shape would the situation in Kashmir take? Would there be a healing process? Their answers lie in the future.
Meanwhile, Kashmir has settled into a predictable routine of normalcy, a delicate balance that even the government is cautious about disrupting. This state of normalcy is making it easier for the central government to pursue its cherished political goals in the region. Hence perhaps the delay in holding Assembly elections.
The initiation of the hearings has created a certain link between the holding of Assembly polls and the decision on a crucial case. Recently, the Supreme Court deferred the hearing on a plea seeking early assembly polls in J&K. The bench, comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices P S Narasimha and Manoj Misra, chose to adjourn the matter, citing the upcoming hearing on petitions challenging the abrogation of Article 370. The petition was filed by National Panthers Party leaders, Manju Singh, and Harsh Dev Singh, and it highlighted the pressing issue of “disenfranchisement” faced by the people of Jammu and Kashmir. As a result of this deferral, the holding of Assembly elections in J&K might be delayed indefinitely. However, there remains a possibility that a decision on the case could be reached later this year, potentially leading to the polls happening sooner than expected.
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 at Kashmir Observer
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