India is at a tipping point, says Amitabh Mattoo, a professor at New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University. According to Mattoo, doing away with Article 370 was the easy part. However, this could lead to a new Kashmir or there could be graver problems ahead, much more than India deals with currently. Mattoo, also an honorary professor at Melbourne University, says the real challenge for the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is to win over the hearts and minds of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. This can be done by showing the people that they are better off without Article 370—with better opportunities, investment and employment conditions. Edited excerpts from an interview.

Last week, Parliament decided to abrogate Article 370. There are many who suggest that Article 370 has been hollowed out over the years. So, was this action last week more psychological?

I think there was gradually an erosion of most of the autonomy guaranteed through Article 370 including the applicability of fundamental rights, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the jurisdiction of the CAG, which were not part of the original instrument of accession or the Delhi agreement that Sheikh Abdullah had agreed to. These were done through various presidential ordinances. I think now there is a dramatic shift in terms of the whole Indian Constitution becoming applicable to Jammu and Kashmir. In terms of major restructuring of Centre-State vis-a-vis Jammu and Kashmir, this is perhaps—since the 1954 presidential order —the most major restructuring that has happened.

(Photo: AP)

So essentially what you are saying is that this is a major development and the action is much more than just a perceived change in the minds of people...

There was a certain gradualism in applicability of various central laws. If you remember the nomenclature of the chief minister was prime minister ie “Wazir-e- Azam" and that of the governor was “Sadr-e-Riyasat." That was changed. Similarly, the applicability of several provisions, welfare schemes, some important laws were introduced. This makes the Indian Constitution applicable to J&K. In some ways, it makes Article 370 redundant. And given that this is part of a larger package, I think that is why you have this response, this reaction. But the fact is that there was a historical evolution and the founding fathers of the Constitution including the people who helped draft the Article 370—Gopalaswamy Iyengar who used to be prime minister in Maharaja Hari Jaisingh’s government then was minister without portfolio in (Jawaharlal) Nehru’s cabinet—him, Sardar Patel himself, Maulana Masoodi on Sheikh Abdullah’s side, they themselves recognized that this was a temporary position, over time, there would be a gradual process of integration, there would be a gradual process of mainstreaming and the people of Jammu and Kashmir would feel less xenophobic and less threatened about their identity and eventually, they would become like another state in the Union. Given the circumstances that operated when the instrument of accession was signed, there was a need for special treatment for J&K. But that, as I said, was gradually superseded by Central laws including in Nehru’s own time, through the fact of Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord. But now, what this restructuring does through a very novel out-of-the-box—in some ways, it is really a sharp legal mind which has devised this constitutional provision that (home minister) Amit Shah talked about, which is, by first amending the Constitution to say that the constituent assembly will mean the legislative assembly and since the legislative assembly does not exist, its the governor of the state which is the government of the day. So, the acquiescence that is required for doing away with the provisions of Article 370 are no longer dependent on the constituent assembly which in any case had ended its tenure but it existed in the pages of the law books of the Constitution; they said the constituent assembly is superseded by the legislative assembly and since legislative assembly doesn’t exist, therefore the governor can give acquiescence on behalf of the state.

So, if things had changed, as in Article 370 had been watered down in the past, then why is the state polity reacting the way it is?

Article 370 had become some kind of a psychological symbol of your separateness, of your autonomy even though in substance it had been eroded over time. So, it’s at the level of the psyche of the people of Kashmir that this I think needs to be addressed. Substantively, as I have said, much of the original substance of Article 370 was eroded over time but 370 stood out as defining relations with the Centre as no other state is able to define. Of course, there were special provisions for the north-eastern states, but 370 was a standalone article which gave Jammu and Kashmir that sense of specialness.

There are people who say that the constitutionality of the move striking down Article 370 can be challenged in court. Would you agree with them?

It is a very, very clever piece of legal work. Obviously, some legal experts who were able to think out of the box came up with this formula which Amit Shah translated into statutory reality. I think the real challenge, and that challenge can be mitigated also, is about whether in some ways whether the basic compact between Jammu and Kashmir and India was based on Article 370. In other words, does Article 370 exist as a basic feature of the Indian Constitution and that you cannot repeal it or declare it redundant without a properly elected democratic body affirming to that rather than just the governor. Initially I was struck by the legal infirmities but I don’t see any substance in the procedural infirmities. However, if the government of India is able to demonstrate that the compact had become obsolete and this new compact will lead to the welfare of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Ultimately, the real test of Indian policy is when everyone—the people of India, the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the people of the rest of the world—recognizes that what India has done is ultimately for the welfare of the people and not for a zero sum game with Pakistan, or not because it is valuable territory. It’s not a real estate issue, it’s about the welfare of the people and that welfare was being compromised by this sense of false sense of autonomy that people were imagining that they had which didn’t exist in reality.

(Photo: Reuters)

When you talk of the Kashmiri psyche, the way this decision has been taken, how does this impinge on the psyche?

In the short term, I have no doubt there will be people who will react to the fact that something they thought was the fundamental tenet of their relationship with India has been abrogated, virtually declared redundant. It’s now the business of New Delhi—the battle for doing away with 370 was the easy battle. The battle for the hearts and minds is the larger war which has to be won. The war for peace. And that can only be done by demonstrating to the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh that they are better off without 370. Simply put, that economically, there will be better opportunities, that there will be investment, that they will get employment opportunities. In terms of governance, that the kind of nepotism and corruption that existed because of 370 and the mediators between the Centre and the state —the so-called mainstream leaders —that doing away with that mediation will help to improve governance and that there can be fast track development in terms of infrastructure, in terms of power (electricity) and all the ills. Whether New Delhi will be able to demonstrate and demonstrate quickly before the other side (Pakistan) which is providing the counter view that this is a project to change demography—that I think there needs to be an assurance also that there is concern and sensitivity about property rights. And that the doing away with 370 is not about demographic change, its about improving the lives of the people. It is easier said than done because there will be contrarians and the jury is still out that the government of India is able to do what it proposes to do.

So, would you say that this is a major turning point for India? Or would you say it is a tipping point for us?

We are at a tipping point. This could lead to a new Kashmir which will demonstrate the tremendous reservoir of strengths that India and the Indian society has to offer or we could succumb to a situation where it becomes a permanent source, much, much bigger source of grief. Of grief within and grief to India. And more importantly, India’s own even though you follow it from pragmatic policy, India’s own moral standing and sense of self esteem will be diminished unless it is able to get ownership of this new Kashmir policy. Ultimately, we are democracy that values the opinions of our people that wants stakeholders to take responsibility.

What kind of role is there for the politicians in the post 370 scenario -—Mehbooba Mufti, Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah? And what about the Hurriyat?

I am one of those who believes in the power of dialogue and the power of the idea of India is strong enough to win any debate or be able to enter into a dialogue with anyone. So, I think as part of the inclusive agenda for Jammu and Kashmir, you should reach out to every spectrum of opinion. I think whether it is the mainstream or those who may be in the mainstream tomorrow. I am not saying talk to people who are agents of Pakistan but Mehbooba Mufti and the People’s Democratic Party and the National Conference (headed by Farooq Abullah and Omar Abdullah), these remain important players. It’s better to empower them than to alienate them. The Hurriyat has to redefine itself, where it sees itself going.

There is a fatigue when it comes to militancy and violence, but the guns seem louder than the voice of the moderates. How can that challenge can be met?

One is by isolating Pakistan, isolating those who train and supply weapons. That is the external factor. You have to make the border impermeable or raise the costs for Pakistan to train the militants. Internally, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Kashmiris are not known to be violent. In fact, there is a tradition which has privileged non-violence, peace. And the Islam is syncretic Islam —Sufi Islam—that draws as much from Mahayana Buddhism and Shaivite Hinduism as it does from the tenets of the Quran. Recovering that tradition of non-violence—of Kashmiriyat, of that syncretic cultural heritage, is critical. How do you get a critical group of stakeholders to be able to own up and isolate those who pick up the gun and to demonstrate to them that the power of the gun is not the way out because the state has the resources to exhaust the power of the gun. The power of ideas, the power of the ballot, the power of democracy is far more valuable, far stronger—that also India has to try and see that a new generation of leaders are not necessarily instruments or agents of India but those who have a stake in peaceful prosperous Jammu and Kashmir.

The BJP-led NDA government is perceived as very different from the Vajpayee-led NDA government. Does that hamper or help matters?

It hampers but it also helps. It hampers because you have preconceived notions and they are seen as those who take hard decisions. It helps because you know that a person who takes hard decisions, makes a decision to reach out, that he is able to take a decision and really ensure that decision is implemented. There is an old argument about how only a rightwing Republican president could reach out to China like Richard Nixon did. Similarly, there is a feeling that only the BJP can make peace with Pakistan because their nationalism will never be questioned. So, similarly, I think the people of Kashmir have to realise that any peace understanding that they arrive at with this government, which has demonstrated its hard side, will probably be more lasting and will be implemented. I am not saying that the government in New Delhi is necessarily going to offer a deal of any sort because they do not believe in appeasement as a policy. But if there is an inclusive framework which people can buy into, you can be sure the buy-in will be translated into reality.

The reactions that have come in from Pakistan and China have been predictable. But in the case of China, how does one take it forward from here?

In some ways, I think the urgency with which the move was initiated could have been precipitated by the fact by the so-called peace deal in Afghanistan where the Taliban are going to be offered probably the government on a platter—in the worst-case scenario—with China having a role and the ISI (Pakistan’s inter services intelligence agency) really controlling the whole process allowing US president Donald Trump to get out of Afghanistan. However, what you have to realise is that in 1990 when Kashmir blew up, India was at its weakest. Economically, we were in the doldrums. We had to leverage our reserves, we had a weak coalition government led by V.P Singh. We were friendless because the Soviet Union had collapsed and we hadn’t arrived at a modus vivendi. So, at that stage, India bought time but there was no give on Kashmir. In some ways, most countries have realised that on Kashmir, the Indian view is really black and white. And any kind of engagement or trying to put pressure on India is going to be counter-productive. China is an “X" factor. It faced Islamic radicalism on its borders, yet it sees itself as an all-weather ally of Pakistan and has now suggested that a Union territory status for Ladakh will impinge on its boundary claims on Aksai Chin. So, we have to navigate that relationship very carefully. That is the only relationship that I think with this present scenario we have to navigate. And President Xi Jinping is coming to India in October for a summit. So hopefully, India has enough cards in its hands whether it is Tibet or it is the Indian Ocean which it can bring into play, were China to act difficult.

So, you are discounting what Pakistan has announced —going to the UN, marking 15 August a Black Day etc...

I have seen it all before. I was a student at Oxford when Kashmir erupted and I was one of those who was torn apart with what was happening. As Kashmiri Pandits left, my family stayed back, so personally, I have seen the angst and the terrible tragedy of Jammu and Kashmir. And this is one issue on which India has spent maximum amount of its diplomatic resources. So, there is no way, shape or fashion that any government will ever concede on Jammu and Kashmir whether they are weak or strong, left wing or right wing, Congress or BJP.

What do you make of the US reaction? They were first seen as tacitly supportive and then seem to have recalibrated their position.

I think the pivot is Afghanistan. Acting US assistant secretary of state Alice Wells is travelling to Islamabad and New Delhi and she hopes to create the right atmosphere. So, I frankly don’t see this translating into any real pressure. I find this in terms of a ‘Great Game’ trivial to what happened in the 1990s. In the 1990s, you had a mass uprising in Kashmir. My parents were there and they saw from Charar-e-Sharif to Lal Chowk—one train of people. How you manage now and reach out to the people quickly will reflect the strength of the Indian economy, the strength of the Indian corporate sector. I am sceptical that can be done quickly. I also recognise that there is a level of alienation which you cannot game sometimes because there is a global mobilisation. The Internet is not in anyone’s control and young people are driven by passion than by pragmatism. So, there is going to be a backlash. Make no mistake. It’s how we can contain it, how you can control in the long term – that will as I said depend on the exercise of soft power.

Will this help in the return of Kashmiri pandits back home?

I hope it happens because it is important to have diversity. It is this mono cultural – when you live alone you develop a lack of sensitivity to the other. I think Kashmiri Pandits especially those who live in the camps I hope they feel encouraged to go back and recover their lost traditions.

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