What is going on in Kashmir? No one knows, but Kashmiris are in complete panic as they run around stocking up on food and gas. The political leaders are tweeting ignorance, even as they are assured by Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satyapal Malik that all is well and there is no need to panic. This despite the fact that the government that had just flown foreign and lndian journalists to showcase the success of the Amarnath Yatra has suddenly issued an advisory asking all tourists and yatris to leave the Valley. And this has followed the pumping of extra paramilitary companies into the Valley to the tune of one soldier to five civilians.
And yet there is silence from the government. Significantly, despite the panic there is silence from the normally vocal-on-Kashmir Pakistan as well. The only one who has been speaking, not once but now twice, is US President Donald Trump with his offer to mediate. And while this has been rejected by India, it remains on the table as a marked change from his first years in power where Kashmir was not mentioned at all. Now that he is in his last year in office, and needs Afghanistan as a victory clearly Kashmir is back in the White House discourse.
Rumours abound. But the two that are being believed by most in the Valley are the abrogation of Article 35A of the Constitution, and the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir. Both have been on the anvil for decades, being suggested and spoken of at different levels of polity. No government has moved decisively on either as both have the potential for levels of chaos, both domestically and internationally. More so now with Trumps offer of mediation now on the table after a hiatus.
The BJP and its government is committed to the repeal of Article 35-A and with it the linked Article 370. It has made no bones about this through the years. If repealed it allows citizens from the rest of India to acquire property and settle in the state. However, there are legal issues in question and the case is in the courts. There is no indication that these have been resolved as yet, and lawyers have taken the view that if this Act is repealed then it will also render the accession treaty null and void. The case is before the Supreme Court that has shown no rush in settling this very complicated matter.
Besides further complicating the withdrawal of Article 35-A is the Security Council Resolution 47 that keeps the status of Jammu and Kashmir open. The lawyers can write further on this but suffice it to say that the withdrawal of Article 35-A is fraught with legal complications and consequences that might not make it easy for the President to issue a proclamation as is being rumoured.
The second rumour triggering panic in Kashmir is the possibility of trifurcation. Rumours claim that Jammu will be made a separate state and Ladakh and Kashmir Union Territories. Again a feat that cannot be achieved with a piece of paper but needs decisions from lawmakers and Parliament. Trifurcation itself involves studies and settlements of border issues, that is a complicated and long drawn affair. There is no indication that the government has even started working on such a proposal on the ground, as it is not a question of sitting over a map and drawing artificial lines.
The reasons seem to lie elsewhere. The problem is that no one seems to have any idea. The Governor has assured the politicians who met him that there is nothing to worry about. But then all indicators on the ground suggest otherwise, the two most significant being of flooding the Valley with forces and suddenly stopping the yatra mid way. August 15 is a few days away, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi set to make a speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort. That the government is very interested in settling Kashmir has been said by him earlier as well as by Home Minister Amit Shah now.
That the escalation in the Valley has followed Trump’s offers of mediation could also be part of measures against possible Pakistani adventurism.
Of course governments with brute majority and the absence of opposition can take law into their own hands. At this point the one undisputable fact is that Jammu and Kashmir is on the edge. Panicking. And such tensions and uncertainty can never help governments seeking to govern.