Capital Grapevine  
Capital Matters

Capital Grapevine  

Virendra Kapoor

After trying everything, and failing over the last 70 years, scrapping Article 370 inevitable

In the end, you are left marveling at the sheer ease with which Article 370 was defanged. For seventy years we were told how difficult it was to annul it, the near impossibility of fulfilling all the conditions to revoke a provision which, ironically, its framers said was temporary. Thanks to a government which knows what it wants, and knows how to get it, the millstone around the neck of all Indians has now become history, in a jiffy, as it were.

With Article 370 and Article 35A gone, the BJP has fulfilled one of its long-standing promises. There were three constants in every Jana Sangh-BJP election manifesto. One, going nuclear. Two, abrogating Article 370. And three, Uniform Civil Code. Soon after becoming prime minister, Vajpayee accomplished the first in the face of global resistance. He weathered the storm. Going nuclear was relatively easy. Removing Article 370 posed in-built constitutional hurdles.

But where there is a will, there is a way. Relying undoubtedly on a constitutional sleight-of--hand, Modi pulverized critics with the sheer audacity of the move through the front door in open Parliament. And how the entire Parliament did his bidding, with the naysayers left mulling the consequences of further irrelevance. The Congress only had SP for company. Regional outfits either voted for, or simply chose to stay away. Yes, DMK voted against, but then, it expects little impact in Tamil Nadu where Article 370 does not evoke popular passions.

As for the third commitment, here again Modi took one step closer to Uniform Civil Code while criminalizing triple talaq in the very first session of Parliament after his spectacular win. There were sharper divisions on the triple talaq bill than there were on scrapping Article 370. It was so because the critics felt obliged to mollycoddle the mullah-maulvi axis which has a stranglehold on the Muslim vote-bank, quite unconcerned with the mental and socio-economic condition of Muslim women. Ban on triple talaq gives Muslim women, whether happily married or otherwise, a sense of dignity, a sense of security.

However, it is nonsense to suggest that the move to scrap Article 370 was dictated by the coming events in Afghanistan when, following American surrender, the Taliban is set to willy-nilly control that god-forsaken country. And then ISI is certain to ensure that the out-of-work jihadi fighters turn their attention to Kashmir. We have been there before. Recall what these very jihadis were doing before the Americans attacked Afghanistan following the 9/11 atrocity. Having direct control of Kashmir as a Union Territory might help, but its special status, frankly, was never a hindrance in repulsing those barbarians.

Yes, there is a renewed threat now, but removal of Article 370 was not necessitated by it. Scrapping it was an article of faith with the Modi-Shah duo. All their lives as RSS-BJP karyakartas they were committed to scrap it at the first available opportunity. They created the opportunity when the Opposition was down in the dumps, still nursing its wounds from its spectacular rejection in the parliamentary poll. And the Congress, still the largest group on the Opposition benches, was behaving like a headless chicken, unable to figure out what was good for it. Modi struck when the timing was just right. Pakistan was reeling under a dire economic crisis, Kashmir was relatively peaceful and the separatist Hurriyat leaders were exposed as mercenaries, taking money from ISI to keep the protest cauldron simmering while diverting a good chunk to build private portfolios of movable and immovable assets.

Admittedly, the near-peaceful Kashmir valley could well be the proverbial lull before the storm. Once the pressure is relaxed, Kashmiris are bound to vent anger in whichever way they can. This is only to be expected. And there can be no doubt that the government is well-prepared to deal with the situation. However, it will be wrong to assume that Pakistan will satisfy itself by making a few anti-India statements and downgrading diplomatic relations. Or by taking its plaint to the UN at the next month’s General Assembly jamboree. Or even try to get the Security Council to lend it moral support.

All the above does not worry New Delhi and will not impact the situation on the ground in the Valley. But I still find it hard to trust the Rawalpindi GHQ. It may have ruled out a more serious response, at least at this stage. But one never knows when a localized armed skirmish at the Line of Control might escalate into something much bigger.

After all, the army feels obliged to justify its keep to the ordinary Pakistanis. People reeling under grinding poverty resent the fact that the ~fauz~ lives it up in style, making an inordinately large claim on the limited public purse. And if it cannot blunt India’s latest challenge, the army too is no better than politicians who already stand condemned for sleaze and corruption.

In other words, we could witness a Pak misadventure just when everyone begins to feel that after the initial anger and protests things are settling down. The trouble is that things never seem to settle down in Kashmir. That has been so since in botched accession talks back in 1947, Kashmir has been a headache for New Delhi one way or the other.

However, what might help is the onset of winter, which will further make infiltration by non-State actors from across the heavily patrolled Line of Control much harder. Though sleeper ISI cells can always be activated to undertake a dangerous but spectacular terror attack in other parts of the country. The government cannot let its guard down, now or anytime in the future.

To return to the smooth passage of the epochal amendments in two days flat, the most surprising was the utter confusion in the Congress Party. It spoke in many voices inside and outside Parliament, though it voted against the revocation of special status. And thus wrote itself further out of the favours of the voters in the coming Assembly polls in Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.

The young guns in the Congress, each chastened by rejection in the Lok Sabha poll, courageously endorsed the revocation, spotlighting the diminishing influence of 10 Janpath. Even Yashwant Sinha, a bitter critic of the government, sensed the popular mood correctly, predicting 400-plus seats for Modi should an election be held now.

This dilemma confronted others as well. Mamata Banerjee, keen to grab the mantle of real opposition to Modi, ordered her troops in Parliament to rant and rave against the proposed amendments. But instead of taking that opposition to its logical conclusion, the TMC members walked out at the time of voting. Clearly, the Lok Sabha poll gave her a fright, with the BJP snatching 18 seats from under her nose. She was now at pains to soften her pro-Muslim image.

Meanwhile, sections of the commentariat should ponder whether their doomsday scenarios actually instigate the anti-India elements to take recourse to violence to protest the scrapping of Article 370. The Indian State had tried everything in the last 70 years to bring Kashmir to heel. When all else failed, a surgical strike against the special status of Kashmir became inevitable. Those who rendered Kashmir ungovernable are themselves responsible for the deletion of Article 370. Nobody else.

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Searching for a deputy for Lok Sabha speaker

Normally most MPs would give an arm and a leg to get the coveted position of the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha which comes with all the perks and powers of a ministerial post. But Modi-2.0 is finding it hard to locate an aspirant from among the supporting groups outside of the NDA. The problem is that the leaders of these groups such as the YSR Congress of Jaganmohan Reddy or BJD of Naveen Patnaik are willing to lend support to the government on the passage of crucial legislation but still do not want to be seen as part of the ruling arrangement at the Centre.

Particularly Reddy is sensitive to the fact that the Assembly election was contested on an anti-Centre plank for the denial of special status to Andhra Pradesh. He wouldn’t like one of his MPs to take the coveted post. BJD’s problem is that it does not want the position for its senior MP, Bharthuri Mehtab, who, otherwise, fits the bill well. The AIADMK, whose Thambi Durai, was the deputy speaker in the last Lok Sabha, is now left with a solitary member who lacks the requisite experience.

And, of course, there is no question of the post being offered to the largest opposition group. Maybe when Parliament meets next they would have found a suitable candidate to share the burden with Speaker Om Birla of conducting the often raucous proceedings of the Lok Sabha.

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No helicopter for this Baba

The Computer Baba, that is, Namdev Tyagi, who had publicly promised to bury himself in a Samadhi in case Digvijay Singh failed to win the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat has gone underground soon after the resounding defeat of the former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister. An intrepid BJP sympathizer managed to get his phone number and recorded the exchange in which the Baba is hard put to explain his failure to keep his word even though he claims to be a man of God. That exchange went viral on the social media. But now we can report that after lying low for a couple of weeks, the Computer Baba is back in Bhopal and making claims on the Kamal Nath Government to provide him all manner of facilities, including a helicopter, so that he can fulfill his duties as the chairman of the Government-appointed Narmada River Trust. Last heard, he was yet to get his wish for a helicopter.

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More exodus from Congress

Then there is this talk of a former chief minister of a neighbouring State quitting the Congress with at least ten sitting MLAs to float his own separate regional party. This may happen sooner than later since the State is set to elect a new Assembly later this year. His problem is the Pradesh Congress Chief whom he wants to replace, but the headless high command refuses to do so.