Balakot

Delimitation: Amit Shah set to make early moves in Kashmir Valley

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Delhi has little control in Kashmir Valley. Out of 87 seats in assembly, 46 are reserved for Kashmir region and 37 for Jammu (Ladakh has the other four seats). No wonder Abdullahs and Muftis, due to their clout in the Valley, control the levers of power in the troublesome state of Jammu & Kashmir.

This of course is historical injustice. Dogras (Jammu) have dominated the region historically. Dogra ruler Maharaja Gulab Singh amassed a state bigger than left behind by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a Sikh ruler in the 19th century. Till 1941, Hindus in Jammu numbered more than Muslims in Kashmir Valley.

However, Kashmir changed forever once Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah rose to power simultaneously in Delhi and Srinagar. Nehru afforded Abdullah a free run. Abdullah arbitrarily allocated 75 assembly seats in the 1951 state assembly between Kashmir Valley (43), Jammu (30) and Ladakh (2). There was no population data but just his whim to guide Abdullah.

Jammu and Kashmir had changed forever.

Abdullah’s son, Farooq, made it worse. His father had constituted the Delimitation Commission which had further increased Kashmir’s representation to 46 seats, as against 37 to Jammu. Farooq amended the Section 47 of the Jammu & Kashmir constitution in 2002 under which no addition or alteration of constituencies could take place up to 2026.

Game, set and match over.

Fast forward to present times. Modi 2.0 is in place. His party BJP rose to power, among others, on the promise of abrogation of Article 370 and 35A in its manifesto. Nationalism and his tough stance on separatist forces in Jammu & Kashmir, and their masters in Pakistan, reflected in Balakot surgical strike, helped him win the 2019 mandate with a staggering majority.

In people’s mind, Modi’s success or failure in his second tenure would be judged by what he does with Kashmir. The appointment of hard-nosed Amit Shah as home minister is an early signal. If Kashmir is settled, Modi would’ve earned the nation’s gratitude for centuries to come. He would be the favourite child of India’s history.

Modi has made his first move within hours into his second term. Amit Shah is positioned as home minister. Shah too has lost little time: He already has held a detailed closed-door discussion with Satya Pal Malik, governor of Jammu and Kashmir. The state is presently in its second year under the President’s rule. (Legally, President’s rule is tenable for three years at the most).

The rumour is abuzz that delimitation in Jammu & Kashmir could happen soon. Petitions are being written to the President of India. Now that the power of J & K assembly is vested with the President, it’s within his powers to order such a move. A Delimitation Commission could be set up which could redraw the constituencies—and take away the stranglehold which Kashmir Valley has enjoyed over the rest of the state. The freeze till 2026 would go in a jiffy.

This has the separatist forces in the Valley in a flutter. Everyday, Omar Abdullah (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti (PDP) are warning of the consequences if this comes to a pass. Once the freeze is lifted, the ascendency of Jammu is inevitable. It already has more area than Kashmir Valley. It has more people in some constituencies than Valley has in two. (For instance, two constituencies in Srinagar City has nearly 50,000 less electorates than in single constituency of Gandhi Nagar in Jammu region. Same would be the case with Jammu City East seat).

Once this happens, everything would flow from the ballot and not from the bullet. Just imagine the scenarios below:

  • A state under its political control could make BJP do wonders in not just protecting the integrity of the state but also of its soldiers who have died in tens of thousands over the last few decades;
  • Lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits, driven out of Valley by militants, could regain their paradise lost;
  • Lakhs of Gujjars, Bakerwals, Gaddies–around 11 per cent of the state’s population—don’t have any reserve seat in the Valley even though they were given Scheduled Tribe (ST) status way back in 1991. The seven reserved seats for ST—Chamb, Domana, Ranbir Singh Pura, Samba, Hiranagar, Chenani and Ramban in Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur district–are all in Jammu region and have stayed stationery since 1996, never ever rotated to Kashmir Valley).
  • Legislative control in the J & K assembly would make the abrogation of 370 and 35A a child’s play;
  • A secure Kashmir would be such a powerful bulwark against Pakistan and its’ ISI, not to say a leverage which would come handy against China;
  • If terrorists are throttled, Jihadi organizations such as Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda, not to say Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed—and its leaders such as Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar—would be neutralized.
  • Safer borders means lesser martyred soldiers. A buoyant and not a demoralized force. It would also free up India’s security apparatus. Men and money both could be saved.

Modi has the mandate. Shah is in the hot chair of home minister. Millions of Indians are looking for askance: Settle Kashmir once for all. This dispensation has a historic opportunity to undo the damage of appeasement to the Valley which India has practised since the accession of Jammu & Kashmir to the Union of India in 1947.

Importance of being Jaishankar: Only behind Modi-Shah duo

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Not Rajnath Singh. No Nitin Gadkari. India’s third most powerful minister in the present dispensation—besides the obvious duo of Modi-Shah—is Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, a career-diplomat turned foreign minister.

When the troublesome duo of China-Pakistan are breathing down India’s neck on its two flanks and Donald Trump is baring his fangs in United States, India is hot under its collar and Jaishankar has been put on the burning deck.

On the face of it, everything looks cool: India has had a serious of significant ticks in international arena, be it tacit approval on its Balakot strike or getting the world behind to outlaw dreaded terrorist Masood Azhar. Significant alliances have emerged in the Muslim world even as Israel is now a very strategic critical ally. Respect for Modi could only grow now that he has been re-elected with a stunning majority in 2019 General Elections.

But trouble is at the door with Donald Trump’s United States determined to punish India over its buying of S400 missiles defence system from Russia. Already, India has lost the tariff benefits which US accords to less-developed countries under the Generalised  System of Preferences (GSP). The Trump administration had held off only because the 2019 General Polls were on in India. But now that it’s over, the $5.6 billion export that India enjoyed against the United States in 2017, would no longer be possible.

Trump is equally determined against India’s buying of S400 missile-defence system from Russia and a spokesman for the US administration has made no bones about it. India was warned on Friday that if it bought $5 billion worth of S400 missiles from Russia, it would have serious repercussions in terms of defence deals with United States.

United States has a policy for the world where countries, howsoever friendly, would be slapped with sanctions if they fostered ties with their adversaries, in this case Russia. The policy is called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Iran is another prickly issue. Trump had given a waiver to India from November to May to buy crude oil from Iran despite the sanctions it has in place against the orthodox Shia nation. But any further extension is completely ruled out.

As reports emerged that India was looking at ways to beat around the sanctions and continue its oil imports from Iran, US has made its position clear: “There will be no more oil waivers granted.” This would push up India’s oil import bills as  Iran used to supply 10 per cent of India’s needs. If US withdraws from Afghanistan, Pakistan would acquire further muscle in its intervention in Kashmir.

India’s troubled borders on its east and west make both China and Pakistan as perpetual adversary and frictions are never far off.

Modi didn’t invite Pakistan in his oath ceremony this week and the latter responded by firing a nuclear-capable Chinese-designed intermediate-range ballistic missile to serve a warning. India too flexed its muscle when just before the 2019 polls, it launched a missile to “destruct” one of its own satellites, becoming only the fourth power after United States, Russia and China to shoot down an object in space.

It’s clear that Jaishankar would’ve his hands full but if there is one person more competent with a better track record than the former foreign secretary, he or she is yet to be seen in India’s diplomatic circles. Over his long tenure, and significant stints in Russia, United States and China, among others, he has acquired a formidable network, his phonebook being the envy of most diplomats.

He was India’s foreign secretary till the last year and his understanding of India’s personnel or policy is unlikely to catch him unawares. He knows the system pretty well.

Jaishankar has worked around different governments but it’s under Modi that his stock has risen up. As India’s envoy to China, he first impressed the present Prime Minister when the latter was visiting China as Gujarat chief minister in 2011. He was there when Modi made his first “rockstar” visit to United States on his election to PM’s office in 2014. Modi promoted him as foreign secretary in 2015. His framework on foreign policy greatly helped his successor Vijay Gokhale as Doklam and Balakot occurred.

Jaishankar is known to be a very hard negotiator. Together with Modi and Amit Shah, he can cut through the government flab. The near future is tough for India but the nation can’t have better men than Modi-Shah-Jaishankar to steer its course. In Hindu pantheon of Gods the trinity of Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver) and Mahesh (destroyer) reign supreme. In Modi, Jaishankar and Amit Shah these are today’s political equivalent.