Article 370: Kashmiris have nothing left to lose, and that is scary, says former RAW chief AS Dulat

“This has been a part of the party’s manifesto ever since it was born. So, Amit Shah is delivering unto Nagpur what is Nagpur’s,” says AS Dulat

AS Dulat
AS Dulat
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Ashlin Mathew

“Let’s not forget we are talking of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. This has been a part of the party’s manifesto ever since it was born. BJP has never been stronger, more powerful than now. So, Amit Shah is delivering unto Nagpur what is Nagpur’s,” says AS Dulat, former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing, in a conversation with Ashlin Mathew

What do think of the abrogation of Article 370?

I have been saying for a while now that there was nothing left in Article 370. It was a hollow provision. Everything that 370 was supposed to be, it was not, except for the symbolic psychological effect. Even Amit Shah said in Parliament that there had been a gradual erosion of the Article. So, the BJP has only taken it to its logical conclusion and delivered it to Nagpur.

Even if they had to render Article 370 and 35 A ineffective, why did they have to divide the state and carve two Union Territories out of it?

I don’t know if the BJP removed it because it was a Muslim-majority state. Even now, Jammu and Kashmir will remain a Muslim-majority Union Territory.

What you are implying is that now people from outside will come and settle there. Well, we will have to wait and see. Whatever has happened will have repercussions and if you try to change the demographics of Kashmir, that too will have repercussions.

Various governments have attempted to resettle the Kashmiri Pandits and bring them back but it hasn’t happened. It hasn’t happened because the Kashmir Pandits still feel threatened. It wouldn’t be easy for anyone else coming from outside. But, there isn’t much land in Kashmir either.

If the 370 was no longer what it was, then what was the issue in letting it be there?

They wanted to do much more than remove Article 370. They wanted to split the state. They wanted to remove all the vestiges of whatever had been promised or created.

In the backdrop of the nullification of Article 370, what do you think is the BJP’s agenda?

Let’s not forget we are talking of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. This has been a part of the party’s manifesto ever since it was born. It has been on its manifesto since the days of Bharatiya Jan Sangh in the 1950s. So, in some ways, there is an inevitability about it. What better time than this? The BJP has never been stronger, more powerful than now. So, Amit Shah is delivering unto Nagpur what is Nagpur’s. And somebody was quoted as saying that a majority of people in the country is supporting the move. If that is right, then how can the government be wrong?

Majority of the people are supporting this move. But, does that make it the right decision?

What was wrong earlier in Kashmir? It is a complex matter and a complex story. I only served in Kashmir during the Vajpayee regime. What we have been doing gradually in Kashmir is to mainstream the Kashmiri thought. It was to involve them in the mainstream. And we have succeeded to a large extent.

The reality on the ground before August 5, 2019 was the Kashmiri had acknowledged that the best they can get is status quo. They wanted to be treated properly, get justice,have peace with honour. They wanted to be treated like the rest of the country like the UPites, Bengalis or Biharis.

There was an inevitability about this decision.A lot of people support this decision and it was waiting to happen. The thinking in the country is conditioned by the politics in the country

Do you think the situation will worsen in Jammu & Kashmir?

Protests have already begun and if this can happen so soon, then something will give in, in the course of time. I’m already being proven correct. Some people have already argued with me on this. I have always said there will be a reaction to this.What kind of reaction, where they would react, God alone knows. I hope there will not be any reaction but common sense says there will be a reaction. It is scary.

This is a question of somebody thinking that they have nothing left to lose. As it is, the Kashmiri has been feeling that for some time...When boys feel it, that is the danger.The Pulwama boy blew himself and the bus up. He obviously felt it is better to go straight to heaven than hang around here. Those who think that there will be no reaction do not understand Kashmir.

I feel the most vulnerable now is going to be Jammu because that is nearest to both Pakistanand Kashmir.

Already, since 2008, there has been a divide. Communalism has grown. So, Jammu becomes the most vulnerable. When militancy began in 89-90, and at its peak in 1992, militancy had started affecting Jammu. Even when I was in Kashmir in the early 1990’s, there was a bomb blast at a temple in the city. And since then, we have seen many more attacks in Jammu.

In fact, there are more attacks on securityforces in the Jammu area than in Srinagar. Army camps have been attacked, sohave been police stations. And it has spread across the border and gone toPathankot and Gurdaspur in Punjab. I hope it does not flow further down the GTRoad.

Jammu will need special security and good intelligence. The trouble with intelligence and security is that there is nothing which is foolproof. If someone is prepared to die, thenhe will die. And how he commits suicide is of his choosing, his timing.

After all, when 9/11 happened, who could have believed that there are people mad enough to fly the seplanes into the twin towers. There were boys in J&K who were ready to do these things. Now, there will be more boys and more determination.

When P Chidambaram was demitting office in 2014, he had honestly said that they were lucky to have no serious terror attack during UPA-2. Amit Shah would need all of Chidambaram’sl uck and more.

Modiji is actually lucky. Prime Ministers aretested in times of crises. Atal Bihari Vajpayee went through three, Dr Manmohan Singh had a huge crisis (26/11), but both didn’t lose their cool.

Vajpayee had to deal with Kargil War and Parliament attack, and yet he was willing to make peace with General Musharraf. He invited Musharraf to Agra. It’s another matter that Agra was a fiasco, but the effort was there. No one thought of him as a weak Prime Minister.

What do you think is the feeling on the ground in Kashmir?

Kashmiris have been saying for quite some time now that Delhi is not interested in the people, they only want the land. That’s what Chidambaram has said – that Delhi is looking for real estate. And he also says that the price of this real estate could be very high, implying that we will have to pay for it. He said it in Parliament too.

He is an intelligent man and he is the only one who has been saying it.  I think there will be a reaction and it won’t be nice, I feel. Every time, I say it, I add that I hope I’m wrong because you don’t know when it is going to happen, where it is going to happen.

The National Conference has filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the abrogation of Article 370. But, I don’t think anything will come out of that.

This will add to the grievances that even the SC is not willing to listen to the Kashmiris. I think the NC went to the Supreme Court to prove this point.

What has happened has happened. This is not going to be overturned.

What do you think of the reactions from around the world?

There’s a lot of subtlety in all of this. If BBC is showing you something which nobody else is showing,then it carries a message. The Brits have not made a statement but the BBC is showing this; the Americans have not made a statement, but New York Times is carrying it.

What will be the future of the UN Observer in Kashmir?

They should pack their bags and go home. The UN office in Kashmir exists and I used to cross that office everyday when I was posted there, but it is hardly functional. What is its role? The UN was supposed to have observers and their job was actually on the border – to see if the border remains quiet. The observers of the other side are still there, but we told the observers on our side that we don’t need them. There would be no intervention on part of the UN.

Pakistan has commented on the abrogation of Article 370. But, does Pakistan even have a say in the matter?

Anybody can say anything. We can also say Pakistan should not have done it. This is the other irony in Kashmir because we like to blame Pakistan for everything. Pakistan has been out of the picture in Kashmir for a quite a while now. Directly or indirectly, they have put their hands up.

Pervez Musharraf wasthe finest Pakistan leader in relation to Kashmir. He nearly came to an agreement with Dr Manmohan Singh and he was accepting a settlement on the Line of Control. I think it is difficult to imagine more than that. Since then, he has also realised that Pakistan cannot fight India and economically Pakistan will be losing out. It is much better to be friends. I think there is that realisation on our side too but it breaks down every now and then.

In a sense, what hasbeen done in Kashmir is also a slap on Pakistan’s face. It is like stating that“you can do what you like, but there is nothing you can do.” But, if they could meddle in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, they can meddle in the Union Territory of J&K as far as terrorism is concerned. That is the snag and that is what worries me.

I don’t expect Pakistan to go to war over Kashmir. But if the jihadis come in greater numbers, and if our own home-grown boys get into this act, I wouldn’t like to think what will happen. One has to hope that it won’t happen. Pakistan is quite helpless in this matter. It’s good it remains this way.

So, now India has no claim over PoK after this move?

Why not? India can claim anything. They can claim China too. What is there in claiming?

What is the difference you see between the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and this one?

There’s a world of difference. Vajpayee was a totally different kind of person and his legacy has long been buried by this government. His thinking was more Nehruvian than the Nagpur line.

He was of course a very clever politician. I know that this matter of Article 370 did not come up when I was in the government. If in the party the issue was raked up, he had a ready excuse that there were 23 other parties with him. He was leading a coalition of about 24 parties. Now, that is not there. Now, of course, everything is tailor-made.

I think Vajpayee wanted to end the permanent confrontation with Pakistan and he possibly felt that Kashmir was a part of all that. He wanted to move forward in Kashmir, but he never spelt out what ‘moving forward’ meant. In course of time, I realised that his ‘moving forward’ meant that he would remove Farooq Abdullah and bring his son Omar Abdullah as the Chief Minister. It was as simple as that, but unfortunately National Conference lost the election in 2002.

The thinking in the country was quite different when Vajpayee was at the head of the government than it is today. Nobody ever said Vajpayee was a weak Prime Minister. In February 1999, he took the bus to Lahore and there was such camaraderie between Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif. In Delhi, people thought all the problems with Pakistan would be sorted.

How do you think this abrogation of Article 370 will affect the daily lives of people?

Now, there will be more army troops there. How long will they be suppressed? How long will you keep Omar Abdullah or Mehbooba Mufti detained? Everyone will speak up.

There is no insanity in going to the court, but the problem will be with those who decide they will die. What will you do with them?

Kashmiris have come to a blind alley now. The only way forward is that Delhi will lay down the law and people on the ground will do what they have to do in defiance of all that.

Kashmiri opinions will firm up and it is difficult to say where they will ultimately end up. Some of the affluent Kashmiris might decide to move out of Kashmir. If it is going to be locked up for three months, who is going to want to live there? People will think of various things.

The army was used to quell terrorism in Punjab. So, can’t that work in J&K too?

There is a world of difference between the people of both the states. If you are talking about quelling, in Kashmir everything was quelled. Everything was quiet. Let’s go back to May 2014, when the Lok Sabha election took place. From then to now, a lot has happened.

Is the situation in Kashmir the way it is because of the politics in the region?

Kashmir is the way it is because it lacks political leadership. There is a big void. Other than Farooq Abdullah, there is no leader who understands both Kashmir and Delhi. Even the Hurriyat wasted a lot of time. Why didn’t Mirwaiz Omar Farooq join with Omar Abdullah? Why didn’t the Hurriyat and the mainstream leaders get together? More importantly, why didn’t Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Farooq Abdullah get together?

Even after knowing that something was going to happen, why couldn’t the Kashmiri politicians get together? I came back a few days before the Union government announced the abrogation and there were several Kashmiris ringing me up desperately asking about the troop movements and what would happen. What was the leadership doing?They met only on the evening before the abrogation of Article 370 and that was only a photo opportunity. It was nothing beyond that and it was meaningless.

For the time being,Kashmir will be looking for an Arvind Kejriwal-kind of man. He also has had to deal with a Lieutenant General. I would think someone like Shah Faesal stands a chance. It would be someone whom Delhi approves. There will be elections and people there will always say that elections have been managed. So, nothing changes. People say the only free election happened during Morarji Desai’s time, whether it is right or wrong. It is sad but true.

It’s a funny thing to say, but J&K has always been a Union Territory of Delhi after Sheikh Abdullah. So, what is the big deal now? I was not there when Dr Farooq Abdullah was dismissed in 1983 and that was a huge blunder. I was there during the Rajiv-Farooq accord of 1987. Soon after that, I had gone to Kashmir in 1988 and Kashmiris used to say that Farooq was a stooge of Delhi and he always remained a stooge of Delhi. Even Omar and Mehbooba.

So, then the Hurriyat has no future in J&K?

If there is no J&K, what future will the Hurriyat have? Though I think Mirwaiz could still have a future. He is young and has common sense on his side.

What do you think the political leadership in Kashmir should do?

There is a political class and it will have to think what it wants to do. One of the main problems in Kashmir has been its political leadership. Even in the best of times, they have gone ahead with what Delhi wanted. Now, what do you expect them to do? The Chief Minister there will be somebody whom Delhi wants.

Omar’s last words before he was locked up was that the struggle has just begun. We have to wait and watch. I’m sure he will take inspiration from his grandfather, who was in jail for more than 22 years. Omar is not a pushover but a Sheikh is a Sheikh.

What the political class thinks is not going to matter much because I don’t think there will be an alliance between Mehbooba and Omar in the elections in the Union Territory.

Do you think a stronger Opposition could have stalled this move?

If there was an Opposition, if there was a stronger Congress, then this whole thing would have been much more difficult for the BJP. This country needs the Congress. Many people think the Congress party is a disaster and that it should be disbanded. But I feel this country needs the Congress party. And the Congress party also needs Sonia Gandhi.

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