No surprise in India’s Supreme Court upholding abrogation of Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir special status 

By Mayank Chhaya-

Mayank Chhaya

The Indian Supreme Court’s decision upholding the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution that granted a special status to Jammu and Kashmir was in some ways a fait accompli given that its momentousness was already internalized in the country’s polity since it was carried out on August 5, 2019.

It was not seriously expected that the Supreme Court, despite its Chief Justice Dhananjay Chandrachud’s fabled reputation for running contrary to the prevailing political order, would reverse the abrogation. Even though it remains controversial in certain quarters, particularly among political leaders of the Kashmir Valley, its sting has long waned in the last four years.

The unanimous decision of the five-judge Constitutional Bench appeared to be balancing their historic decision with the order to the country’s Election Commission to conduct elections to Jammu and Kashmir Assembly before September 30, 2024. By that date the state will have been without an election for a decade since the last one was conducted in 2014. It is an important caveat to the upholding of the Narendra Modi government’s dramatic but predictable action in abrogating the article four years ago.

It was also four years ago that Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. It was decided then that Ladakh would remain as a Union Territory, but the nation was assured that statehood of Jammu and Kashmir “will be restored soon.” The court has also directed that statehood to Jammu and Kashmir be restored.

The court’s decision hands Prime Minister Modi a major political triumph months before the general election to India’s parliament is expected to be held. While his original action in abrogating 370 was already projected as a promise fulfilled, there was always the hanging sword of how the Supreme Court might deal with legal challenges to it. That sword has now been lifted, giving him and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a massive ideological victory. The Hindu right as embodied in the BJP and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has for decades demanded that 370 be taken off the statute books, ending a special treatment for a state that joined the Indian Union at the time of its nascency amid great recrimination and acrimony.

Even those who harbor open animus against Modi among the opposition had grudgingly acknowledged his government’s gumption in ending 370. That was in keeping with the way right-wing ideologies have worked across the world historically in that they live up to their promises irrespective of their larger cost. Another example of that trend is the upcoming inauguration of a much-promised Ram temple in Ayodhya expected sometime in January 2024. That too was the Hindu right’s frenzied commitment for decades.

India’s centrist and left-of-center political parties have routinely miscalculated and underestimated the right wing’s resolve no matter how long issues might take to work out in their favor. It is equally true of the politics in the U.S., one prime example being the overturning of Roe V. Wade abortion rights issue after nearly 50 years in 2022 by the Supreme Court.

There are clear expectations that Modi and the BJP will grandly project their triumphs on 370 and the Ayodhya temple as part of their general election campaign. Of course, in and of themselves the two triumphs are no guarantees of the party’s victory in 2024 but to the extent that they lend credibility to Modi’s proclamations they have great potential to sway the verdict in his favor.

The Supreme Court’s decision gives the BJP leaders ammunition to intensify their often-vicious attacks on India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a favorite political punching bag for them on any and all issues. In keeping with that approach, Home Minister Amit Shah yet again blamed Nehru on the question of 370 saying it was the article that led to Kashmir’s decades-long violent separatism. Relitigating everything Nehru did has become a pathological obsession for the BJP which continues to see him as their most beneficial bogeyman.

(The writer regularly reported the Kashmir insurgency for seven years from its inception in 1989.) 

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