National Security Adviser Ajit Doval has landed in Jammu and Kashmir to handle the fallout of the decision to revoke Article 370
Around eight hours after the historic resolutions scrapping special status to Jammu & Kashmir were introduced in the Rajya Sabha, they were passed. By then, national security adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval was already in Srinagar, overseeing the transition of the state into a Union Territory.
The revoking of Article 370 and Article 35A that gave special status to the state, and special privileges to its permanent residents, may have been a long-standing objective of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and before that, its precursor, the Jana Sangh, but the endgame that culminated in home minister Amit Shah’s historic statement in Parliament started playing out as recently as July 5, HT has learnt as it tried to piece together the timeline from conversations with the few people aware of at least some of the details. Only a handful are believed to have been in the know of the entire plan.
On July 5, the Research and Analysis Wing’s new chief Samant Goel called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the PMO. In the course of the conversation, Goel mentioned to the PM that India perhaps had a month to fully integrate Kashmir with itself. After that, the spy agency chief warned, things could spin out of control: the US would fully engage with Pakistan to strike a deal with the Taliban over Afghanistan, key to its exit from the country. That, Goel warned, could result in a deal between the US and the Pakistan-supported Taliban by September 1 following which Washington could choose to reward Islamabad for its role with the resumption of military and economic aid. That could see an intensification of Islamabad’s direct and indirect sponsorship of terror groups operating in Kashmir.
For New Delhi, already aware of this threat, Pakistan premier Imran Khan’s visit to Washington on July 22 came as further reinforcement of its assessment that US President Donald Trump desperately wanted out of Afghanistan; Trump made an offer to mediate between India and Pakistan, much to the delight of Khan.
Long before that, even ahead of Goel’s meeting, the BJP’s top team, including legal experts (former finance minister Arun Jaitley is believed to be one), had come around to the legal view that Article 370 could be done away with a Presidential order, especially if the state administration was under the Governor.
According to senior BJP functionaries, preparations for scrapping Article 370 began simultaneously with the drafting of the manifesto for the 2019 general elections.
The functionaries added that the finalisation of the resolutions and bills that were passed on Monday sped up after the Lok Sabha results were announced, with the massive mandate it received (303 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha) giving the party confidence that it could fulfil one of its poll promises.
The demand has also consistently been raised by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the BJP, which perceived these articles as an impediment in the integration of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India.
Things started gathering momentum after Shah’s visit to Srinagar on June 26 along with the director of the Intelligence Bureau Arvind Kumar and home secretary Rajiv Gauba.
While there was total agreement within the national security establishment that these articles should be scrapped, internal security agencies had flagged concerns over the possibility of violence in the Valley. However, the government decided to go ahead after factoring in inputs from RAW chief Goel’s July 11 visit and NSA Doval’s July 23 one to the Valley. Significantly, army chief General Bipin Rawat visited the Valley in June as well as in July to keep his army commanders on their toes. Doval also held a meeting with the three military and the three intelligence chiefs (including NTRO) on July 24 in this context.
It isn’t clear when the final decision was taken, but once it was – presumably sometime within the last fortnight, according to people familiar with the matter – things started moving rapidly. There is a theory that the Opposition’s capitulation in the Rajya Sabha , where the BJP isn’t in a majority, may have given the latter the confidence to push ahead.
Last week, the home ministry sent 2,000 satellite phones to the J&K administration in the event of phones and internet not functioning. Internet services in the Valley were cut off on Sunday night, and mobile and phone services soon after.
Over the past 10 days, as many as 350 companies of paramilitary forces -- 35,000 men -- were moved to the state, particularly the Valley.
Around the same time, the last week of July, the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO)’s high altitude long-endurance Israeli Heron drones were sent across the Pir Panjal for crowd control. Military aircraft flew dozens of sorties flying relief supplies including food, water and medicines into the Valley.
By Friday last week, the buzz over the scrapping of 35A (370 was never mentioned) had intensified, especially after the Amarnath yatra was called off, and tourists asked to leave the Valley.
On the evening of August 4, with speculation peaking, Shah called up the RAW chief Goel and IB chief Kumar and told them to be ready – perhaps the first time the national security establishment realised that the Modi government was going to announce scrapping of article 35A and 370 in Parliament on Monday.
Interestingly, the much-talked about meeting Shah called earlier in the day was to discuss the situation in the North-east.
External affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was also kept in the loop so as to deal with the diplomatic fallout of the move.
Fearing that Pakistan’s spy agency Inter Services Intelligence and jihadists in the Valley could target local leaders and blame New Delhi for it, a decision was taken to keep all of the Valley’s political leaders under house arrest from midnight Sunday. Curfew was imposed, as was Section 144. Paramilitary forces were also sensitised to display restraint and not be provoked into firing into unruly crowds; the fear in New Delhi is that Pakistan could instigate them through supporters in the Valley.
The timing of Monday’s move, 10 days ahead of India’s Independence day on August 15 is significant but a BJP functionary played it down.
“This was the first session of Parliament after the elections and if not now, then when?”