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Is revocation of Article 370 a fait accompli for Kashmiri leaders?

Months-long detentions seem to have mellowed the Kashmiri leaders. Neither politicians nor the separatists - who would otherwise call for a shutdown at the drop of hat - have organised public response against the new domicile order.

Is revocation of Article 370 a fait accompli for Kashmiri leaders?

On April 3, Inspector General of Kashmir Vijay Kumar told a local newspaper that anyone found to be instigating people about the new domicile law will be arrested. The law passed days back by the ministry of home affairs has become a subject of some contention in the union territory. It has for the first time thrown Kashmir open to settlement by outsiders by entitling to domicile status anyone who has resided in J&K for 15 years. For central government officials and students, the period is only 10 and seven years respectively.

But that is beside the point here. The point at issue is Kumar's warning to the alleged instigators on social media. The message wasn't lost on anyone with an account on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, including the politicians, many of whom, including the former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah were only recently released. Only a few of them have expressed their opinion about the domicile law, albeit in very subdued terms. None of the politicians, including those from the separatist camp, has called for any organized public response against the domicile order. Separatists who would otherwise call for a shutdown at the drop of hat haven't done even that.

This muted response from Kashmiri leaders to the far-reaching constitutional and legal changes with regard to the erstwhile state has left people scratching their heads. More so, when the same leaders had adopted a defiant posture against New Delhi in the run up to the revocation of Article 370 last year and vowed to resist it. In fact, a statement issued by the National Conference immediately after the home minister Amit Shah announced the withdrawal of J&K autonomy in parliament termed the move as "aggression" on J&K.

But the months-long detention of these leaders seems to have mellowed them down. There are all the indications that they are coming around to accept the new dispensation in the region. A broad chunk of the leaders, most of them from the PDP, have since defected to the Apni Party floated by businessman turned politician Altaf Bukhari. The party, which is believed to enjoy the blessings of New Delhi, has reconciled to the post Article 370 political reality. Bukhari's politics revolves around the demand for domicile rights and statehood.

But considering the low-key profile maintained by Abdullah and Omar since their release, opinion is gaining ground that they too may have come around to the new state of affairs. On their release, father and son refused to talk about Article 370 citing the COVID-19 crisis. Omar has since got back into his Twitter routine. He has been posting his opinion on various issues and trying to soft-pedal, or steer clear of, politics.

When the Centre issued the domicile order, Omar and his party did react but the response was mild given to the implications of the move. In their respective statements both have desisted from calling or threatening a public response; so has the rival PDP, or, for that matter, even the separatist groups. Their statements only slam the order.

Besides, the general political focus in Kashmir has been on the jobs part of the order, which has since been addressed by New Delhi, rather than the relaxation of the conditions to become a J&K citizen which, it is feared, would alter the demography. Also, the centre's decision to reserve all jobs for J&K domiciles, which has been welcomed by the political class, has taken the focus away from the issue of opening the union territory's citizenship to outsiders.

What is more, in his latest tweet Omar has also demanded statehood and the conduct of elections to enable the region to make its own laws rather than centre going about it.

What does this mean? It is too early to conclude anything. For now, one can draw two safe inferences: one, the established mainstream leaders are biding their time. Or they see nullification of Article 370 as a fait accompli and are in the process of figuring out the contours of a new politics that appeals to people.

But then there are still some major leaders like Mehbooba Mufti, Sajjad Gani Lone, Engineer Rashid, Shah Faesal, etc who are in jail. This means Centre still sees them as too antagonistic to its August 5 move to be set free. Their release, if at all it comes through in the near future, will help make things clearer.

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