Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pulled off a major political coup in effectively scrapping provisions of Articles 370 and 35A. The widespread support for the suspension of Jammu & Kashmir's statehood gives the BJP an edge in the upcoming Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana, Delhi and Arunachal Pradesh, while dealing a critical blow to the Congress.
Winning public endorsement for highly contentious policies is the PM's speciality. Defanging Article 370 is one such counterintuitive measure and demonstrates his appetite for big risks, and bold and innovative decision-making.
The move also showcases the Congress' utter helplessness in the face of the BJP's determination to carry forward its agenda and gives pause even to those who are optimistic about the party's revival.
Conversely, it may open a face-saving doorway for the Gandhis to return and take charge of the flailing party. Never has the Congress missed former president Sonia Gandhi more, for in the absence of a unifying force, the Opposition took diametric views.
The Congress is in near-isolation, with ideologically contiguous parties like the AAP, TDP, BSP, BJP and YSR Congress openly backing the NDA and others taking the line of least resistance by staging a walkout. Having felt the public pulse, they could not be seen to stand against the move.
Even within the Congress, opinion is sharply divided, as evidenced by the resignation of its Rajya Sabha MP and chief whip Bhubaneshwar Kalita. Other Congressmen, too, admitted to being on board with the government's decision, albeit off the record.
The timing for the dramatic step is perfect: the US is inclined to a hands-off approach, the NDA is in its honeymoon phase, the Opposition is at its weakest and most divided, the Supreme Court is manifestly not in an activist mode and the electorate needs a confidence booster in the face of a failing economy.
Already, the positives are being celebrated in and outside the Kashmir Valley. Kashmiri women are thrilled with the restoration of their rights to property, while real estate in the newly formed Union Territory looks forward to an unprecedented boom and businessmen anticipate a flood of investment.
The negatives have to do with the legality of abrogating provisions in articles 370 and 35A, the potential for bloodshed sparked by Kashmiri sub-nationalists and the diplomatic repercussions vis-à-vis China and Pakistan.
In addition, the fallout in the global media may well be radioactive; while Indian intellectuals have described the move as 'repressive' and a failure of democracy, the western media is predicting an escalation in violence.
Insofar as the legality is concerned, the ball is squarely in the apex court. It has the power of judicial review and can strike down the J&K Restructuring Act (once it receives presidential assent) if it deems fit.
The Supreme Court has already been hearing petitions against Article 370 and, in April of 2018, ruled that the provision had acquired “permanent” status. However, that didn't stop the Union government from declaring it “inoperative” (as opposed to eliminating it outright, which would have needed a constitutional amendment).
As for containing dissent, the precise administrative mechanism that will be instituted to govern J&K and Ladakh is not yet known. But the precautionary measures, such as enhancing military presence in the Valley and jailing political leaders, indicates that the Union government means business. This was not an off-the-cuff decision. Extensive preparations, legal and military, were made, although very few individuals were privy to them.
The result: yet another box in the BJP's election manifesto has been ticked. Triple Talaq is a decisive step towards a Uniform Civil Code, Jammu & Kashmir's special status is history. Next up, presumably, is the Ram Temple at Ayodhya.
A significant aspect of the decision is that it puts Home Minister Amit Shah front and centre. Hard-edged, uncompromising and ruthless though he may be, he has emerged from his mentor's shadow and may well become a contender in future.
For now, the message to the electorate is that the Modi-Shah partnership has the potential for transformative change. They are determined to break the shackles of status quo-ism and shape 'Naya India'.
Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee had once considered the trifurcation of J&K, but backed off in the absence of a majority. The Modi-Shah duo faces no such hurdles and is unafraid of controversy and undeterred by 'what ifs'.
The PM's visceral understanding of human behaviour renders him a master of Game Theory as applied to politics (the study of strategy, decisions and outcomes in competitive situations). This enables him to repeatedly confound his critics by taking hair-raising and seemingly foolhardy decisions, which enhance rather than diminish his popularity.
(The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)