It is true that not much is known about what is the situation inside the Kashmir Valley.
Pieces of information trickling out are often contradictory and, in any case, do not present the complete picture.
But what is happening outside of Kashmir is no less significant.
The August 5 announcement of the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A — simultaneously with the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir state into two Union Territories — had its desired effect of shock and awe, both inside the country and on our immediate neighbours across the western border. They were probably expecting Modi 2.0's Kashmir policy to be more muscular — but certainly did not bargain for such swift action so early in the day.
What took the Kashmir lobby at home and abroad by surprise was the groundswell of support from the rest of India and the studied silence of the international community.
Even the regular human rights professionals have been unusually muted.
The Congress, after fulminating in Parliament about the Constitutional validity of the move, turned circumspect the next day. Fault lines within the party became visible with some young leaders such as Jyotiraditya Scindia and the veteran Karan Singh, coming out in support of the removal of Article 370. Ghulam Nabi Azad remained the only voice of protest. Its subsequent reactions have been somewhat schizophrenic.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC), which had protested in the Rajya Sabha, toned down its stand the next day, with its leader Mamata Banerjee critiquing the method of doing away with Article 370 rather than the decision itself. Nitish Kumar was the lone dissenter within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Among opposition parties, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and YSR Congress Party were conspicuous in supporting the Bill. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Communists opposed — but this appeared more symbolic than of substance.
In the global theatre, India had definitely done its groundwork well. Most importantly, it timed the manoeuvre to perfection, when the big boys were busy frying larger fish in Afghanistan and elsewhere. So, Pakistan got little attention for its loud protestations.
The Indian government had clearly established the ground rules of Kashmir being its internal matter. It did not mince words in saying Pakistan had no business to rant over what was happening inside Indian territory.
So far, the Indian position has not been challenged by any global power — including the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), where China raised the subject. Even at the Security Council, China's crib had more to do with Ladakh, which is of strategic interest in its larger geopolitical scheme of things. India received solid support from all other members of UNSC. Russia chose the middle line, given its alignment with China in the emerging new global order. But, by and large, the Indian diplomats pulled off a major win.
Back home, jibes and snipes continue to fly across the media camps.
The NRI 'think tank' fraternity of self-appointed conscience-keepers tried to stir the pot with op-eds in international papers — but with underwhelming results. Their comrades in the Indian media have been pressing for the release of mainstream Kashmiri leaders from preventive custody. However, there were not many takers for their campaign to either move public opinion or build pressure on the administration. This reflects how the credibility of the Abdullahs and Muftis has eroded over the years. Now, they are seen more as part of the problem than its solution.
The interception of Shah Faesal at Delhi airport, when he was reportedly trying to slip out of the country, did not cause much sensation either. This IAS-turned-politician and activist is the new darling of the Kashmir experts in Delhi. But obviously, his popularity has not soared high enough to attract international attention. He is now making a renewed attempt to grab some limelight by filing a petition in the Delhi High Court about his detention.
Suddenly, those who have been used to setting the narrative on Kashmir are finding themselves orphaned and isolated.
That is not a happy feeling.
These 'busybodies' (if one were to borrow an expression from India's ambassador at the UN and the new star on the block, Syed Akbaruddin) are hoping that once restrictions are lifted and the leaders are set free, they will be able to script a new story line.
#WATCH: Syed Akbaruddin, India’s Ambassador to UN says,"so, let me start by coming across to you and shaking hands. All three of you," to a Pakistani journalist when asked,"when will you begin a dialogue with Pakistan?" pic.twitter.com/0s06XAaasl— ANI (@ANI) August 16, 2019
While people generally empathise with the plea to restore telecommunications and the internet, they also recall that Kashmir has seen worse shutdowns in the past.
It is evident that the government is working to a plan and knows what it is doing. There is a calibrated dial-back process in motion that is reassuring.
It cannot be anyone's case that Kashmiris would be rejoicing after the removal of Article 370. Undoubtedly, there must be a lot of bottled-up angst among the people of the Valley. At the same time, reports of violence and atrocities spreading through Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook are believed to be exaggerated. Having worked on a paradigm-changing game-plan that would have required months of micro-level planning and preparation to the last detail, Modi-Shah would not risk botching up a high-stake operation by ham-handed execution.
The Modi government is out to change the rules of engagement with Pakistan.
Two very telling messages to that effect have come, somewhat unexpectedly, from Rajnath Singh in his new avatar of Defence Minister.
First was his statement in Pokhran that India reserves its right to reconsider the "No First Use Policy" on the nuclear button based on the situation.
The second, coming in quick succession, was two days later in Panchkula. There he said emphatically that future dialogue with Pakistan on Kashmir, if any, will be only about Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). A politician of Rajnath Singh's maturity would not make a cavalier statement unlike other motormouth BJP leaders. It would certainly have the endorsement of the Prime Minister.
India has now upped its game and moved above the league of Pakistan. Modi clearly envisages a much bigger role for India in the new world order, with a plan to sit at the global high table. So, he cannot afford to remain bogged down with Kashmir. As some discerning foreign policy commentators have pointed out, going forward, it is China that India needs to focus upon — rather than be distracted by Pakistan's mischief.
However, the ground has really shifted beneath the feet of the so-called 'mainstream' leaders. Coming out of confinement, they may cry hoarse about the reinstatement of Article 370 — but the size of their pie has been reduced for good by the bifurcation of the state. Whatever strategy they might adopt — whether covertly aligning with separatists or invoking support from across the border — their playground is now restricted to the Valley.
The writ of Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, or even Shah Faesal, will not run in Jammu or Ladakh.
Their fiefdom has now been irreversibly truncated.
Therefore, in rooting for the old political royalty of Kashmir, their journalist friends are probably backing the wrong horses.
Without doubt, this is a mega gambit of the Modi-Shah-Doval triumvirate.
Going forward, they will bet on the new generation of leadership which has come to the fore with the Panchayat elections that the mainstream parties boycotted out of arrogance and over-confidence. It is conceivable that sensing an opportunity, leaders like Sajad Lone will join the mainstreaming process, carrying along the second or third rung of National Conference (NC) and People's Democratic Party (PDP) leaders.
Modi's genius has been in capturing the imagination of the youth. He has been one of the first to understand that today's youngsters, who are much more aware of how the world is progressing, are unwilling to barter their present for the promise of a utopian future. They believe in the here and now.
If Modi can deliver some quick wins, then this generation can switch loyalties en masse. After all, they are able to see how their contemporaries are faring in Pakistan vis-à-vis youngsters of the same age group in mainland India.
As far as the old dynasts are concerned, they have enough sins to atone for and skeletons tumbling out each passing day. They would be well advised to cut their losses and seek amnesty in cooler pastures.
Time to sniff the kahwa.
Modi 2.0 is moving forward with a timetable — and at the moment it looks unstoppable.