It is exigent for government to keep the hope of the people alive, win them over psychologically and pursue healing touch policy.
Many analysts had believed that India’s surprise announcement to repeal the provisions of Article 370 and splitting the state into two union territories – Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh on Aug. 5, 2019 will end into a cataclysm. It was argued that it will turn into a global controversy, which will be hard to chew for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Pakistan opposed it, with Prime Minister Imran Khan calling abrogation of special status a “brazen and egregious.” But all attempts to internationalize the issue were largely rebuffed. Major Islamic countries supported India. The US including other western countries decided to wait and watch and give New Delhi leverage to defeat terrorism and secessionism with the mantra of development, grassroot empowerment and financial independence.
Due to alert security on the borders, Pakistan was unable to increase infiltration in Kashmir Valley. Adding to this frustration is Pakistan’s worsening financial condition, slowing down of its China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and losing trust of key allies like UAE and Saudi Arabia and international bodies such as Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on the Kashmir issue. Looking back at the developments, it can be analyzed that the international community has more-or-less rightly accepted the fait accompli presented by India as her internal matter.
On China’s intervention, the United Nations Security Council did hold a meeting on Jammu & Kashmir, but an informal and closed-door one without any formal pronouncements. It is pertinent to note that China itself is in possession of two parts of J&K, the Shaksgam Valley (illegally ceded to China by Pakistan in 1963) and Aksai Chin (occupied by China post 1962). It may be noted that China provides no real autonomy in these (or any other) areas, with the local statutes requiring the approval of the National People’s Congress. Moreover, China has been urged to “allow meaningful access to Xinjiang” by several countries and international organisations.
Perils of Articles 370 and 35A
Article 35A violated the very concept of equality enshrined in the Constitution of India. Its treatment of non-permanent residents of J&K was akin to treating its own people as second-rate citizens. They could not buy immovable property in J&K, were not eligible for employment by the state government, could not contest or vote in local body or Assembly elections, could not avail of scholarships and other grants offered by the state government to its permanent residents and, above all, could not seek redress in any court, local or national.
The J&K legislature had the right to decide who gets the permeant resident status and hence, the privileges that accompany it, such as the right to own property, the right to vote, etc. It had not been granted to refugees from Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir or Indian citizens from other states. Even Uighurs from Xinjiang and Tibetan Muslim families settled in J&K over decades were also denied with full citizenship rights, while their peers, who had settled in Kolkatta and elsewhere enjoyed full citizenship rights.
If the parents of senior IAS officer Sayeed Ahmed Baba, currently principal secretary in the West Bengal government, who had migrated from Tibet had opted to stay in Kashmir, as their other cousins, they would have never been able to educate their son leave alone him competing and qualifying for the Indian Administrative Service. Mr. Baba could pursue education only because his parents had shifted to Kolkata to allow their son to pursue big dreams. Their other cousin still living in Eidgah area or Srinagar are in abject poverty, because they were denied education and employment due to brazenness of Article 35A.
While Pakistan is shouting herself hoarse on India’s internal issue of modification of Article 370, it conveniently overlooks the issue of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) – Indian territory of J&K illegally occupied by it. It was Pakistan which first revoked the ‘special status’ of J&K by abolishing the State Subject Rule in G-Bin 1974. This resulted in Pakistanis from outside G-B purchasing land in G-B and changing its demographic profile (Shia character) and bringing in Punjabi and Urdu influence. In fact, the so-called ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’ High Court had declared G-B a part of the so-called ‘Azad Jammu & Kashmir’ in 1993. This decision was, however, overturned by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. In 2018, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan gave an in-principle approval to accord the status of a ‘provisional’ province to G-B, in line with the recommendations given by the Sartaj Aziz Committee.
Unfortunately, the two mainstream political parties be that National Conference (NC) or Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have taken a common cause with separatists. Resisting full integration with the Indian Union, they have given a handle to Pakistan to interfere, as also an excuse to western powers to refer to the area as India-occupied Kashmir. Who in the world dares call Tibet “China-occupied”? Our own J&K, in comparison, acceded legally not by invasion or conquest.
Failures of Kashmiri leaders in fulfilling basic promises of access to water, electricity and good road transport had diminished faith on democratic systems and was pushed away many voters during elections. The problems were driving voters away from polling booths and towards more funerals of youth engaged in militancy.
Faith in democratic institutions
The successful completion of the District Development Council (DDC) elections and mass participation showed the resolve to return power to the people, democratic and decentralisation systems of governance to achieve better governance and development. The elections saw enthusiastic participation of both the people and political parties. The very fact that such a big election was completed peacefully with enthusiastic participation from both sides should silence many critics about the lack of political freedom in J&K. These elections were made possible through an amendment to the Panchayat Raj Act 1989 of the erstwhile J&K Constitution, which preceded the national act by six months. The amendment had facilitated the UT administration to conduct these elections through universal adult franchise. J&K’s tragedy has been that it became a prisoner of a few political families and a few dozen legislators.
In an article in the Indian Express on Dec. 28,point Man of BJP,wrote that grass roots leadership was never allowed to rise in Jammu and Kashmir. As a result, people remained largely powerless and at the mercy of a few leaders. Empowering the village panchayats was started by the UT administration a couple of years ago encouraging the rise of a new-generation leadership at the grass roots.
A couple of years back, a Union Minister , and MP from Udhampur had dared to wonder if Article 370 “actually worked to J&K’s disadvantage.” Not only did Mehbooba Mufti condemn his statement, but Omar Abdullah went on to tweet rather ominously, “Mark my words & save this tweet – long after Modi Govt is a distant memory either J&K won’t be part of India or Art 370 will still exist.” As if it is that flimsy provision that keeps the state tied to India not the force of arms in the face of a relentless an ongoing war waged by Pakistan.
Most importantly, provisions deterred the corporate sector from investing in the state as sans the provisions to buy immovable property, such investments make little business sense. The state, thus, remained dependent on the Centre for financial assistance, its economy being dependent for the most part on government jobs and doles from the Centre to enable the state to meet its obligations.
Achievements since Aug. 5, 2019
The annulment of Article 370 and 35A led annulment of 170 state laws to enable the region to usher in economic prosperity and development. In an effort to provide much needed boost to the economy, the Centre has fast-tracked a development package worth Rs. 80,000 crores which was initially announced in 2015. Twenty of the 63 projects have been completed so far while the remaining are to be completed by 2022. As far as the infrastructure development is concerned, the State has set up a Corporation; this has raised approximately Rs. 8,000 crores for about 6,000 projects that have been languishing in the former state. In addition, about 3,000 kms of road has been completed under the PM Gramin Sadak Yojana.
Significant advancements have been made in the health sector; seven news colleges have been opened in areas such as Baramulla, Anantnag etc. Setting up of AIIMS at two locations: Avantipur in Kashmir Valley, and Samba in Jammu is in progress.
For the past 70 years, J&K has only been able to harness 3,500MW of hydroelectric of its total potential of 25,000MW. Work has been initiated to raise the present capacity by another 3,000MW. Moreover, to fully realise the potential of Ladakh becoming a carbon neutral unity of the country, a 7,500MW solar park is envisaged to be set up. Recently, the UT conducted District Development Council Elections in J&K, which were fair and violence-free, thereby; witnessed the strengthening of democracy at the grassroots level.
But we must not lose the sight that the issue of J&K is multi-faceted and requires a whole-of-government and civil society approach. Deepening divisions have been noticed within the UT along the Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley, which need to be addressed. It is exigent for the government to keep the hope of the people alive and win them over psychologically. The communication blackout, closure of schools, damage to business, etc. would have significantly led to an increased feeling of alienation, distrust, and dismay, which now needs to be addressed sympathetically. It is praiseworthy that government has restored 5G communication services. But there is need to ensure that governance with accountability is provided to the people with focus on infrastructure development, health, education, and provisions for the disabled and marginalized communities, including sexual minorities.
According to a survey conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, on the Kashmiri youth, majority of the participants preferred to have a central government job and stay in Kashmir. The government should act on this aspiration and come out with a calendar of recruitment for various ministries and give it vast publicity. This will give the youth adequate time to prepare for the same. Simultaneously, some preparatory help in terms of tuitions/orientation can be made available to the youth.
The government should make the people aware of the government schemes that have now become applicable to J&K. This can be done by publicising the same in the vernacular media, pamphlets/stickers in areas of large congregation such as mosques and trading areas, vernacular press, etc.
Actors perceived as non-partisan, such as captains of private industries, should lead the way in creating jobs in J&K and opening skill centres for the youth. Engaging the business community of J&K is of utmost importance. This is the community which has one of the highest stakes in having stability in the region. They should be one of the prime beneficiaries of state-backed incentives and exemptions. The entertainment/modeling industry should open consultancy/recruitment offices in J&K to meet the aspirations of the youth. Empowerment of women should be one of the pivots for all development plans. The governments should set up ‘women cooperatives. The all-women environment will be an added incentive for women to make use of employment opportunities. Such cooperatives should have an attached crèche so that that the children are cared for and spend their time in the right environment amidst toys and cartoons.
Since the economy of J&K is mainly agrarian, the government should focus on how technology and foreign collaborations can help floriculture, horticulture, etc. The state of Gujarat, for example, has gained immensely from the Indo-Israel Agriculture Work Plan.
The air charges for travelling to J&K are rather expensive and restrictive right now. The government should make travelling to J&K more traveller-friendly.
Healing touch required
The government needs to engage with the families of dead militants, provide psychological support and ensure that the militant does not become an example to emulate, but an example to shun in the family/locality. An independent, professional approach to influence operations is required, drawing people from various fields such as academics, theology, media, military, etc. to not just counter fake and radical narratives.
The government may look at observing August 5 as good governance/grievance-redressal day, making it a day of citizen-centric festivities/activities. The government/non-governmental entities may also look at organising culinary competitions with national and international chefs focusing on local cuisine and local produce. The same can be done for music, art, and other media. Additionally, the government should be ready to counter any Pakistani plans of making Aug 5 as a ‘black day’. The government should organise an orientation for the locals wanting to work or travel to other parts of the country. People from remote areas should be encouraged to explore other parts of the country.
The government should lay extra emphasis on addressing the mental health issues of the people in general, and children in particular. The pellet gun victims and people who have witnessed/experienced traumatic incidents should get continued psychological help.
The Centre and the UT government should also plan and structure rehabilitation and political empowerment module for seven lakhs population of exiled Kashmiri Pandits and their physical return to Kashmir Valley by creating two smart townships/cities in Srinagar and Anantnag for a composite habitation with other Kashmiris.
People of Kashmir realise that the Indian nation State has come to stay in Jammu and Kashmir and people’s future is destined with the land of opportunities ,that is “INDIA” with its democracy and secular ethos. “The people have exercised the preference for democratic means to advocate their legitimate issues, Pakistan should keep off Kashmir perceived as enemy of Kashmiriyat and allow Kashmiris to pick up a peaceful and terror free life for future to legitimately enjoy the fruits of fundamental rights to liberty , life,Justice,democracy and the development.
Ashok Bhan, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India, Distinguished fellow-USI and; Chairman Kashmir(Policy and Strategy) Group.