If there were a national issue which should not have attracted opposition, it is the scrapping of Article 370 and its by-product, Article 35A of the Indian Constitution. But that was not the case.
Article 370 meant that Jammu and Kashmir had its own constitution, a state flag, and laws. And obviously, the Indian Constitution did not apply suo moto to the state, except in parts. Similarly, Article 35A gave powers to the state to define and restrict who could be a citizen of J&K. These provisions, which are in violation of the spirit of the Indian Constitution, survived nearly seven decades. Although they gave J&K useful functional autonomy, it is debatable if they were put to good use considering the condition of the state’s infrastructure.
When home minister Amit Shah announced in Parliament that Article 370 would be abrogated, opposition parties were at loss of words. Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had reiterated in its manifesto that they saw no place for these articles in the Constitution. In view of voters’ overwhelming support for the party, this resolve had to be put into action.
The impasse in the state, particularly in Kashmir Valley, was earlier perpetuated by the lack of dialogue and violence in the name of jehad and ‘azadi’. No political regime managed to confront the challenge, legally or using state force. They were mostly defensive and took contradictory stands against accelerating violence and terror attacks.
As the current NDA government abrogated these provisions in a swift, determined manner, it all appeared so simple to accomplish. It was indeed a meticulous exercise; kudos to the team of strategists and administrators behind it. It is a humungous task to take into account various factors such as public reaction, active separatists, volatile neighbours, the hawk-eyed international community, dissenting voices and the subsistence needs of people under curfew in the Valley.
The intellectual criticism of this move has been limited and on expected lines. First, that the government did it hastily and in violation of constitutional provisions, using the brute force of the elected majority. Second, that the people of the state were not consulted.
There appears to be little merit in these arguments considering the temporary and superimposed character of the two articles. It is naive to assume that the Modi government would have left the legal aspects unexamined, though of course, the Supreme Court will take the final call.
As far as people’s will is concerned, there appears to be no way that it could be fairly determined in the present violence-ridden environment. Moreover, the interlocutors instituted in the past proved unproductive and were not welcomed by the self-proclaimed leaders of dissent and separatism. Many of them, who protected their vested interests at the cost of the poor and gullible, are likely to soon disappear from the scene, thanks to the actions of the present leadership.
While Kashmir is India’s internal matter and this has been largely recognised globally, the issue has had many repercussions for Pakistan too. It has put a huge burden on the country’s exchequer and facilitated the military’s position at the centrestage of Pakistan’s polity. India has also paid heavily because of Pakistan’s ‘bleed India’ policy and, more so, because of the pacifist and passive policies that it chose to follow despite its military power and larger resource base. It took very long for India to realise this.
Article 370 and 35A were obstacles in the process of assimilating J&K into the Indian mainstream—a process led by Sardar Patel soon after Independence. This stalemate deprived it of development opportunities. Both these provisions also fuelled separatists and jehadis, and acted as a tool to mislead people into dreams of ‘azadi’.
Now that the mission to fully integrate J&K with the rest of the country has been accomplished, people of the state can hope for a better future. The reorganisation of J&K into Union territories seems to be a convincing tactical move. The Union territory status will allow the central government to keep a closer watch on the region and facilitate quick responses to law and order needs. One can hope that the reworked administrative arrangement and India’s proactive policies against terrorism and Pakistan will help in curbing militancy in the state. The strengthened internal security is also likely to ensure robust development in the new Union territories.
It must be highlighted that India’s latest move on J&K has not come overnight—it is in the direct continuum of the Modi government’s strategic response to Pakistan’s policies through a major part of its last term. This has paid commendable dividends.
Conventional critics insist that one can only deal with insurgency and acts of terrorism by addressing the root cause first. This approach, however, may not hold much water in the present scenario, where sophisticated and externally funded violence is the order of the day. Dialogues can be conducted and the root cause can be addressed only after the fire is convincingly doused and relative peace prevails. The Modi government’s approach of tackling the bloody and ruthless insurgency holds important lessons for students of statecraft.
This may be the most appropriate time to deal with the future of Kashmir and the harrowed psyche of its people in a clear, transparent, and speedy manner. The following measures may help in this regard:
- Earmark three to four years for consolidating peace, security, and rapid social development in J&K. Any politically motivated venture like elections or delimitation should not be a priority.
- Consider restoring statehood after the above-suggested consolidation period.
- Continue and strengthen the layered response mechanism followed by the state lately to deal with different categories of people who disrupt peace.
- Conduct dialogues with varied stakeholders and individuals.
- Create joint peace groups comprising members from a cross-section of local communities.
- Institute a comprehensive survey to identify the grievances and aspirations of various sections of society through local workers co-opted from the same social segments. Separate surveys should be carried out for the youth—especially those engaged in academics, looking for jobs or already employed in skilled and unskilled jobs.
- Engage the youth in social projects like universal education, computer literacy, spoken English classes, community healthcare and nutrition programmes, sanitation programmes, road safety awareness and enforcement through innovative modules.
- Expand and modernise the police force and give special emphasis to the recruitment of locals therein.
- Facilitate the participation of locals as sleeping partners in businesses.
- Allay people’s apprehensions by stipulating some checks on commercial exploitation by real estate agencies.
- Bring in international agencies to innovatively develop tourism in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
- Put in place action plans at all levels of public administration down to the panchayat which covers the above and other programmes. These should include timelines, monitoring and accountability mechanisms.
Hopes are high that the people J&K, particularly in the Kashmir Valley, will soon find justice. They will then be able to erase memories of deprivation and pain and join hands to nurture their inclusive traditions and beautiful land.
(Subhash Nagpal is a former bureaucrat. Views expressed are own.)