On August 5 last year, BJP fulfilled its long-pending promise of removing barriers to full integration of Jammu & Kashmir with India’s mainland. India de-operationalised Article 370 of its constitution with consummate finesse. It was indeed a masterstroke that left Kashmiri politicians dumbfounded. For them, it was a double whammy, rendering Article 370 redundant and splitting the state into two Union Territories (UT), J&K and Ladakh. People in Ladakh were thrilled on having been ‘rescued’ from the domination of Kashmiri political masters.
Ever since the revocation of Article 370, the Valley remains locked-down, initially due to an unprecedented security clampdown and now to protect it from the deadly pandemic. It is time we analyse the post-abrogation scenario.
Internal Security Situation
Empirical evidence shows that the insurgency-related incidents in the Valley have come down since August 5, 2019. J&K Police Chief justified this inference by comparing two timestamps. In a presentation to the Home Ministry, he highlighted two sets of figures, first, of the immediate aftermath of Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8, 2016, and, second, post-abrogation of the special status of J&K. The six months period after the first incident witnessed 2,500 violent clashes resulting in killings of 117 civilians. In contrast, the second period recorded only 196 violent incidents without any civilian deaths.
During the period from August 15 last year till July 15, while Security Forces (SF) gunned down 176 insurgents, their own casualties have drastically come down. In the first seven months of the current year, 36 security personnel were killed-in-action while 76 of them attained martyrdom during the corresponding period last year. Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the largest insurgent group in the Valley, was hardest hit with the elimination of its commander Riyaz Naiku and 50 cadres.
Even local recruitment to the insurgent ranks has declined. Of 80 locals who took to the insurgency, SF liquidated 38 and apprehended 22 of them. Security agencies claim only 190 militants are currently active in the Valley, the lowest in a decade, of whom 90 are foreigners.
While unprecedented security clampdown in the Valley could be one of the reasons for no severe backlash after the revocation of Article 370, other cogent views are also are in circulation. Observers feel Article 370 was a non-issue for the separatist camp and its retention was never their objective. Removal of the special status mainly affects the mainstream political leaders who, in any case, have waning public support, hence no significant outcry on the streets. Nonetheless, political killings continue. Recently, insurgents shot dead two Sarpanches while third is battling for his life. A political turf-war behind these killings can’t be ruled out. For fear of reprisals, BJP Sarpanches in the Valley are resigning in large numbers.
Reduced recruitment to insurgent ranks is due to a variety off reasons. Firstly, the coordinated efforts of multiple intelligence agencies generate actionable intelligence. SF have now discarded largescale Cordon and Search Operations for targeted raids launched realtime. With insurgents on the run, SF have now seized the initiative. The ease with which SF track down and eliminate insurgent cadres could also be a deterrent for youth to enrol for violence. Secondly, the depleting supplies of arms and ammunition have prevented various groups from taking more locals on rolls. An insurgent without a weapon is a sitting duck.
Lastly, evidence suggests that the educated are changing tack to fight for their ’cause’. Despite restrictions on the internet or, at times, complete communication clampdown, Kashmiri youth manage to use social media for global outreach to spread ‘awareness’ about their struggle. Feedback from Kashmiri expatriates helps cadres finetune activities to a significant international effect. The current pause in violence could be a well-thought-out strategy. For New Delhi, it would be unwise to lower its guard.
External Security Dimension
When India abrogated Article 370 and split erstwhile J&K state to carve out centrally administered UT of Ladakh, China accused India of threatening its sovereignty. Some strategists see the current Sino-Indian standoff in eastern Ladakh as Chinese retaliation. By its refusal to restore status quo ante along the LAC, as in April 2020, China is asserting its territorial claims in Ladakh. Besides, it has tied down enormous Indian resources in the region.
On Pakistan front, available data do not suggest any alarming rise in ceasefire violations or infiltration attempts. Post-August 5 last year, Pakistan is unable to escalate violence in the Valley. However, redrawing of maps to claim Indian territories, earlier by Nepal and now Pakistan, China strain is evident in this cartographic aggression.
In the conduct of their foreign policies, China and Pakistan give primacy to their military power. To protect its vital interests in Ladakh and POJK, China, in tandem with its cat’s paw Pakistan, would not hesitate to initiate armed conflict. India must remain vigilant about China-Pakistan strategic ties.
Governance under the Union Home Ministry
The move to administer UT directly from the Centre is a laudable measure to restore peoples’ confidence in the administration. An entrenched bureaucracy impedes good governance in J&K. Allegations abound of senior officers siphoning off public funds to personal accounts and police officers’ involvement in shady land deals. The common refrain in J&K is ‘Before abrogation of Article 370 the bureaucracy amassed Benami assets. Now they are busily encashing those’. Corruption in the UT is at an all-time high.
With the new arrangement in place, people looked forward to a significant shakeup in the administration. Nothing of the sort happened. The administrative setup in J&K needs an immediate overhaul. Honest and efficient officers of UT cadre must replace the corrupt among the bureaucrats. Their nexus runs so deep that lavish in-service privileges extend into their retirement, all in the name of personal security- a legacy of the Raj.
In the absence of public representatives, who serve as a link between ordinary people and the Government, the bureaucracy has to step-in. People don’t want responses full of bureaucratese; they expect solutions to their problems. Hopefully, with a political Governor in charge now, the situation would improve.
New Domocilie Law
Without exception, all sections in the UT of J&K are apprehensive about outsiders scrounging at their meagre employment opportunities, land and other resources that new Domocilie Law envisages. Given the fragile security situation in the Valley, not many eligibles including the POJK refugees from Kashmir Division willing to return would opt for Kashmir. Jammu region will have to bear a considerable burden on this score.
Domocilie Certificate (DC)
The logic of asking the subjects of the erstwhile state of J&K to obtain DCs is baffling. Why can’t their existing State Subject Certificates (SSC)/Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) serve the same purpose? Given the abysmal internet connectivity, applying online for DC is a harrowing experience. It is not enough for a Union Minister or a bureaucrat to brandish newly acquired Certificates, more than one crore people have to do that to make the process a meaningful exercise. Such petty boasts may satiate a political urge but do not mitigate the common man’s ordeal.
While framers of the Statutory Rules for the issue of DCs either lacked clarity or treated the issue in a ham-handed manner, revenue staff handling the process remain non-cooperative. The Rules lay down unambiguous criteria for non-state subjects to seek domicile rights; at the same time, they are silent about state-subjects who do not possess SSC/PRC but otherwise are eligible.
Further, why ask the applicants to furnish documents not listed in the Rules or to visit the office in person? There are allegations of rampant money-making by revenue officials. Like for passports/AADHAAR Cards, the Government must outsource the process to a reliable private agency to make it speedy and applicant friendly.
Kashmiri Pandits (KP) & the New Dispensation
Post abrogation of Article 370, lot of KPs remains unchanged. Their return and rehabilitation in the Valley seem a closed chapter now. The present establishment is already planning to settle outsiders in the Valley to make up for their numbers. Even KPs willing to return to the Valley are not in Government’s priority list.
The deprived sections of the community continue to struggle in the Jagati dungeons. Their landed assets remain encroached while the establishment remains indifferent. The employment package is in the deep freeze. Even now, the deserving among migrants and non-migrants are not beneficiaries of any Centrally sponsored welfare schemes. The lot of unregistered migrants is even worst. They have no voice.
Discontent Brews in UT of Ladakh
Ladakh Buddhist Association, a socio-religious group and other local outfits had long been demanding UT status for the political empowerment and economic development of the region.
The initial euphoria is fast ebbing. About five thousand administrative posts are vacant, and the LG has done precious little to overcome this shortage. To be fair to the Government, Ladakh can’t boast of an indigenous talent pool to fill all the posts. The Ladakhi leadership must be flexible in allowing outsiders to fill-in the vacant positions in the interim till homegrown talent is ready to take over.
Acknowledging that UT was still a work in progress, local Congress leader Rigzin Spalbar echoed locals’ concerns ‘People in Ladakh want a constitutional guarantee that will protect their identity, culture, land and jobs. We are just three lakh people and cannot withstand an inflow of 1.3 billion people from across the country’. Union Government’s indifference to a recommendation by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes to bring UT of Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule, guaranteeing a degree of autonomy, has added to locals’ anxiety. Over 97% of the region’s population comprises of Scheduled Tribes.
There are indications that the Union Government is likely to bring in a Domocilie Law for UT of Ladakh. If patterned on the law brought in for UT of J&K, locals would protest. Ladakh Buddhist Association and other organisations held joint public rallies in February 2020 to demand ‘constitutional’ safeguards.
Since the UT of Ladakh doesn’t have a legislature, peoples’ participation in governance can only be ensured by strengthening two Hill Development Councils (HDC), one at Leh and another at Kargil. Though a year has passed, regrettably, rules of business defining roles and functions of UT administration and that of the HDCs are yet to be framed.
The security situation continues to be grim. India needs to be circumspect. As of now, there is a vast governance deficit. There has virtually been no development in J&K for last one year.
With no elected representatives to represent people and an indifferent bureaucracy at the helm, public grievances remain unaddressed. Youth require DCs to apply for jobs recently announced by the Government. Procedure for issue of these Certificates must be simplified. Finally, the Government must start a political process in the UT of J&K to mitigate peoples problems.