In a recent interview to leading news channel Home Minister, Amit Shah stated that the statehood to the newly created Union Territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir would be restored soon. There is nothing new he said as he along with some other senior BJP leaders had given this expression earlier on also. However, Mr Shah’s reiteration has rekindled the hope among the denizens of Jammu and Kashmir and particularly Jammu region about their honour being restored.
How is Mr Shah’s latest statement on Jammu and Kashmir different from his earlier similar observations? While making this observation Mr Shah this time was more circumspect, measured in words and gave an impression that he meant business. It is another matter that he did not specify any time frame for restoration of Statehood status to the new UT but still his words cannot be simply dismissed.
In the interregnum between Mr Shah’s latest statement and his earlier similar observations the public mood in J&K has gradually got consolidated in favour of the statehood. There might be difference of perception in Jammu and Kashmir regions particularly over restoration of controversial Articles 370 and 35A, the political parties and people on two sides of the Jawahar Tunnel concur so far as restoration of statehood is concerned.
In this backdrop and consolidation of public mood, the UT status is being strongly viewed as a demotion, Mr Shah’s latest statement in this connection makes sense as some thought seems to have gone before he made these observations. Keeping the reverting to statehood issue alive in consonance with current public mood is understandable. Under the prevailing circumstances particularly when the Narendra Modi Government has committed itself to holding assembly elections in the UT and backed its intent with setting up of a delimitation commission for reframing the constituencies, over seven months back, the ruling party but natural has to adopt a posture accordingly. It is another matter that the commission is still to pay its first visit to Jammu and Kashmir.
Nevertheless, coming from Union Home Minister the observation has to be kept in mind and cannot be ignored. It might sound bizarre but his observation has also to be seen in conjunction with ‘Gupkar Declaration’ adopted by six Kashmir-centric political parties. Question may arise as to what is the inter-connection between Mr Shah’s statement and the Declaration?
Firstly, the ‘Gupkar Declaration also demands back the Statehood though its focus is on total restoration of status quo ante as it existed on August 5, 2019 thereby meaning that Articles 370 and 35A should also be fully restored. Secondly, the Kashmiri political Diaspora has rightly committed itself to struggle for the achievement of this goal within the parameters of the Indian Constitution.
Contrary to an impression being created about the ‘Gupkar Declaration’ having some kind of anti-national intent, notwithstanding certain other contentious issues or the manner in which the issues have been flagged by them, the Declaration has only sought restoration of an earlier existent Constitutional provision. In no way can this be considered as anti-national act.
The serious concern is about the arbitrary manner in which the Kashmiri leadership adopted the ‘Gupkar Declaration’ demanding restoration of statehood and contentious Articles 370 and 35A in the name of Jammu and Kashmir. They have gone ahead without consulting or taking Jammu region into confidence. It has led to a fresh clamour for separate statehood for Jammu as had been promised to the region from time to time by successive Govern-ments at the Centre.
How could the Kashmiri leadership act on behalf of Jammu while demanding status quo? This question has gained currency in the winter zone of the erstwhile State with firming of the view that Jammu could no more be subjugated by Kashmiri leadership and that the former have every right to carve out their own destiny.
It is where the linkage between Mr Shah’s statement and ‘Gupkar Declaration’ comes on the statehood issue. It has given a strong hope to people of Jammu whereas the ‘Gupkar Declaration’ has the strong potential to act as a catalyst to strengthen Jammu’s demand for a separate state altogether.
It would have been in the fitness of things that the Kashmiri leadership should have shed its colonial mindset and desisted from taking Jammu for-granted. Intrigui-ngly, the Kashmiri leadership over the past seven decades has been persistently complaining about Kashmir being the victim of colonial attitude of the British, Dogra, Sikhs and Afghans variety which was true to a great extent. The ‘Gupkar Declaration’s’ arbitrariness towards Jammu has weakened the colonial theory of the Kashmiri leadership.
An opportunity has been lost for which Kashmiri leadership must accept responsibility, to bring the two regions, with varied perception, together on at least the statehood issue. This attitude has strengthened demand and viability of separate Statehood for Jammu.
Although there is dire need for setting up of second States Reorganisation Commission (SRC), given the sensitivity of Jammu and Kashmir and its strategic geo-political importance it cannot wait the cumbersome process of appointment of a new panel and it’s long drawn process to finally arrive at conclusions for fresh reorganisation of states. The issue should be dealt with same alacrity that the Union Government showed in converting Jammu and Kashmir into a Union Territory and partially abrogating Articles 370 and 35A.
The first SRC was constituted way back in 1953. On the basis of its recommendations submitted in 1955 state boundaries were reorganised to form 14 States and 6 Union Territories. Subsequently, new States such as Uttrakhand, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Telangana were carved out on the recommendations of their parent States and through act of the Parliament and without a second SRC coming into being. The further reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir should be taken over in the same vein.
Separate State for Jammu with some areas of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab and Union Territory for Ladakh was an old demand. Whereas the August 5, 2019 changes granted UT to Ladakh to meet their long standing demand, Jammu issue was again kept in limbo by the ruling dispensation despite Jammu region having overwhelmingly supported the BJP in last three elections- two Lok Sabha and an Assembly poll.
It is time to resolve the dispute once for all and the decisive Centre must come forward.