J&K UT: 1st anniversary and unanswered queries

Anil Anand
Come 5, August, 2020, it will mark the first anniversary of the historic decision to partially abrogate Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and erasing the undesired Article 35A which was most obnoxious in terms of gender bias, other issues apart. There are preparations afoot in the ruling dispensation- both the BJP-Governments as well as the organisation per se, to celebrate the day as a mark of achievement.
There may be enthusiasm among the decision makers as it has fulfilled their long standing political agenda overlooking the finer Constitutional nuances and sensitivities of a complex state. Interestingly and even intriguingly the euphoria is missing among the people in the state turned Union Territory, Jammu and Kashmir. A similar mood exists in the other Union Territory carved out of the erstwhile state- Ladakh, though for different reasons.
Article 370 and 35 A are no more the burning issues as it is a done deal now although questions would continue to be raked about the manner in which this-end was achieved by the Government of the day in a hasty manner. After all Parliament passed the relevant amendment Bills within a day or so with lofty promises that all ills afflicting J&K would go away in one stroke.
So, should August 5, 2020 be celebrated as mark of a national achievement? For the ruling elite the answer is a straightforward yes. And why not! It is another matter, as the media reports suggest, the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir is finding it hard to muster public support to hold a grand show on this day. There are reasons behind that both in Jammu and Kashmir respectively.
On political firmament battlelines have already been drawn with BJP and its supporting parties on one side and the entire opposition led by Congress on the other demanding restoration of statehood. Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha and veteran Congress leader, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad recently held a detailed meeting with Prime Minister Modi in this connection and the party’s UT unit is planning to back his demand for statehood through organising various programmes on or before August 5.
The one dark aspect of the entire exercise of August 5, 2019 was demotion and dissection of a bubbling state into two Union Territories to be directly administered by Delhi under the pretext that the new form and shape of both UTs- Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, will usher the areas into an unprecedented era of growth, employment and economic upliftment, without any mention of the political empowerment particularly of Jammu and Kashmir and more so that of Jammu region. At the turn of first anniversary of the event it can be safely said- from the first hand experience- that nothing of the sort has happened so far.
As the August 5, 2020 approached there was frenzy in the State Administration and Lt Governor went on a project inauguration spree. It is good that some of the long standing projects such as the first phase of a ropeway in Jammu were inaugurated. The sole aim seems to be to create a discourse that gels with the upliftment of Jammu premise. However, the real bread and butter issues are still awaiting attention.
The big positives of the partial abrogation of Article 370 and eradication of 35 A was the empowerment of some important groups who were so far deprived of their certain basic rights. These include the West Pakistan refugees- it is shameful to address them in this manner even 73 years after Independence but follies of the past and domination of Kashmir centric politics affixed this tag on them, and the Balmiki community who came to Jammu under special circumstances decades back to render their services but became victims of politics. There is a strong reason to celebrate this aspect.
All such silver-linings are getting buried under the burden of a demotion which certain quarters are seeking to celebrate. The history of Jammu and Kashmir, as a state, is full of intrigues both in the pre and more so in the post-Independence era. The episode of removal of special Constitutional provisions and the accompanying demotion, also have their fare share of intriguing aspects.
The one most glaring intriguing aspect- there are others galore- is the growing clamour for restoration of the statehood as the day of celebration is drawing nearer. It is becoming starker by the day as even some top leaders of the ruling BJP have been talking in terms of going back to the statehood. Are these statements inspired by electoral politics and ambitions or do the BJP leaders really mean it? No one really knows.
There are three to four schools of thought airing their views on the current status and situation of Jammu and Kashmir. Firstly, there is the cheering brigade that not only includes the members of the ruling dispensation but also peripheral elements who are mostly guided by political aims and religious overzealousness. They are going at length to find merit in demotion which they have every right to.
The second grouping is of those who are justifying demotion and division of the state but intriguingly counting on the virtues of the Dogra rulers and their generals. There is a dichotomous situation developing here in which ruling BJP has lot to explain as they have sought to use the name of these rulers for political purposes purely on the basis of the religious identity of the Dogra rulers. How could they justify the separation of Ladakh as UT when at the same time remembering the great General Zorawar Singh and his army for having led the amazing conquests up to Tibet? Or how could they even justify formation of UT of even Jammu and Kashmir while praising erstwhile Maharaja Gulab Singh for making Kashmir and northern areas part of his domain? There is some confusion somewhere which they need to clear and more importantly people need to understand the gameplan.
The third school of thought relates to those who are not satisfied with the current scenario of a decimated Jammu and Kashmir, and have become strong votaries of further divisions and sub-divisions. They are well within their Constitutional right to raise such demands no matter how much impracticable these are. This includes creation of a separate state of Jammu and carving out more Union Territories that includes one for the displaced Kashmiri Pandit community.
The fourth and the most dangerous school of thought is that how could Jammu and Kashmir stay together when the two regions have nothing in common. The proponents of such thought have failed to appreciate the fact that the same Dogra rulers, whom they are praising, governed this diversity with aplomb, without suggesting that there were no problems on ground for them. If two persons don’t agree with each other, they cannot exist together, seems to be the argument which is fallacious.
Where do these demands stand vis-a-vis growing clamour for return to statehood for Jammu and Kashmir which has beenfurther fuelled by important functionaries of the ruling dispensation? Will this reversion of status only include Jammu and Kashmir or Ladakh included?
My personal view is that reverting back seems a difficult if not impossible proposition at this juncture. Although there is a strong case for statehood but by doing so the current ruling dispensation, both at the governmental and political levels, will only be admitting its folly. Course correction is always an option in politics and matters of governance and this should be taken as a healthy and positive sign but the current system, as reflected during the last six years, is in a different mould. Unless, they wish away the system of solo ride and show intent to carry everyone along particularly in a divert situation such as Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
There can be one possibility of the Narendra Modi Government thinking of reverting back to the statehood status. This could by merely changing the nomenclature from Union Territory to state with all other things remaining the same as existing today. Again, if this happens, it would be to address the political exigencies arising out of an impending electoral battle in Jammu and Kashmir and BJP much keen to ensure their victory. Such a move would be fraught with further dangerous consequences given the current hostilities both at the Line of Control ( LoC) with Pakistan and Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.
In this entire scenario Jammu has to find its place in every aspect of life. During the last over seven decades Jammuites have only been demanding their share in terms of political and economic empowerment without questioning other regions’ rights. The comparisons were bound to set in when the region’s aspirations were totally and absolutely ignored. The common thread between previous and current dispensations has been to show greener pastures to people of Jammu region without accruing anything on ground.
There are broader issues of identity, dignity and political empowerment involved. This holds true for all and more for Jammu as its people have already shown a human face at a personal cost for the last seven decades to accommodate migrants and displaced persons of all varieties and religions. Mere inauguration of peripheral projects is no answer to these vital questions.
This is time to take a much wider view of Jammu and Kashmir rather than adopting a piecemeal and divisive approach. More divisions would mean more problems on the border with two hostile neighbours to contend with. More divisions would also mean dishonouring the memory of Dogra rulers as enunciated above.