Much was anticipated to follow the Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019. It didn’t happen. People gossiped that the development of infrastructure would receive unprecedented boost up because, as claimed, it had been either neglected or relegated to low priority for so many decades by the popular regimes in J&K. The refrain was also about stamping out corruption and siphoning away funds meant for some crucial projects of infrastructural development. People naively thought thieves would be caught and brought to book.
Then there was tall talk about political churning and stimulating of nationalist ideology alleged to have been given a rough deal under popular governments. But ever since the passage of the Act in question, hardly even a medium-sized pro-nationalist public gathering was witnessed in any part of the valley since August 2019. The authorities subtly interpreted the phenomenon as a sign of people becoming fed up with militancy, lockdowns and suspension of public facilities, and hence, silently welcoming the new dispensation. Sometimes a Government betrays tremendous capability of self-delusion.
Denuding J&K of statehood status and converting it into two Union Territories of Ladakh and J&K was portrayed as a mega step taken by the centre for opening vistas of development in J&K. For decades almost an undeclared war was underway between the anti and pro 370/35-A activists. Now the pro-segment stands humbled. But various technical questions like the domicile issue vis-à-vis State Subject proviso, integration/re-allocation of services, functions and powers of Sarpanchs and DDCs, delimitation of constituencies and the powers and functions of the legislative assembly of the UT etc. sprang with the dilution of the status of J&K. Not all these questions were handled with objectivity and competence so much so that amendments of many orders had to be issued within 24 hours of their declaration. It indicated a lack of coordination in or sabotaging of the functionality of various departments. Some among the top bureaucrats enjoying political clout still wanted their writ to prevail. Diarchy of sorts ruled the roost in the early period of the promulgation of the new Act.
This notwithstanding, there is a fair list of positives as well. Indeed, Article 370 was much abused by the Kashmir-centric political and administrative chapter. Its misuse had put national security in jeopardy. It is also true that endemic regional and parochial tendencies obstructed just and equitable administration and funds coming from the Centre were taken as booty for general loot. These factors were conducive to alienation from the national mainstream which the rulers and the ruled in Kashmir ardently cherished. It changed the idiom of the Kashmir leadership. All this justified doing away with the statehood status.
Consequently, bitter opposition from the vested interests led by political bigwigs was not unexpected and the Gupkar gang was the short-lived outcome. But the question is what strong and forceful measures the Government took to undo the impact left behind by Article 370 or the good that conversion of the state into Union Territory would bring. Even the domicile question became confused and complicated that the government had to issue corrigenda after corrigenda only to make things more complicated. The entrenched bureaucracy relegated the issue of the internally displaced people from the valley to the backburner. The fickleness of the Central government in handling the aftermath of the Reorganization Act can be gauged from the fact that a very competent and highly efficient Lt. Governor, Mr G C Murmu was replaced only after nine months (31 October 2019 – 6 August 2020)
The Central Government appointed a top experience bureaucrat as the Governor of the UT. People felt that the shortfalls would be made up under the eye of a seasoned bureaucrat. But Governor Murmu was replaced when he had just begun to come to grips with the problems in Kashmir. It was within just nine months that the NDA Government, after exuding superficial euphoria had silently decided to continue with the traditional policy of the Congress in Kashmir. Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha was not a bad choice.
Let it be said that as in the case of all other states/union territories in the country, the UT of J&K, too, had its share of misery and economic recession owing to the Covid pandemic. Nobody can be held responsible for that.
However, it is the law and order situation prevailing in the UT since 5 August 2019 that merits a dispassionate analysis. It was loudly claimed by the Home Minister in his 5 August 2019 speech in the parliament and subsequently as well that the law and order situation in the State had become tenuous since action against anti-national and subversive elements was undermined by misusing the special status of J&K.
Under Operation All Out, a large number of terrorists have been liquidated in South Kashmir and other parts of the valley. This scenario has not to be judged only by giving the count of the dead. Two essential aspects cannot be overlooked. One is that most of the killed terrorists are indigenous people; they receive training in indigenous training centres in forest recesses and sequestered places; their arms and ammunition supplies show no sign of depletion and lastly the local provide them shelter, logistic support, guidance and escape routes etc. Of late news of arresting OGW come in regularly and not necessarily from South Kashmir which is the main battleground of the terrorists but from many parts of North Kashmir like Pattan, Sopor, Handwara, Kupwara, Lolab, Nowgam, Rafiabad, Baramulla and Uri. It shows that armed insurgency has spread out to the entire valley even though infiltration from across the border has stopped after the ceasefire was signed between the commanders on the two sides.
Many BJP activists, panchs and Sarpanchs and Municipal Councillors have been gunned down by the terrorists. The fear of the gun is as pervasive today as it was before 5 August. There is a sizable gap between what the Government intend to project and what the situation on the ground exactly is. When the commanders of the Indian and Pakistan army announced the ceasefire on the LoC on the 25th of February, the national press was euphoric about the wisdom of army commanders on both sides.
Some Kashmir watchers including this writer had many reservations about the way ceasefire was introduced. Our reservations were centred on Indian army commanders demonstrating extraordinary haste in accepting the ceasefire offer without bringing to their mind the entire background of recurrent armed clashes between the two sides since long. The commanders should have concentrated on one simple question viz. Why did Pakistan break the ceasefire agreement of 2003 several thousand times and why is she now readying for a ceasefire along the LoC without any pre-condition? Of course, copious material has been produced by the journalists and commentators on the nitty-gritty of the ceasefire but an answer to the core issue has remained elusive.
We are re-opening this question keeping in mind the recent tragic killing of a Kashmir-based BJP Councilor, Rakesh Pandita in Tral by the terrorists. Exactly a year ago, another BJP activist Ajay Pandita was gunned down by the terrorists in Lok Bhavan in South Kashmir. It may be argued that these were political and not sectarian killings. Well whatever, it shows that the ground situation is not in the control of either the civilian administration or the security forces. What justification was there in gunning down Akash Mehra, the proprietor of Krishna Vaishnov eatery in Lal Chowk? It was an act of communal killing like the killing of 70-year old Satpal of Sarai Bala who had succeeded in obtaining a domicile certificate which became the cause of his end. The reaction of the Government is to treat such cases as crimes, lodge an FIR, issue few words of condolence to the bereaved family or sanction a modicum of relief and then let the matter die down its death. This then is the example of the big exercise which the Government claims to have undertaken to restore normalcy in Kashmir through the instrumentality of the Reorganization Act etc.
We don’t know if there is any concern at any level of the governing apparatus that it is not a fight against terrorism as is usually orchestrated. It is the broad-based Islamic jihad working along the lines of so many jihadist ideologies like Wahhabi-ism, Al Qaida-ism, Islamic Caliphate-ism and Ghazavatul Hind etc. The armed jihadist movement and fight against the Indian forces have spread their roots deep and wide in the Kashmir Muslim community. Don’t think that only South Kashmir is their battleground: the entire valley, like Kupwara, Handwara, Lolab, Bandipore, Sopor, Baramulla, Rafiabad, Hamal and Nowgam right up to Tootmar Gali, the entire North Kashmir is in the grips of insurgents.
Pakistan accepted ceasefire because she knew her jihadi terrorist organizations had spread their tentacles far and deep in Kashmir and their brainwashing of Kashmiri youth was complete, in every habitat, every village, every town, every tehsil, every district, every den and every dale. Will this type of insurgency be quelled by the kid-glove called Operation All Out?
The announcement of ceasefire along the LoC and observing it in letter and spirit gives a big handle to Pakistan to sell the theory on international platforms that there is an indigenous freedom struggle in Kashmir against what she calls “occupational army” because Pakistan no more violates the ceasefire and does not promote infiltration. There are many takers of Pakistan’s story. Our policy planners should have imposed the condition of handing over the known chiefs of at least half a dozen terrorist organizations based in Pakistan to India, the ones who are indicted for involvement in bomb blasts and attacks on Indian military installations and camps – Mumbai, Pathankot, Pulwama, Uri etc. If Pakistan declined to hand over these criminals, India had a very strong case to place before the world community. Alas, we have surrendered the handle to Pakistan.
In Kashmir, we have adopted a blind path that will not lead us anywhere. Paperwork is different from fieldwork. The policy of appeasement, jobs and extension of pecuniary largesse are all old and outdated tools blunted by indoctrinated mass of people.
The killing of the Hindus and ethnic cleansing of Kashmir of is Hindu religious minority by the local terrorists for whatever reason is a direct challenge to the authority of the Indian State, something which New Delhi shies away from conceding. The Indian government is tackling terrorism in Kashmir on day to day basis thinking that the All Out Operation is the final word and will work wonders. It evaluates its success by counting the terrorists and the OGW or UGW it can liquidate. By adopting an escape route Kashmir problem cannot be solved by side-tracking the core issue in the footsteps of Congress.
The Government must sensitize the people of India that unlike any other democratic state India is faced with a direct challenge by the Islamic jihadists. Indian society has to come out of its shell and prepare for a decisive outcome of this struggle. It is for the planners to consider conscription as in a situation of war. We have lost the truth in the axiom that if you want peace you have to be prepared for war. The Buddhas and the Gandhis who had promised peace through non-violence were idealists fit for a Utopian state. Ours is not a Utopian State but the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
The Pandits of Kashmir must be clear in their minds that nobody is going to provide them either security or opportunity for progress. What they are facing in Kashmir is a clear warning to them to arrange for self-security and not depend on state security at all. They must either stand up and fight against injustice and aggression or perish with time. If a Councilor cannot move without a bodyguard, if a Hindu is killed for obtaining a domicile certificate, or if a Hindu is killed for running an eatery, do these incidents prove that there is peace and law and order is in place in the Union Territory? The sooner the Indian nation understands that Kashmir has been turned into a jihadist battlefield the better are the chances of preparing an effective plan of defusing. Kashmir is gone and two-third of the Jammu region, meaning the Muslim dominated region, is on its way to follow suit.
Now is the time to detach Jammu and create a Greater Duggar Desh as an independent state. At the same time convert the valley into a militarily sensitive region where borders of five states meet with two of them ceaselessly hostile to us. This border region will be governed by a joint civilian and military council functioning under a nominated Chairman. The Centre should set forth the powers of the Council and its terms of reference. The arrangement should be for twenty years in the first place.
The Indian Government is a victim of its hypocrisy. The ink was still wet on the JK Reorganization Act when the Home Minister went on apologetically announcing that soon the State will return to the statehood and that its conversion into UT was only a temporary matter. Who does the Home Minister want to befool?
In the final analysis, India has to rethink seriously on Kashmir issue. The Pandits, the indigenous people of Kashmir, cannot be made a scapegoat by telling them that they will return to their land. Where is their land? If their land is to be retrieved, then Kashmir has to be a protected territory managed through a joint civilian and military council at least for three decades. That is the only solution and the only way Jammu can be saved.