Kashmir in Post-Article 370 & UT Experiment

K B Jandial
Nearly four months after “abrogation” of Article 370, Kashmir is quiet but not normal claims of the Govt notwithstanding. It is not that anger is over. However, friends in Kashmir concede that the expected worst period has passed without any loss of life. It is no less a huge satisfying development given the record of Kashmir past long spells of violence, and grave provocation and obtuse ‘call’ for bloodbath by Imran Khan from UN’s General Assembly on 27th September, 2019. Contrary to Imran’s rant on curfew, there was no curfew at that time and whatever restrictions were in place that too were either eased out or lifted, restoration of postpaid mobile service used by about 42 lakh people is the latest. The people of Kashmir didn’t do Imran (or Pakistan) favour this time, conscientiously or conveniently.

Straight Talk

Many Kashmiri friends reluctantly acknowledge that Modi Government’s strategy succeeded in preventing the expected loss of life and property in the aftermath of scrapping of State’s special status on 5th August. But the people too deserve credit as if they wanted to come out and protest, as it happened during 2010 and 2016 unrests, heavy deployment of security forces and information clampdown could not have deterred them. Kashmir’s 30 years’ history is replete with umpteen incidents of people braving bullets and getting killed during violent protests against killing of militants. Luckily, it didn’t happen this time.
Loss of 232 lives in wide spread violence unleashed after killing of three youths in fake encounter in Machil, Kupwara in 2010 and post -Burhan Wani killing in 2016 is still fresh in minds of the people. These incidents could have served as motivation as well as deterrent for the people. Scrapping of Article 370 and Article 35A, in any way, was much greater provocation for Kashmiris than killing of Burhan Wani or youths in fake encounter. Article 370, special status and autonomy had gone too deep in the minds of the Kashmiris in last 70 years that they could have never believed that the Centre would take it away one day in such unprecedented manner. So, many believe that the people consciously preferred to remain quiet and kept away from any reaction that could lead to bloodshed.
The Centre had righty gauged the possible fallout of this decision and took unprecedented preventive measures including detention of all possible spoilers including three surviving former CMs and even BJP’s close ally Sajjad Lone. Inactive former legislators like Mohammad Yousaf Taing were not spared as the Govt didn’t want to take any chance with political leaders of all hues who, in its judgment, could have provoked violence and consequent loss of life. This positive turn of events has depressed Imran Khan, separatists and even Kashmir based politicians who were confident of violent public reaction to the ‘death’ of article 370. Their loss is Kashmir’s gain. No spilling of blood in its aftermath is a great relief to people of Jammu & Kashmir as also of India. But Pakistan is not willing to reconcile with it and is doing its utmost to give fillip to terrorist activities like targeting truckers carrying Govt procured Kashmiri apples to fruit mandis and preventing opening of markets for full day.
Even though Modi Govt doesn’t seem to trust Kashmiri mainstream leadership and keen to promote a new youthful leadership, it is not that all of them are not amenable to reasons or constitutional processes despite being critical of Modi Govt and some constitutional actions taken in this process that caught everyone by surprise. None can say in public but many concede privately that BJP had democratic right to implement its long pending commitment of abrogation of Article 370 when they got the numbers in the Parliament. It would be politically naïve to think that BJP would spurn away this opportunity. Kashmir politicians consider it as a “betrayal” and look forward to the Apex Court which will determine its constitutional vires in weeks ahead. It is quite rationale analysis of political events that shook the State nearly four months ago even though politicians holding this view continue to be under detention. That unfortunately is the politics.
As people started sharing views, some politicians and the majority of the people are sore, including in Jammu, over splitting the State into two UTs rather than scrapping of J&K’s special status. They believe that special status of J&K is now a dead issue and its restoration is impossible except due to judicial intervention. However, some are at loss to understand why Jammu, whose demand for separate Statehood was much older than of Leh, was deprived of State’s status where BJP continues to have strong vote bank. Sources claimed that initially Jammu was all to set to get separate Statehood but at the eleventh hour the idea was dropped. Perhaps the Govt didn’t consider it in the larger national interest to have an administrative unit which has near cent per cent population of one faith, running counter to secular India. No State or UT has been carved out on the basis of religion. Jammu’s dream of separate statehood doesn’t appear to be a possibility and regional bonding needed to be strengthened. However, the PM and HM have assured that after the situation returns to normal and terrorism rooted out, statehood to J&K would be restored. Hope they will walk the talk.
Perhaps, conscious of the under currents, Modi Govt has opened its coffers to distribute largesse to Govt employees even without asking, be it huge enhancement of Darbar Move allowance or grant of all allowances of Central Govt employees worth Rs 4800 crores. Orchardists in Kashmir too have been immensely benefitted by Govt decision to procure 60% of 13 lakh MTs apples produced, through NAFED under Direct Transfer Benefit. Rs 5000 crores are being pumped into this sector by middle of December. The Kashmiri traders, hoteliers and others adversely affected by the post-article 370 abrogation situation too are expecting similar largesses especially when Kashmir Traders have put their loss at Rs. 10,000 crores.
If Govt succeeds in turning around the situation in Kashmir with its coffers, it could be major change of mindset. In the past, such largesse had not given any tangible and lasting dividend in Kashmir. It would be trivializing the gravity of Kashmir tangle if focus remains on better service conditions, reliefs, subsidies, jobs etc. In the assessment of the Govt, allowing political activities and dialogue with leaders even with detained ones could be a risk but a calculated one and this call has to be taken sooner than later. On a larger plane, opening the channels of communication with civil society and engaging them in structured dialogue with some sops will definite give dividend. The idea is to try to win the minds of the people and make them appreciate logics and expediencies.
Jammu, regrettably, doesn’t figure in any such largesse except the Govt employees. Jammu may not be qualified for such largesse in Govt’s scheme of things. It is said that treatment is always given where there is disease, so Kashmir is in their focus. But, Jammu’s concerns must not be ignored. There is no moment forward on the Jammu’s concerns on shifting of about 25000 Rohingyas, institutional mechanism for equitable distribution of development funds for different areas, delay on prestigious projects like artificial lake, Tawi river front, Bahu Fort gondola, new issue of NHAI’s Toll posts only around Jammu (earlier at Ban and now at Sarore) and fleecing motorists, non-extension of dates for filing of ITR and GST returns due to poor internet facility etc. The Centre has to do some balancing acts with Jammu which too is sore over UT status.
J&K state would be spilt in to UTs of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh on 31st October, 2019 specially chosen to coincide with 144th birthday of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who is credited with integrating nearly 500 princely States in to India. A big event is planned for creation of UTs and PM Modi is slated to be announcing it from the Statue of Unity at Narmada, Gujarat.
It’s good to project achievements, launching of schemes, statehood, etc at impressive ceremonies and creation of new UT for Ladakh is indeed a momentous occasion as it is a happy culmination of their relentless struggle of three and half decades. But it is not a matter of jubilation for Jammu or for that matter Kashmir as well. If UT is panacea for all ills, which are being talked about, then why not make other States UTs too. If ever there is any occasion that demands annual celebrations it is 6th August as on this day the State of J&K was integrated with rest of the country by removing all the constitutional impediments that created misgivings in the minds of people of Kashmir of being separate from the country.
The States Reorganisation Commission in 1956 had thought of a separate category for those territories that cannot survive as separate administrative units being economically unbalanced, financially weak, administratively and politically unstable and had to be dependent on the Union Government. And thus, Union Territories were formed. In case of J&K, none of these conditions existed but the Centre felt that it is essential to have full control of law and order and J&K police to stamp out cross border terrorism. With appointment of new Lt Governors for these new UTs, all is set for a new journey. How new dispensation UT handles Kashmir’s knotty tangle would determine the success of this experiment.