K B Jandial
PM Modi’s first direct engagement with 14 prominent leaders drawn from eight political parties-three national and five regional, of Jammu &Kashmir today( 24 June) at 3 p.m. after “abrogation” of controversial Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcation of the State in to two UTs on 5th August 2019, has evoked speculations on possible outcome and urgency for the meeting. Since Modi is known for springing surprises, many are expecting some big announcements on J&K. Political analysts, however, are keeping their figures crossed. As the things are placed, there are little chances of any big announcement.
The political initiative, though much delayed, is still the most significant one, to break the ice with important estranged Kashmiri leaders who were detained, some of them under PSA, for quite a long time after scrapping the special status of J&K to prevent bloodshed. This has hardened their stand towards Modi Govt. But effective back channel contacts and talks have made them agree to participate in the meeting with 100 % participation their initial public posturing notwithstanding. The Govt too released some of the remaining important PDP leaders to assuage their outraged sentiments on continued detention or ‘House Arrest’.
Ostensibly, under pressure from some friendly countries, the Govt has already taken some positive initiatives like LoC ceasefire and lifting of communication clampdown in J&K. Modi Govt, after having achieved its long pending agenda on J&K, is not averse to give some more concessions to create a better environment for addressing ‘internal and external dimensions of J&K’. It also has geopolitical context with the US moving out of Afghanistan in two months’ time and locating American bases in Pakistan for which talks are in progress.
It is a well-known fact that UAE which brokered backchannel talks with Pakistan suggested, obviously on behalf of Pakistan, some CBMs like release of all political prisoners, grant of statehood, stopping process of demographic change, if any and reduction of security forces in Kashmir. Dawn, basing information of informed sources close to Pak Army Chief Gen Bajwa, has claimed that backchannel talks were “being held between the intelligence leaderships of the two countries”. It said that Pakistan’s primary interest at this initial stage is that “Kashmir gets back its statehood and India agrees not to bring about any demographic changes”. On the other hand, during a Congressional hearing on democracy in the Indo-Pacific last Wednesday, the Biden administration said: “Kashmir is one area where we have urged them to return to normalcy as quickly as possible. We’ve seen some steps taken: the release of prisoners, the restoration of 4G access, things of that nature. There are other electoral steps we’d like to see them take and that we have encouraged them to do and will continue to do so.”
Contrary to the earlier rumours of Statehood to Jammu and carving out one more territorial division, Modi may ‘unfold’ Govt’s blueprint for Statehood ‘soon’ which is the commitment given to the Parliament earlier also. The Centre has demolished the entire structure of the Statehood gradually, brick by brick, since 31 October2019, last being the merger of J&K cadre of All India Services with AGMUT cadre in January this year. Many of such actions would have to be reversed as and when Statehood is restored.
Apart from these pressures, Modi Govt is keen to end the political stalemate in Kashmir and complete the exercise of Delimitation of constituencies earliest. The new 7 constituencies created have to be delimited and earlier ones readjusted besides carving out reserved constituencies for SC & ST proportionate to their population; the latter would get this facility for the first time, before election to J&K Assembly is announced. The Delimitation Commission “wasted” its first one year’s life and is currently on its extended tenure which would end in March next year. Modi would link restoration of Statehood to J&K with early completion of Delimitation of assembly constituencies and involvement of NC MPs that would make exercise more credible.
The Kashmiri leaders would slam Modi Govt for scrapping the special status of J&K granted by Indian Constitution and bifurcation of the State into two Union Territories which they would call “unconstitutional”. All leaders are likely to say their stated position and leave no opportunity to blast the Modi Govt for “murdering democracy”. The forum would be used to give vent to their pent-up anger. Dr. Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Umar & Tarigami representing People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, would also seek restoration of pre 5th August, 2019 position, reintroduction of original Article 370 & integrating Ladakh back to J&K. None of these demands would be accepted.
Congress would play safe by restricting its criticism to the manner in which Article 370 was “abrogated” but likely to refrain from seeking its restoration. Azad’s main demand would remain restoration of Statehood. Sajad Lone and Muzaffar Beig may take the middle path while the Apni Party’s stated position is restoration of Statehood and wait for the decision of the Supreme Court of Parliament’s legislative move on Article 370.
But what about Jammu? Who would speak for it and its sentiments? Unlike Gupkar Alliance, there is no prior consultation between parties on issues relating to Jammu. Out of eight parties invited, only two are Jammu based- BJP and Panthers. Jammu would continue to suffer for want of consensus of larger interests of Jammu and this always is advantageous to Kashmiri leadership.
BJP which would be represented by three leaders, would, in all probability, be guided by their high command and would train their guns against the Gupkar Alliance especially NC and PDP. While they can espouse national interest in J&K, they still should air Jammu’s sentiments for a separate Statehood even if it doesn’t go well with Govt of India’s policy of separating overwhelmingly Muslim dominated Kashmir (93.6%-2011 census) from Hindu majority Jammu ( 65% Hindus, 31% Muslims, as per 2011 census) as Jammu balances the demographic overtones of Kashmir.
Even if Jammu’s sentiments are ‘sacrificed’ in the larger national interest, constitutional guarantee against perpetual discrimination in the matters of development and employment must be strongly asked for. Regional Statutory Autonomous Councils for both regions could be one of the options to safeguard its interests. The cadre for jobs can be made district and divisional so that domiciles of the local area could compete for these jobs ending the monopoly of any particular region or even district. This can be granted by amending Article 371 of Constitution of India and incorporating Article 371-J. Such constitutional safeguards are to at least ten States. Hopefully, political disempowerment would end with the report of the Delimitation Commission.