Monday, 05 August 2019 will be a red letter day in modern history of India. The act of making Article 370 ineffective and repealing Article 35A will perhaps be a telling moment for the Indian nation. If any government ever had a will to take this decisions it was the current NDA government under Mr Narendra Modi. No other political party in the country would have ever had the political will and moral courage to do so even if they had a comfortable majority in the parliament. Over the last seven decades Articles 370 and 35A had become sacrosanct with a hallow around them that seemed to give them disproportionate importance for no viable reasons. It did not matter that they had outlived their utility and were hindering development of the state despite huge fund inflow from central government. The common people of the state were denied growth opportunities while the self-proclaimed custodians of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), mainly three families and their protégés with political clout, amassed huge personal assets.
The fact that the state of J&K has been out of sync with rest of the country has never bothered either these custodians or their well-wishers in New Delhi. Their motto seemed to be ‘to keep the state simmering and to prevent implementation of any permanent solution for perpetuity.’ None of them could list any benefits that may have accrued to the state from either of the two articles. The local population had been, by design, made to believe that these articles were for their good and more importantly for their identity as Kashmiris. A fear of God had been instilled in them that in case these were removed the state of J&K would be doomed and they would lose everything including their identity, land and aspirations that includes the option to decide whether they wanted total independence or a merger with Pakistan or remain as part of Indian nation.
There is no doubt that centre’s Kashmir policies for last seventy years after independence have failed on both major counts. Neither the state was integrated with the Indian union nor did they prevent alienation of local Kashmiri people. The end result was that Kashmir became a playground for terrorists of different denominations including those aligned to the theory of Islamic jihad duly backed by ISIS. This development resulted in the forced eviction of lakhs of pundits from the valley in early nineties. It did not matter that these pundits were inhabitants of Kashmir centuries before any Islamic foot was set on the soil of Kashmir. Till date it remains a puzzle as to why the Congress led government at the centre did not act to prevent this forced exodus that also resulted in killing of hundreds of pundits apart from other atrocities on their families. The irony today is that while these evicted pundits remain as refugees in other states of the nation, the state of J&K is willingly accepting Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar and local political leadership has no qualms in offering them facilities to settle in the state. The logic to do this is self-evident and needs no elucidation.
There has never been any doubt in India that whole of Kashmir (including Pakistan occupied Kashmir) is and will always be an integral part of India. Pakistan’s interpretation of events, that have unfolded since signing of the Instrument of Accession in favour of India in October 1947, notwithstanding. India has never accepted any third party intervention in J&K and continues to maintain that position. As far as India is concerned the only disputable territory today is POK and Gilgit/Baltistan. The UN resolution of April 1948 has become irrelevant as Pakistan never kept its commitment to meet the provisions of the same. By default it has to be seen as defunct today.
The question that is occupying most minds is what will be the aftermath of this momentous decision? It is a foregone conclusion that local political leadership will cry foul. They will get some support from other political leaders because of their fixation to oppose anything that the current government does and less out of any conviction about the veracity of the decision. Pakistan will try and internationalise the Kashmir issue once again and project itself as the aggrieved party. Some Islamic nations may support it in this endeavour. But these are issues that the government would not find difficult to handle.
The more important issues here are the acceptance or rejection of the decision by bulk of local population in Kashmir valley and the reactions of various jihadi militants or terror groups operating in the valley. Both these are interlinked since part of the local population is certainly alienated and sympathetic towards militants and terrorists. Will the law and order situation in valley become worse? Will militancy and terrorism increase and become a major problem? These are the more important questions that have to be addressed and answers found quickly before the situation goes out of hand. Of course there is another, a bit farfetched though, possibility of Pakistan military resorting to some kind of military action. It would be prudent to assume that Indian government would be well prepared to handle any such misadventure by Pakistan’s military. So in the final analysis the main concern would be limited to the reaction of local population in the valley and the approach adopted by militants or terrorists in the coming weeks and months.
The government has already side-lined the local political leadership from National Conference, PDP and others. It is logical to assume that they may have little or no role to play in future of the Union Territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir (minus Ladakh which has become a separate Union Territory). In the current scenario and in light of state’s reorganisation, the current top political leadership is likely to be ineffective for some time. The centre will do well to cultivate and bring the panchayat level leadership forward and make them more relevant with a view to develop a new set of leaders who have no personal axes to grind. It will also be important to educate locals that reorganisation does not imply that all their land and resources would now be up for grabs by others. This aspect is very important and any fears in this regard have to be nipped in the bud. It will be imperative to ensure safety and protection of all Kashmiris living outside the state. Proper advisories in this regard must be sent to all states for action.
The youth in the valley will need particular attention as they are more vulnerable to being brain washed or led astray. Schools, colleges and other vocational institutes must start functioning at the earliest apart from their number being increased as part of immediate development of the newly formed UT under a very able administrator as the Lieutenant Governor. Local Police must be trained and made more effective to allow other para military forces to recede to the background in due course. Army’s presence within towns and cities too must be reassessed and reduced to bare minimum without compromising security needs against militancy and terrorism. These will be good signals to win the confidence of local populace.
The new UT administrations must be honest, sincere and capable with a result oriented approach. In first few months and next couple of years the administration must stitch a credible story to prove the point that Articles 370 and 35A were indeed inhibiting development and growth. A short and long term plan for both UTs, keeping environment constraints in forefront, should be put in place with realistic milestones that must then be achieved.
The reorganisation of the erstwhile state of J&K also means that India has now asserted and sent a message to the world that Indian part of J&K is not a disputable territory as far as India is concerned. Only POK, Gilgit and Baltistan remain disputable territories as far as India is concerned. It has also sent a pertinent message to those who harboured any intentions of mediating between India and Pakistan to settle the Kashmir problem. Central government will now play a more active and decisive role in Ladakh which is also the need of the hour in view of Chinese aspirations to control and interfere in Buddhist affairs in the region. The centre will now be able to address security concerns in J&K in a better and more effective manner as there will be very few road blocks from local legislature. Finally it will be futile to label this development as assertion of Hindutwa or with any other similar insinuation. This was need of the hour for the nation and the government did well to take the call. In any case since earlier policies were not delivering results, something different had to be attempted and this appears to be a very viable solution.