At the time when the nation is waiting and watching the Assembly polls in five states in the country, three of which are in Hindi heartland, there is an exception to the rule of the Assembly polls after every five years – that is Jammu and Kashmir. Now the perception of exception has widened further with even the Urban Local Bodies and Panchayat polls getting deferred as the government is apprehensive of the traditional parties of Kashmir disturbing its applecart . There is a strange fear that if the political parties gain their strength in the polls, it would change the course of peace in the territory that dawned after the abrogation of Article 370.
During the campaign in the five states- Mizoram, Telangana , Madhya Pradesh , Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, BJP leaders have spoken of the abrogation of Article 370 , and highlighted this change in the constitutional provision that scrapped all barriers between J&K and rest of the nation as special status and privileges in August 2019, as march to peace in Kashmir. That is statement of truth – Kashmir today is emerging out of the dark shadows of the terrorism that had strangulated normal life of people for over three decades. The normal life had become a dream for the masses whose paths were littered with stones and guns and everything that defined uncertainties of monumental proportions.
As the BJP, which is ruling at the Centre, and some of the most significant and influential states in the country, used the revocation of Article 370 in the election campaigns since the day the changes were made in the constitution more than four years ago, shows that how much it mattered to the Indian nation . There was a formidable reason – for many, the special status of J&K as a thorn in the flesh of the Indian nationhood, as they perceived it as something that hurt the idea of oneness and right to equality.
Till date and the BJP has not tried to discount that impression that Article 370 had given birth to the secessionism and terrorism in the state of Jammu and Kashmir because it suits the party. The abrogation of Article 370 has propelled the party on the frontline of fight against terrorism, and give a feeling to the Indians that all the discrimination that existed for decades had been done away with. True that there were certain discrepancies but the constitutional provision was not the only thing defining Jammu and Kashmir or its aspirations. The people in J&K had seen it becoming a hollow feature, and more of a symbolism than anything concrete. They were more concerned about their land and jobs .Nevertheless, however, the abrogation showed that the Modi government could do what others did not dare to do. This has been its primary theme in the public speeches, more so in the election campaigns, in which the impression is spread that had it not been done; J&K would have fallen. This issue was used to lift the fears of the masses, who had witnessed terrorism in Kashmir with lot of agony and pain over the years. For most of the country , the terrorism in Kashmir, which made the Kashmiri Pandits to flee their homes in the Valley and seek refuge elsewhere in the country , also became a religious issue – terrorism was deemed as anti-Hindu act . The migration of Kashmiri Pandits had set a narrative which is now embedded in the nation’s psyche.
The terrorism in Kashmir, in which the security personnel hailing from different parts of the country were killed, led to generation of bitter feeling about Kashmir, it was seen as a place which consumed lives of soldiers. The body bags of soldiers reaching their native places strengthened this perception. This had drawn new fault lines. Kashmir has to be tamed was the common refrain , and it was also due to the fact that Pakistan pulled the strings of terrorism in the Valley through export of terrorists, arms and ammunition and all the disruptive activities .
Now when the normalcy has returned to the Valley – there is a new-found confidence among the people. But that confidence has not made the Government confident enough to hold elections in J&K. There is not even a single state or the union territory in the country where Assembly polls have not been held in the past five years – the last elected government in J&K was in June 2018. Jammu and Kashmir’s normalcy claims are open to question because of this factor. The time has come when the government should honour the democratic aspirations of the people of this territory.
(Arun Joshi is author of “Eyewitness Kashmir; Teetering on Nuclear War and senior journalist based in Jammu and Kashmir, writes on South Asian affairs)
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