The move initiated on August 5, 2019, when the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was done away with, and the state split into two Union Territories of Ladakh, and J&K had several objectives underlined in the measure that was described as” historic” in the project of national integration.
By: Arun Joshi
A year after J&K and Ladakh became Union Territories on October 31st last year, the time gone by has laid bare that life has not been any smooth in the region as it was promised to be. Rather, new fault lines have emerged alongside the old ones in the past one year.
The move initiated on August 5, 2019, when special status of Jammu and Kashmir was done away with , and the state split into two Union Territories of Ladakh, and J&K, had several objectives underlined in the measure that was described as” historic” in the project of national integration . J&K, for many in the country, was considered a separate entity with its own constitution, flag and special rights for its natives, to which the Indians had no claim. The abrogation of Article 370 was a constitutional step endorsed by an overwhelming majority in the Parliament to remove all the barriers between J&K and the rest of the country.
What surprised many was the announcement that J&K’s division into two Union Territories – while Buddhists in the cold desert region of Ladakh had been agitating for the UT status to free themselves from the stranglehold of Kashmiri-rule from Srinagar- the rest of J&K was shocked over this degradation of the special status state to a UT , which had no parallel in the post-independence history of India. The UTs were upgraded to states – Goa, Nagaland and so on and not other way round . And, wherever states were split – Chhattisgarh out of Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand out of Bihar, Uttarakhand out of UP , that was done in response to the demand of such areas , and it was done through consultations . J&K had neither asked for it nor consulted.
It was an outcome of strong nationalism driven narrative in which the goals were to integrate and also to remove everything that could foster terrorism, radicalism . The revocation extended to the institutions and offices of Chief Minister and ministers, which enabled the ruling party personnel to work as per their vote bank , where saving the people engaging in disruptive and secessionist activities proved a big hurdle in smoothening the path for maintenance of law and order and curbing the separatist tendencies.
In 2016, after the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani, there was an outburst of anger in the streets of Kashmir. There were almost daily clashes in which the youth, instigated by the government employees, particularly teachers, clash with the security forces with stones, grenades and petrol bombs. The teenagers and also the boys in their pre-teens were in the frontline to attack the army convoys .
Many would face the pellet guns, and were not scared. This was an anarchic situation, but the government of the day led by PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti and backed by BJP, did not allow the police and civil authorities to take action against the erring government employees. That created a vicious circle in which stone throwing and anti-India rhymes were seen and hailed as an act of bravery.
Against this backdrop making J&K as UT had certain well thought out objectives – to curb secessionist tendencies and to neutralise those patronising them in the official positions . Its external dimension was also significant. It was to defang Pakistan on Kashmir. Pakistan always demanded the settlement of Kashmir issue as per the United Nations Security Council resolutions passed by the world body in 1948-1949, providing for holding of plebiscite in the whole of the state to determine as to which of the two countries they wanted to choose as their future home.
There also was the idea that by making J&K as UT, all the powers of maintaining law and order and general services would be vested in the government of India appointed Lieutenant Governor , and even if the Assembly elections were to be held, the would-be chief minister, ministers and MLAs will just be cosmetic showpieces in the corridors of power, without any power to govern .
A simple arithmetic of pluses and minuses shows that the idea of wiping out of terrorism from the soil of Kashmir is nowhere in sight even when the security agencies claim that they have killed more than 200 militants in the past year. But their admission that 40 CRPF and police personnel were also killed, and that there is a spurt in local recruitment into militancy points to the faltering parameters.
Secondly, the economy is in distress. While pandemic of the corona virus has impacted adversely economy of the country, but that of Kashmir was hit much harder since August 2, 2019 , when all tourists and Amarnath pilgrims, were asked to leave Valley for their safety from terrorists . Then enforced restrictions following August 5 decisions and communication clampdown made things worse. Till date 18 out of 20 districts of the UT have no access to 4G internet speed. This is a synopsis of the larger picture that how the targets have stayed out of reach.
Buddhists delighted by the grant of UT status to their region also had their share of the disappointment. Their UT was without legislature and much of the control of the administration was taken over by the administration directly guided by Delhi, limiting the powers of the hill council.
Their persistent demand for grant of the sixth schedule is essentially to protect themselves from outside influence. They don’t want outsiders to buy their land or set any industries that would pollute their environment , or any competition in jobs from others in their territory. Ladakhis are very possessive about their culture, heritage and the eco-system of glaciers, rivers and lakes.
Their apprehensions have gone up after the Ministry of Home Affairs issued notification on October 26 lifting all restrictions on purchase of land and immovable property in J&K. The feeling running through some of the leaders in the non-BJP camp in Ladakh is, this could happen to them and their land as well .
Jammu and Kashmir had never asked for the Union Territory, not even those who had been advocating dissolution of the special status , to free themselves from the stifling rule of Kashmiri parties . Most vocal were the residents of Jammu plains where Hindus are in a majority, for they had thrived on the narrative that Kashmir had been discriminating against Jammu region.
Apart from the narration of the discrimination in the matter of development, jobs, they had accused the Kashmiri parties of encouraging settlement of people from the Valley in the region, thus alleging that Hindu majority character of the region was being changed.
There were quite visible truths in it, but they had not asked for the state to be degraded to UT status. Now they are feeling the pinch as the whole set up has been taken over by bureaucrats, the politicians and their parties have been pushed to margins. A fresh look is needed as the UTs enter their second year.
About the Author:
Arun Joshi is a senior journalist based in J&K. He has worked with Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express and The Tribune.
He has authored “ Eyewitness Kashmir: Teetering on Nuclear War” and three other books.
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