Restoration of Statehood to Jammu and Kashmir
Elected Government is an important milestone in restoring Statehood. it gives strength to the development trajectory of a UT/State. J&K cannot, of course, be an exception. The process initiated cannot be considered a wholesome effort until, for the role of Hindu community is not considered — the Hindu Pandits who constitute a substantial part of the area were not invited in the Meeting held on 24th June, nor did any one talk about them.
On the historic Day of August 5, 2019, the Indian Government revoked the special status granted to the State of Jammu and Kashmir(J&K) under article 370 of the Constitution. The decision was met with wide spread approval both among the citizens and the country’s nationalist political parties. In a recent ABP-C Voter Survey, 47.4 percent of the respondents said that the abrogation of Article 370 was the biggest achievement of the Narendra Modi Government’s second term. The second decision taken on the same day regarding the break up of J&K into the Union Territories was considered by many as heavy-handed. However, in his speech the Home Minister Amit Shah said “when things normalise, we have no problem granting statehood to J&K. The area was once a princely state called Jammu and Kashmir, but it joined India in 1947 soon after the subcontinent was divided up at the end of Kashmir rule. Now the question is – “Has the time to grant statehood come?”
There were two opposing narratives after August 05,2019. The first narrative declared that Kashmir would erupt into a wave of protests culminating into violence, witnessed in 2016. The second narrative extolled the virtues of the government action and promised that this would usher in a new era of economic development. The first narrative has not proved true; the second one perhaps could not be fulfilled to the fullest extent due to the Covid-19 onslaught. Development, however is visible in the Union Territory-work on two AIIMs in the region has started and Kashmir valley will be connected to the Railways soon; the work of giving electricity to every house is almost complete and around 25000government jobs will be created in J&K by 2022
Undeniably, the holding of the peaceful elections and the grant of statehood would be a welcome return to the democratic political process with the full participation of the regional parties. The initiation of the process of delimitation to peaceful elections to restore statehood in J&K has implications beyond the borders. India has endured (although unduly) international criticism over its handling of Kashmir issue after the August 2019 decision. Normalization of the political process in J&K will serve to strengthen India’s democratic credentials and counter some of the anti-India narratives. Conflicting signals have been emerging from Pakistan where the ‘selected’ Prime-Minister Imran Khan is playing bad-cop to his ‘selector’ General Qamar Bajwa’s good-cop. As for restoring normalcy in the lives of people, unless the Pakistani generals are getting taken in by their own fake news and lurid propaganda, they would know that Kashmir is more normal today than it has been for many years now. Of course, there will continue to be the odd guy who will be seduced by the romanticism of picking the gun; there will also be incidents of small-time terrorist violence and counter-terror operations by Security Forces. But otherwise, Kashmir today seems to have turned the corner-it is a peaceful region and has rejected militancy. It is also evident from the fact that the Government has successfully restored Panchayati Raj in the Union Territory with 51.7% voting without firing any bullet. The Panchayats have been given administrative and financial powers for local development. Now people chosen by the masses rule J&K, not those belonging to dynastic parties in the region.
The Centre proceeded to seek political validation of the administrative exercise initiated by it in the first week of June this year. The Home Minister Amit Shah’s commitment that statehood would be restored as soon as the government of India felt that the conditions for it were conducive. Inside J&K, the Centre’s move offers a face-saver to the political parties to jump back into the political fray. If they fail to grab this opportunity, the alternative is political marginalisation because the political process will continue to move ahead regardless of who opts out. After August 05,2019, the rules of political game have changed and the politicians in J&K need to adjust to the new realities. This means that they cannot use the same mnemonics in which they projected themselves as staunch nationalists when they were in power and flirted with soft-separation when they lost power. More importantly, they will have to reconcile to the sweeping amendments made in Article 370-the Article has not been abrogated, for it remains the part of the Constitution. This means that there is no going back to Article 35-A which had been inserted in the Constitution surreptitiously.
The new domicile laws in J&K which are virtually the same as in every other State of the Indian Union and impose many restrictions on acquiring domicile of J&K, are also unlikely to be reversed. The Statehood in any case cannot be restored overnight. It will require an act of Parliament and cannot be done through an Executive Order. Statehood be followed by delimitation exercise which will take months if not a year or more. “To ensure all round development of J&K… the delimitation exercise and peaceful election are important milestones in restoring statehood, said Amit Shah in an all-Party meeting convened by the PM Modi in Delhi on 24th June 2021. Delhi Talks is Centre’s first initiative, since the stripping of the special status of J&K and its bifurcation into two Union territories in 2019, as a significant step towards the return of elected representatives and the holding of Assembly Election in the two UTs to end Central Rule imposed in June 2018.
Given the prevailing circumstances, it is evident that the time to grant statehood to J&K has not yet come; after the holding of Assembly Election, J&K may be granted the truncated statehood in which the Centre retains some of the powers especially those pertaining to law and order, security and perhaps even some control over the bureaucracy. The other alternative may be that the Centre should grant statehood to Jammu, for the region has been discriminated by the Valley-based leadership of J&K; Kashmir be bifurcated into two UTs with one especially carved out for the Kashmiri Pundits, who migrated en-masse from the valley after eruption of militancy in 1990.
Therefore,the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill which seeks to replace an ordinance to merge the Jammu and Kashmir Cadre of Civil Service including Indian Administrative Services, Indian Foreign Services and Indian Police Services with the Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram Union Territory Cadre is a welcome step. It will, however, not be wise to grant statehood to J&K in haste. As Union Territory, J&K will continue to get all grants from the Centre and it will ensure its faster development. It will thus enhance its revenue and enable it become a self-reliant state.
By Prof S K Agrawal
(the writer is Head, Dept of English Maharaja Ganga Singh University, Bikaner)