The Narendra Modi Government’s decision to remove the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) under Article 370 is flawed on multiple counts and is based on specious arguments that do not stand up to legal, factual or moral scrutiny, writes Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, in a well -researched paper (An existential crisis for Jammu & Kashmir and ganger to India’s federal structure) published on August 14, 2019. Anuradha is a journalist with three decades of experience in covering Jammu and Kashmir, with special focus on border issues, Kashmir conflict, and human rights. She is Executive Editor of the oldest English daily in Jammu and Kashmir and known for its courageous and independent journalism. She has also accomplished several research projects on media reportage, conflict, human rights, and gender and contributes regularly to several newspapers, magazines, periodicals and anthologies. She is also a peace activist.
To her the move is a negation of history and is violative of both the letter and spirit of the social contract that the people of J&K had with India under which the State was granted a special status and a distinctive political identity. In the days since the Presidential Order signed on August 5, 2019, divided the State into two Union Territories, a virtual lockdown has come into effect depriving the residents of their fundamental rights to free movement and communication. Anuradha provides valuable insights into J&K’s history and argues that the unilateral move by the central government is humiliating to a people who were better off in every respect under Article 370 compared to what likely awaits them now.
“Before the Union Home Minister moved the legislation, 13 million people whose fate Parliament was deciding were virtually put under a siege. The Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir does not exist. The Legislative Assembly is dissolved. No consultations were ever held with any of the stake-holders turning this exercise into something that invokes a sense of virtual day-light thievery and humiliation among its citizens. Not only have the people’s special status rights been snatched, they have been divided and granted a status that is much lower than the status of a fully integrated State in this forced integration process,” she laments.
Under the new system which converts the erstwhile State into two different Union Territories, New Delhi fully sheds the pretense of imposing puppet governments on Jammu and Kashmir. In the opinion of Anuradha, to link terrorism to Article 370 was both devious and delusional unless the special laws for the State under Article 370 were actually mandating terrorism or legalising it. According to her terrorism is not an offshoot of J&K’s special status but stems from the alienation and suppressed aspirations that are 70 years old. “Insurgency began in 1989 after decades of betrayal, imposed puppet governments, erosion of the State’s autonomy and manipulative politics by the Centre. The last straw was the infamous rigging of the 1987 Legislative Assembly elections,” Anuradha maintains.
In her opinion the maximum damage was done to Article 370 in the early 1960s, reducing it to a hollow shell. Such severe tampering with of the State’s special status led to restlessness in the border districts of Rajouri-Poonch culminating in Pakistan’s misadventure of training and aiding armed guerillas in an operation codenamed ‘Operation Gibraltar’. Repression, disillusionment and mistrust of New Delhi have remained the major causes of terrorism.
According to her the anticipation that along with terrorism, the unrest and alienation of the Valley will also disappear is based on the false assumption that terrorism is solely linked to the proxy-war by Pakistan, a theory that blurs the distinction between gun-totting insurgents, stone pelters, separatist politicians, and now even the mainstream politicians. To her this notion skirts the distressing conditions that have been locally created for years through political manipulations, rigged election, erosion of autonomy and human rights violations and the effective removal of Article 370 has turned a festering problem into an existential crisis in Kashmir.
She insists that with all its military apparatus and prolonged lockout, even if New Delhi manages to suppress the Kashmiris or push them into fatigue mode, the calm may only be momentary. She points out that the existing climate of anger within the Valley was already pushing young men, many mesmerised by the ISIS ideology, to pick up guns. “Till now the youth were held back by a lack of money and arms and ammunitions. That may no longer be the case, depending on the developments in Afghanistan, the peace talks, US-Pakistan partnership and a probable take over by Taliban,” she predicts.
By way of evidence she refers to an article in The Citizen, by former Indian diplomat, M.K. Bhadrakumar, who warned of a possible spill-over of militancy into Kashmir. He wrote, “Even if Taliban doesn’t change course to overtly become part of the global jihadi movement, its triumphal victory over a superpower itself creates an aura around it that will radiate energy far beyond Afghanistan’s borders. Evidently, India has a lot to worry about if the Islamist militancy radiating from Afghanistan spreads to the Kashmir region.” It must be remembered, Anuradha points out, that the Muslim population here had risen in rebellion against Jammu and Kashmir’s last monarch in 1947 and later raised a revolt, backed by Pakistan’s army and guerillas, which led to the Indo-Pak war of 1965. What followed was a brutal phase of repression in the two districts.
“To be fair to Kashmir’s mainstream politicians, despite stiff public opposition from time to time and a troubled history of 70 years, it is they who have managed to keep aloft the Indian tri-colour in Kashmir: The Abdullahs who are being savagely tarnished today are scions of Sheikh Mohd. Abdullah, the tallest of Kashmiri leaders. To him goes a fair amount of credit that J&K became a part of India and has remained so till date,” she recalls. In her opinion goaded by a parochial mindset, the BJP, however, wants to mislead the nation with its manufactured theory of ‘all Kashmiri politicians are corrupt’.
She further recalls that Gopalaswami Ayyangar who ‘batted for a special status for Jammu and Kashmir’ had warned in the Constituent Assembly that “time was not ripe for full integration of Jammu and Kashmir.” Back then, the alienation of Kashmiris with New Delhi was minimal. In the following years, anger has spiralled, and today any emotional bridge has been fully dismantled and the trust deficit has become unbridgeable. She says, while the timing of the move has pushed the State into a danger zone, it might not be long before the fallout of the undemocratic manner adopted in J&K is felt across India, portending damage to the country’s democracy as a whole.
She adds: Jammu and Kashmir sits on the threshold of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan and the vulnerability of communal polarization and the tensions between jubilant Leh and disappointed Kargil have begun to surface. In her opinion once the siege on the Muslim dominated hill districts of Jammu region is lifted, ideas of Balkanisation of Jammu and Kashmir may emerge and it may become difficult to tackle it. Besides, she adds, the threat of demographic change that Kashmiris and other Muslims of the State have always dreaded is now real. Kashmir is bracing itself to be the next West Bank of the world. “As the new and modified Jammu and Kashmir begins to take shape, newer conflicts over land-use, jobs, admissions to educational institutions and commerce may also enter the landscape if the original residents of the State find it difficult to compete with the influx of the more prosperous outsiders,” warns Anuradha.
According to her the BJP government has virtually stirred a hornet’s nest in deciding to conduct an entirely misconceived political surgery on the State; the Centre appears to have allowed the paranoia around Jammu and Kashmir’s Muslim majority status to take precedence over pragmatism and foresight.
— The writer is veteran journalist and a former editor based in Islamabad.