Kashmir post Article 370 abrogation: A 12-point programme for emotional integration

Has the Kashmir Valley bonded with India after the axing of Article 370? No, says Madhav Godbole, and suggests 12 points to mend the situation in Jammu and Kashmir

Madhav Godbole Nov 09, 2021
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India: A Federal Union of States" by Madhav Godbole

Serious thought needs to be given to normalising the situation in Kashmir valley. After the abrogation of Article 370, constitutionally, Kashmir’s integration is now complete. But, emotionally, has the valley bonded with India? The answer will have to be categorical ‘No’. The spate of killings of BJP functionaries since July 2020 is a deliberate attempt by secessionists and Pakistan to delay the process of normalisation. I would suggest the following 12-point programme towards this end.

1.  Jammu and the Kashmir Valley must be given full statehood. This will restore the dignity and status it had enjoyed till August 2019 when it was converted into a Union Territory, and will mend the hurt public feelings. But this is unlikely till the delimitation of Assembly constituencies is given effect to. This process needs to be expedited. Unfortunately, some political parties seem to be abstaining from the deliberations of the Delimitation Commission on the plea that their petitions against the abrogation of Article 370 are still pending in the Supreme Court. The LG of J&K has said, ‘Those demanding early Assembly elections must cooperate with the Delimitation Commission for completion of the exercise at the earliest.'

2. Ladakh should continue as a Union Territory, particularly in view of its strategic location and China’s recent aggressive
postures. As brought out earlier, Ladakh was always unhappy as a part of J&K state and felt that it was being neglected and its development needs were being overlooked.

3. A time-bound plan must be prepared for the withdrawal of the army from the civilian areas of J&K, in consultation with all
political parties. The army is also generally reluctant to take up the task of tackling counter-insurgency operations in civilian
areas, except as a short-term measure. As GOC of Indian Army’s Srinagar-based 15 Corps Lt Gen. Anil Kumar Bhatt has said, ‘We will go back to barracks once things stabilise.... Even in Punjab, we pulled out as soon as the situation stabilised. We have reduced our footprints in Mizoram and Tripura and we’ll do so....as the situation improves.’ The responsibility of stabilising the situation is entirely in the hands of the government, political parties and the civil society. It is only through political dialogue and enunciation of appropriate policy measures that this can be brought about. But for this to become possible, a dialogue is necessary between the government on the one side, and political parties and civil society on the other.
Fortunately, the situation was better on all parameters in 2020. While there were 584 law and order incidents in 2019, the figure came down to 143 in 2020. Militancy-related incidents also came down to 243 in 2020 from 255 of 2019. While 157 militants were killed in 2019, the figure rose to 222 in 2020. However, militant recruitment went up from 143 in 2019 to 174 during the year. Also, during the year 2020, more than 12 political activists, most of them belonging to the BJP, were killed by militants.

4. An open offer could be made by the government that withdrawal of the military from the civilian areas would be done, on
an experimental basis, if maintenance of peace is ensured by the people at large. During this period, the law and order duties may be entrusted to the state police, supplemented by the Central paramilitary forces. If necessary, armed police of other states may be requisitioned for deployment in J&K.

5. A country can choose its friends but it cannot choose its neighbours. All efforts made in the past to partition J&K have
failed. Pakistan is hell-bent on getting the Kashmir valley. In a sense, it’s an existential fight for the Pakistan Army which is
spearheading the insurgency in Kashmir. Once the Kashmir problem is settled, the hold of the Pakistan Army on the country’s policies will be greatly reduced. However, significantly, Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has made a plea to bury the past and to move forward. The leaders of BJP and its affiliate organisations must also stop issuing statements about their dream of Akhand Bharat (united India) comprising India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan which have created legitimate fears and insecurities about India’s intentions.

No sane person should ask for India’s unification with these countries. The problem has become more complex with China’s entry in the J&K conundrum. A national consensus needs to be evolved on how to deal with Pakistan. Among an array of other measures, dialogue needs to be resumed with Pakistan, supplemented by international pressure to prevail on Pakistan to stop its support to insurgency and terrorist activities from within its borders.

6. A time-bound programme must be worked out for using other leverages such as the earliest use of the waters allotted to India under the Indus Water Treaty.

7. Leaders of political parties and organisations still under detention should be released immediately. Cases against other
persons jailed for their involvement in agitations, stone-throwing incidents, etc. should be reviewed with a view to effecting their release. Only those involved in acts of terror, violence or support to insurgency should be continued in detention.

8. Fortunately, the elections to the District Development Councils (DDCs) were conducted smoothly at the end of 2020. J&K had deliberately delayed the ushering in of democratic decentralisation, though the Constitution of J&K contained a specific provision for empowerment of village panchayats. The committee on economic reforms for J&K (1998) under my chairmanship had made a series of recommendations in this regard, which remained unimplemented. On paper, there were enactments in place, which included the J&K Panchayat Raj Act, 1989, and the J&K State Finance Commission Act, 2011. The committee on devolution of powers to the panchayats (2011) had also made some pertinent recommendations. But due to lack of implementation, there was no impact on ground. Village panchayat elections were first held in 1971. Thereafter they were held for some panchayats only in 2011. For the remaining panchayats, they were held in 2018, but were boycotted by the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The 73rd amendment of the Constitution became applicable in J&K after a lapse of 28 years and elections were held to the newly created DDCs, Halqa (area) panchayats, and block development councils in December 2020. Against this background, it was surprising to see Haseeb A Drabu, former finance minister of J&K, in his article ‘Junior MLA, senior Panch’ in The Indian Express (24 December 2020) totally misrepresenting the facts and calling it ‘a framework of disempowerment’. The DDC elections were a welcome development.
Grassroots democracy has to be established and nurtured, if the superstructure of democratic governance at the state and national levels is to be sustained. The issues of autonomy of state, preserving the identity of the state, and special status for the state are certainly important but they do not fall in the jurisdiction of the local bodies at the district and lower levels. It is immaterial how many DDCs are controlled by the Gupkar Alliance and how many by the BJP. What matters is that after a long time, elections in J&K were held without calls for boycott and without any violence. There cannot be a greater encouraging indicator of normalisation of the situation in the state.

9. This process of normalisation can be facilitated only if a number of restrictions currently in operation in the state are lifted at the earliest, as a conscious policy. The media must not only be permitted but also be encouraged to operate freely. An important element of this has to be the policy on government advertisements. This is particularly relevant in the post-Covid-19 period of economic slowdown and other hardships. It is necessary that the advertisement policy is transparent. Locking up the premises of the Kashmir Times, which was somewhat critical of the government, has sent a very wrong message.

10. Emotional, cultural and social bonds need to be built between the people of J&K and the rest of the country. Conscious efforts need to be made for the purpose at non-government level.

Talk to stakeholders

11.Kashmir’s problems and development needs have been examined closely by a number of high-level expert committees. Their recommendations have, however, largely remained on paper. A dialogue should be started with all stakeholders to give a fillip to the time-bound implementation of these recommendations. Improving investment climate in the state has to be an important element of any new strategy.

12. Basically, the task of bringing the Kashmir Valley into the mainstream of the country has remained incomplete. This should not be left to the government alone. The role of the private sector will be important in these endeavours. It is a challenge which must be accepted nationally by the civil society at large and political parties of all hues.

This war for integration, peace and normalcy is more difficult than even the proxy war which India has been fighting in Kashmir for several decades. It implies building bridges of trust. This is going to be a long haul. There are no easy, ready-made solutions. This onerous task can be achieved only if India speaks with one voice and rises unitedly.

(Excerpted with permission from "India: A Federal Union of States" by Madhav Godbole/Konark Publishers)