“Kashmir shrinks into my mailbox,
my home a neat four by six inches.
I always loved neatness. Now I hold the half-inches Himalayas in my hand.
This is home. And this is the closest
I’ll ever be to home. When I return,
The colors won’t be so brilliant,
The Jhelum’s waters so clean,
So ultramarine. My love
–Agha Shahid Ali
Two years after the abrogation of Article 370 and the undoing of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, it is an occasion to reflect on these 24 months and conduct an audit of the success and the failures of New Delhi’s most dramatic policy initiative towards the region. The fact is, as former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah pointed out, that in terms of governance and economic development, there is little to show that the move has led to any dramatic improvement.
Clearly, the security front is where New Delhi can claim the greatest success. The Valley is experiencing a period of remarkable quiescence and militancy is at its lowest. The Line of Control (LoC) is relatively quiet and there have been few dramatic incidents of terrorism.
There is admittedly some simmering discontent and alienation, and reports have emerged of homegrown militancy on the rise especially, from south Kashmir. To be sure, however, there are few signs of the security situation overwhelming the Valley as happened in the 1990s. No one could have anticipated that Article 370 could have been abrogated with such ease or with such little upsurge.
The Clock Can't Be Turned Back
Politically, the separatists are in jail or under preventive detention at home, and there are few of them who are vocal, except for mysterious groups like The Resistance Front, whose provenance remains unclear. The press, a source of deep discomfort to the state government, has become an ally and rarely articulates any political discontent. Most of the mainstream leaders, from the National Conference (NC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the People’s Conference (PC), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Apni Party, and so on, have grudgingly accepted that the clock cannot be turned back, and unless the Supreme Court Acts, there is hardly a chance of Article 370 or Article 35A being restored.
This has not been achieved through inducing a moment of great epiphany, but by employing all the instruments of Chanakya’s statecraft in winning the acquiescence of a critical section of the mainstream.
Recognition of the importance of the mainstream has also meant understanding that political leaders cannot be manufactured in television studios or through parades carried out in front of foreign envoys.
As a significant preemptive measure to quell discontent, the Centre has made provisions to ensure that there are reservations for jobs for those domiciled in the state and to prevent land alienation, measures that are not uncommon in most border states.
The political parties accepted, in June, the invitation of the Prime Minister to enter a dialogue to bridge the deficit between the Centre and the Union Territory. While apprehensive, it led to the hope that an early return of promised statehood, credible delimitation of constituencies without a resort to gerrymandering and free and fair elections are on the anvil.
Dwindling Economy, A Widening Gulf
In terms of economic development and governance, the record is poor. Notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been no improvement in the delivery of either public services or better governance; there also hasn’t been any substantial economic investment in the state. The bureaucracy entrusted with the task, led by the outgoing chief secretary, has failed to deliver, and the promise of Jammu & Kashmir remains just that: the promise of Jammu & Kashmir None of the socio-economic indicators show any visible signs of improvement. Socially, the gulf between the communities and the regions of the state has not been bridged and the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, with dignity and honour, remains as much of a mirage as it was two years ago.
The agenda for the next two years for the Centre remains clear. First, an early return of full statehood of Jammu and Kashmir — not a compromised statehood like in Delhi, but where the responsibility of law and order and all subjects in the state list remains within the exclusive jurisdiction of the state.
Second, a quick and conclusive delimitation exercise that is seen as credible, fair and transparent, and not as gerrymandering or cartographic manipulation.
Finally, a free and fair election that restores the democratically elected government to the state.
It is important to involve as many actors as possible in a dialogue to ensure the early return of Kashmiri Pandits, and perhaps ensure political reservations, as has been done for the Anglo-Indian community. In the ultimate analysis, the three pillars of Development, Democracy and Devolution and Dialogue remain the foundation on which a real ‘Naya Kashmir’ (new Kashmir) can be built. The same alacrity with which Article 370 was abrogated two years ago must be reflected in the new initiatives to create the conditions of sustained peace and prosperity in the state.
(Amitabh Mattoo is a Professor at JNU and the University of Melbourne. Until recently, he was the Chair of Miranda House, University of Delhi. He tweets @amitabhmattoo. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)