Modi 2.0’s Kashmir Action: Is This In Keeping With ‘Raj Dharma’?
The actual benefit of 370 to J&K is debatable, but what many are united against is the govt’s undemocratic means.
Since 2014, the Modi government has followed a singular policy of using force and more force to beat down the terrorists’ and insurgents’ threats to peace and stability in the Kashmir Valley.
This policy on ground has been clearly at variance with some initial promise made by PM Modi who had repeated former PM Vajpayee’s famous mantra of finding a solution within the broadest parameters of ‘Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat’.
Later, he claimed that the Kashmir problem would be solved ‘na gaali se, no goli se, magar gale lagane se’ (neither with blame-game, nor with bullets, but with hugs and warmth).
Somehow, there were no takers to this offer probably because of a severe trust deficit that Modi’s government had always suffered in the Valley. This became apparent with the refusal of major stakeholders to meet the then Home Minister Rajnath Singh, on his trips to the Valley to try and negotiate a breakthrough.
Kashmir Valley Had Its Issues, Yes. But Has The Centre’s Action Helped Address The Issues?
The democratic experiment of forming a coalition with the PDP led by the Mufti family (both with father and then the daughter) too failed to bring out any tangible improvement in the situation.
Now the new moves made by Modi 2.0 have evoked a dramatic rise in temperature, not only in the Valley, but also in the rest of the country as well as in Pakistan and China’s attitude. The new government has brought about four major changes to the J&K state:
- Revocation of Article 370 (granting special status) of the Constitution
- Abrogation of Art 35 A (preventing other Indians from buying property in the Valley) of the Constitution
- Creation of a new Union Territory (UT) of Ladakh
- Downgrading the State of J&K into an UT
Much has been written about all the aspects of these structural changes that fundamentally alters J&K’s relationship with the rest of India. It is debatable whether Article 370 did actually provide any real special status to J&K or it had been completely hollowed out in the last 70 years or so. But what most commentators seriously objected to the was the way in which it was bull-dozed in the Parliament while the Valley was in complete lockdown with all its political leaders detained, and the local people shut out from the world, by blocking Internet and telephone lines.
No doubt, there was much that was rotten in the Valley.
A handful of political families contested elections and rotated in power, garnering most of the largesse handed over by the Centre for the development of the state.
Then there were the unelected separatist leaders, who were said to be on the payroll of the ISI or of the IB and refused to contest elections, but had disproportionate clout in the affairs of the state. There were several hundred young men trained, armed and funded by Pakistan that were creating regular mayhem by terrorising the local population as well as the administration. Violence coupled with unbridled corruption seemed to be draining out the Centre’s resources.
Will Centre’s Approach Stem The Rot In The Valley?
We have all witnessed how terrorism/insurgency had become a profitable industry for the politician/bureaucrat/contractor nexus not only in Kashmir but also in the Northeast, which also has a special status that protects their cultural identity and their land rights. Why the Northeast has been spared from this legislation and why its fuller integration with rest of the country couldn’t be done with the same bill is unclear.
More importantly, whether the present approach of the government will address all the problems and stem the rot in the Valley, is highly doubtful.
However, it is not correct to say that no development has taken place in the Valley. Those of us who visited the Valley in the 1970s and later in the new millennium, have seen enormous changes, not only in Srinagar but also in the far reaches of the border villages. At the same time, we have also noticed how the state had increasingly become a garrison state, particularly after the 1990s.
Though the military presence had increased exponentially, terrorist incidents had not subsided, though they had come down significantly by 2013.
In fact, a comparison of terror incidents and deaths of security personnel, of terrorists and civilians from the 1990s till date shows a very bleak picture. A combined study of the MHA figures and that of South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) reveals from 1988 to till date (23 June 2019) there have been 47,234 terror incidents, leading to 14,903 deaths of civilians, 5131 security personnel, 25,457 terrorists and a total of 44,567 deaths.
How Terrorism Ebbed & Waned
The chart below is an instructive study of the how the terrorist incidents and deaths ebbed and waned, with a combination of domestic factors and of the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The table above indicates clearly that terror incidents reached a new high with the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1990 that freed Pakistani jihadists to flock to Kashmir. The incidents peaked in 1995 from where they came down sharply by 2007, and even more remarkably by 2013 with all the numbers being in the low 3 digits. Though there is a marginal increase from 2014 onwards till June 2019, the situation was definitely not as alarming as it was in 1990s.
Central Govt’s Action On Kashmir Can’t Be Justified
Now this trend doesn’t in anyway indicate that any special powers were required for the Central government either to repeal the special status or downgrade the State of J&K to an UT.
Nor does it justify the need to rush in another 35,000 to 40,000 troops to face any imminent threat or to abruptly end the Amarnath Yatra and pull back all the tourists from the valley. Nor did it need the complete lockdown of the valley and imprisonment of hundreds of political leaders.
The argument that the Central government needed to remove the special status in order to eliminate terrorism, to end corruption, or bring about development by integrating J&K with rest of the country seem specious.
This, because, terrorist incidents were clearly on a downward trend, and the development indices of the state were far better than some of the major North Indian heartland states. And with tourism showing an uptick, jobs and steady income were on the rise.
Why Did Modi 2.0 Go For Such An Overkill In Kashmir?
The argument that the repeal of Article 35A will boost investment in industry and growth in jobs is difficult to accept, firstly because the situation in Kashmir is certainly not conducive for outsiders to come and settle while the Kashmiri Pandits themselves fear for their life and security. Secondly, the fact that investment in industry and manufacturing sectors has failed to takeoff in the rest of the country for the last five years clearly holds no such promise for Kashmir.
Then why did the Modi government go for such an overkill in Kashmir, risking more anger, more protests and by clubbing the terrorists with the moderate elements, and the separatists with the nationalist elements?
The simple answer is that the Congress party has all along appeased the Muslim minority and the BJP had pledged to reverse it. Granting special status to a Muslim majority state in a so-called ‘Hindu Rashtra’ was anathema to it; and the highest act of appeasement by Pandit Nehru and his legacy had to be undone. So the trial of strength began with the bill to criminalise the triple talaq divorce of Muslim women that reversed the legacy of Rajiv Gandhi in overriding the Shah Bano judgment.
Downgrading J&K To UT Status: ‘An Act of Humiliation’
But the most important legislative act of the BJP’s newfound majority in the Lok Sabha had to be the undoing of Nehru’s legacy, and nothing pleased the new Home Minister Amit Shah more than the title ‘second Sardar Patel’ who completed the unfinished agenda of the ‘integration of India’.
But why downgrade a state into an union territory? This is not merely an act of legislation but of humiliation.
The problem with this approach is that it tends to sideline or subvert some of the fundamental principles that permeate our Constitution, and place limits on the governance of the state. Democracy, constitutional morality, rule of law, fundamental rights, human rights, secularism and federalism, etc, all appear to be obstacles in pursuing such a policy. Atal Bihari Vajpayee would have asked: ‘Is this in keeping with Raj Dharma?’
(Ravi Joshi was formerly with the Cabinet Secretariat and is now a Visiting Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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