An article in the prestigious ‘Foreign Affair’ Magazine dated Dec 17, 2021, by the journalist and writer Fahad Shah “The Tattered Dream of a New Kashmir” — addresses the issue of Prime Minister Modi promising great change in Kashmir by the abrogation of Article 370 but failing to deliver.
Some statements of the author may be relevant but there are many statements (which are at times also made by other vested interests) which present an incorrect picture to the lay readers — especially those who are not aware about the details of the Kashmir problem and the insurgency which started in 1989. This piece attempts to clarify the incorrect narratives. It will also highlight the subtle word play which imperceptibly propagate the incorrect narrative.
For starters the author states that on 05 Aug 2019, “With the stroke of a pen, Kashmir ceased to be a state within India and instead became a “union territory,” governed directly from New Delhi.” This dramatic line gives the impression that this was a knee-jerk, impulsive and an impromptu decision taken by the government. In fact, it was not. Abrogation of Article 370 has always been advocated by the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) or its predecessor parties; all BJP election manifestos since 1984 have stated this unequivocally. It was only after the 2019 elections that saw the BJP get an overwhelming majority in Parliament that the party could implement this; it was not an impulsive ‘stroke of the pen’. So, when on 5 August 2019 the Parliament of India voted in favour of a resolution tabled by Home Minister to revoke the temporary special status, or greater autonomy, granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir, it was a considered decision supported by the majority of the electorate.
The author states that “bureaucrats and senior officials from outside Kashmir have been running day-to-day affairs in the territory, side-lining locals from many positions in administrative and law enforcement agencies”, making it appear that in other Indian states only local bureaucrats run the administration. He knows the Indian system of administration well enough to be aware that India does not have a system of locals running the administration, except at the lower rungs. Bureaucrats of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and other all India allied services including those looking after law and order are invariably not “locals”. They are given a ‘parent State’ cadre where they serve most of the time barring periodical deputations outside their parent State. They are the people who administer and police all the States (provinces) in India, and Kashmir is no exception. Presently out of the 36 States and Union territories of India the administrative heads (Chief Secretary/Lieutenant Governor) of approximately 26 do not belong to the State they are administering — either ethnically or by domicile.
The author by stating “in the midst of a government-launched process to redraw political constituencies, an effort critics suggest is intended to make Kashmir’s electoral balance more favorable to the BJP”, and leaving it at that, makes it appear that delimitation is a BJP initiative. The BJP is just giving impetus to a long-delayed exercise. The delimitation process that was undertaken in 2002–08 across the country was not done in Jammu and Kashmir. Consequently, the last time the boundaries of constituencies were redrawn in Jammu and Kashmir was in 1995 which was based on the 1981 Census. This was because due to insurgency and terrorism, the census could not be held in 1991 in Jammu and Kashmir. Following the 2001 Census, the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly passed a law putting delimitation on hold till 2026. Therefore, if after abrogation of Article 370 the delimitation exercise for J&K has been set in motion, there is nothing intrinsically wrong in it.
The author states that “After the government got rid of Article 35A, it passed a new residency law that now allows anyone who has lived in the region for 15 years to become a permanent resident; previously, the legal provisions that guaranteed Kashmir’s relative autonomy prevented non-Kashmiris from settling in the region.” This was also a long overdue law. This is because till it was passed, Hindus displaced from areas which are now Pakistan Occupied Kashmir as well as refugees from Chhamb which was occupied by Pakistan in 1965, and permanently in 1971 — even till 2019 — did not have the legality of being a permanent resident of J&K. This denied them multiple benefits which other residents of J&K had. A similar law does not apply to people from Kashmir residing anywhere else in India. The author himself lives in Ganderbal, Kashmir and in Delhi as per his LinkedIn profile. He can own property anywhere in India. Should not these privileges be available Mutatis Mutandis to people from other parts of India to own property in Kashmir? It is a different issue that presently the situation is not conducive for people to invest money in property or businesses in Kashmir. That situation is directly the result of the activities of a some people in Kashmir having been subverted and the support to them from a neighbouring country.
The statement of the author that post abrogation “[t]he government has extended over 890 federal laws to the region, including land laws under which authorities can seize any area for industrial or public use or for use by the armed forces”. The reality is that all land acquisition laws applicable in the rest of India were applicable in J&K though under a different title. It was a verbatim copy of what was applicable in the rest of the country as the Land Acquisition Act 1894. This was updated in 1985 and further streamlined through “The Right To Fair Compensation And Transparency In Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation And Resettlement Act, 2013”. No injustice is done in J&K in land acquisition for public purposes as it is exactly the same in the rest of the Union of India. Using words like “seize” instead of “acquire” gives an incorrect perception as does stressing upon “armed forces” when the act provides for acquisition of land for multiple public purposes including strategic purposes (defence). The reference to “began transferring forestland to the armed forces” is again incorrectly portrayed. The Kashmir Valley being heavily populated in the Valley floor leaves little choice but to acquire forest land (which in any case is government land) if required for military purposes. The government didn’t start transferring forest land to the armed forces after Aug 2019. This is a process which in fits and starts has continued from 1947 onwards depending on requirement. The requirement has obviously increased after the Kashmir dispute and later when the insurgency started.
The author states that “[t]he government caused further alarm after officials encouraged Kashmir’s minority Hindus to seek restitution for property, they lost during upheavals in the late 1980s and 1990s […]”. If stated as a complaint (as it appears to be), this appears an illogical alarm. After all this would be applicable to property which has been illegally occupied after the minority were forced out of their properties with violence, veiled threats, killings and at gunpoint. They obviously have a right to seek restitution of property once peace returns.
The author states that “[i]n the last two years, authorities have buried the bodies of slain militants in remote, often mountainous areas, denying families the chance to inter their relatives”. This is again an incorrect statement which gives the misperception that “authorities have buried the bodies of slain militants in remote, often mountainous areas” only after abrogation of Article 370. Institutionalised instructions on burial of unidentified bodies of militants slain in inaccessible areas of the Line of Control from where, bringing them down is hazardous, have existed for over 30 years. They didn’t appear after Aug 2019.
The abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution are welcome steps. The articles were meant to be temporary provisions and their abrogation is one more, and a decisive step forward, in resolving the seemingly intractable Kashmir dispute. No political party either in India or Pakistan can with ease accept the conversion of the Line of Control (LoC)to an International Border. Yet that appears to be the only logical solution.
The abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A is a fait accompli. Even if the BJP led government is not there at the Centre, no political party can revoke the Aug 2019 decision and hope to survive in Indian politics. The existence of the LoC for 74 years and the almost complete amalgamation of the parts of erstwhile J&K State held by India and Pakistan with their respective countries, is in the view of this piece, something which cannot be reversed or is not worth attempting to reverse.