Sandeep Jain Writes: The J&K imbroglio has been a much debated and written about subject and is a part of national consciousness. This has been more pronounced due to its linkage to cross border terrorism. Thus every time a terrorist strike takes place or Indo-Pak talks are on the anvil, this issue comes up for discussion in a direct or indirect manner. Pakistan of course continues to refer to it as an unfinished agenda. The separatist leaders have also tried to give the state a disputed status. Fears of ISIS making its presence felt in J&K had also recently surfaced.
The levels of insurgency and violence have nonetheless come down over the preceding decade. While cross border infiltration continues, it is no more at the same levels as it was in early nineties. The democratic process has been fully established with repeated instances of mass participation in various types of election at regular intervals. The separatist leaders also are perceived to be losing their mass appeal. Tourists have once again started visiting the state. Amaranth yatras are generally peaceful. The incidents of mass stone pelting as witnessed in 2009-2010 have also abated.
In light of the above mentioned processes, there is a growing perception shared by politicians, journalists and sections of the armed forces that the State is limping towards normalcy and once the present generation of separatist leaders have gone, mainstream integration would be somewhat possible. Possibly the coalition government in the State at present was also with similar thoughts. Continuing Pakistan support is possibly seen as the only hurdle to complete normalcy. Clamour for withdrawal of AFSPA is also possibly motivated with this thought. In fact a very senior cabinet minister of the previous political dispensation at the Center, in one of the TV interviews, mentioned that after withdrawal of AFSPA, the armed forces can always be requisitioned by a magistrate or take a magistrate along for their operations akin to any other law and order situation.
Certain ground realities have definitely changed over a period of time. Education and connectivity have percolated to the remotest corners of the state. Even franchises of schools like DPS can be found in remote districts. The state schemes for education of children in general and girl child in particular seem to be succeeding. This is already having an impact upon social thinking wherein, days of ignorant and uneducated youth being readily available for militancy are over. The rich are sending their children to other states for education and seeking job opportunities elsewhere.
There is a large immigration of labour work force as the average locals want to outsource their manual labour, if they can afford it. The activities such as running of apple orchards etc are increasingly being done by immigrants – largely from Bihar. They do not have any land ownership rights etc. However, some of them have started marrying local girls and settling down. May be in times to come they may get voting rights or a greater political voice.
There is very little development in terms of industry, outside investment etc. This is mainly for two reasons. The prime reason being, that the State already gets large quantum of central assistance in terms of funds. Unlike other states they do not have to worry about wooing investors as all their shortfalls are met by central grants. The resistance to any dilution to article 370 partially also stems from this convenient arrangement. The resultant effect is poor infrastructure, which coupled with harsh climatic conditions further keeps investors away.
The Youth in J&K are however, likely to remain frustrated due to lack of job opportunities from lack of development- reasons for which were mentioned above. Thus those with good education will seek more and more opportunities either in rest of the country or abroad.
The Kashmiri Pandits are not in a position to return to the valley as the security situation is still not conducive. They are also getting good compensation for their losses, again funded largely by central government as also many have permanently settled in Jammu, Delhi or other cities. The next generation has little emotive connection with their home state. The likelihood of the Pandits returning en-masse to the valley either now or later is remote, unless the thought of earmarking special areas for them as was initially mooted by the present government somehow comes about.
There is also now a clear polarization with respect to ethnic and religious composition of Ladakh, Jammu and the Valley regions. A trifurcation of the state would have been the logical next step. This however is unlikely due to legal hurdles as also the fact that the Valley as a separate state would be more subvertible to Pak propaganda. The political parties also have their core constituencies accordingly. The political parties are therefore largely happy with a status quo and with the exception of a few right wing national parties do not want any revision in the status of J&K. It is also suspected that large quantum of funds received by the state may be diverted from their original intended purpose by these parties.
The incidents of mass stone pelting or demonstrations have reduced. However, there is increased politicisation of the population, especially in the Valley region. There is a sense of free entitlement as a right and the state apparatus is deemed to be responsible for anything going wrong in the lives of the common man. Thus there may be political protests against almost anything. Even the rest of the country lives with similar instances of state inefficiency/ apathy in their day to day lives, without protesting. Larger participation or turnouts in elections may also be result of this political consciousness and not necessarily a greater affinity and belief in the Indian democracy. Article 370 also has resulted in a “special status” psyche.
A negative external stimulus from Pakistan is omnipresent and is not likely to go away any time soon. Yet the overall infiltration has reduced considerably due to many factors- larger presence of security forces both on LC and hinterland and the AIOS being the main ones amongst them. Thus the security forces have been able to create a space for the political process to take place.
The power of media has also made a significant change. The average person on the street is far more aware of his rights. A smallest incident of human right violation either actual or perceived will get immediate media attention. Similarly happenings in J&K are also part of national consciousness in a greater measure today. Thirty years back not many Indians may have known the difference between LC and IB.
Is there any immediate solution in sight? There does not seem to be. To expect a vexed issue like this to go away in a hurry is unrealistic. Article 370 is one of the main hurdles in effective integration with the rest of the country. But legally it appears that it may not be repealed anytime soon. Unless full integration happens many of the problems are going to remain. However, till then an incremental approach must continue. We must target the population by an effective perception management campaign. Army is already doing a lot by way of Sadbhavna tours etc. But the capacity of the Army to undertake such actions within its resources is limited. The Government should develop perception management themes and work towards implementing them. The law and order situation must continue to improve and the gains made should not be frittered away by reduction in deployment of troops etc. The political process must only be strengthened. A lot of stress must be on education as a long term solution. Even greater central assistance in this direction would be justified. Every madrassa must have competition from a top class modern school when a parent is deciding where to enroll his child.
Many a times’ finding quick fix solutions may contribute to the problem. India has displayed maturity, restraint and a firm resolves in handling the situation in J&K. This must continue. However, the work is not yet done. Due to the complexities involved, any complacency may result in a serious downturn. A slow but steady effort is thus still required.