The BJP government has done it again! This time, it is Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Its `special status’, guaranteed under `temporary’ provision of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, has been revoked. It is no surprise as the Party has long made its intentions crystal clear. The BJP held the promise that the repeal of the Article would bring all round economic development and check corruption and terrorism in the state, which is now divided into two Union Territories.
The move has popular support across the country as it is generally viewed that the provision has not brought any peace to the state and is only serving the interests of separatists and their masters in Pakistan.
Will these constitutional amendments stand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court? Probably, yes. The BJP appears to have done its homework and meticulously prepared the ground for eventual action.
Will it be acceptable to Kashmiris, who are the main stake holders? No. The state is currently under a complete shut-off mode with all communications cut, top leaders under house arrest and forces guarding streets. The valley is likely to erupt sooner than later notwithstanding the heavy deployment of forces.
How the international community reacts? The Kashmir issue has long been shoved aside from public memory except on occasions of major military flareup across the border between India and Pakistan. The withdrawal of the special status is unlikely to press a panic button among the world community. Pakistan’s `over action’ will be on expected lines. The international mood, however, can change if mass violence leads to brutal suppression and heavy causalities.
The BJP may be condemned for the way it executed the revocation process. But, is there any other way that it could have done it better? The debate on the issue has been going on for past over five years since the party came into power in 2014. There were legal battles in anticipation of the move. Several peace attempts were made in the last 30 years at official as well as Track 2 level, but separatists and vested interests foiled all prospects. The latter found the existing conditions of fear and terror serve them better. The initiatives taken by the previous BJP government, under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, are still considered in the Kashmir valley as the most genuine and sincere effort to resolve the conflict and bring peace.
Having done away with this controversial `special status’, the onus is now on the Narendra Modi government to quickly present its road-map that would bring real peace, sense of dignity and economic development to the Kashmiris. This is what they promised to the Kashmiris. There is no excuse any more. The people of India are with the government. Prominent members of the opposition parties, including the Congress, have extended their support to the government defying their official party policies.
While we do not know yet if the Modi government has drawn up any detailed strategy, some of the contours of its thinking can be gleaned from its various actions. The state administration, under the Governor’s rule, has set in motion devolution of greater administrative and financial powers to Panchayat Raj institutions (local bodies). Elections to the local bodies were held in October last year and the BJP made some inroads into the valley. These newly elected local leaders are being trained to take up new responsibilities of monitoring central programs. The Article 370 had earlier precluded any role for the central government in the administration of the state, except for foreign affairs, defense, communications and currency.
A business leaders’ summit is proposed to be held both in Srinagar and Jammu next month to draw up plans for setting up industries that benefit economic development and employment generation. Top industrialists from India and abroad are invited to participate to interact with local leaders and businessmen. Some of the areas that could attract outside investments include pharmaceuticals, food-processing, textiles, power projects, advanced technical training, and modern handlooms and handicrafts.
The BJP and the central government appear to be reaching out to the people of Jammu and Kashmir to explain the reasons for various actions taken and assure them that the current shut-down of the state and deployment of forces are a temporary measure and will be lifted gradually to ease movement of the people.
As the current restrictions are lifted, violent incidents are expected to spread all over the valley and parts of Jammu. Unless the police and other security forces act fast to restrict such incidents to local areas and prevent them spreading across the state, they will have a serious problem in hand. Heavy casualties could turn the tide against the government both at home and international level.
Although decentralization of financial powers and promotion of economic development are significant initiatives, they do not mean anything if there is no peace. There has been an increase in the number of educated and employed youth joining militancy in the valley in the past two years. Youth icon Burhan Wani and many others joined militancy not because they were unemployed or uneducated. There is a growing feeling of alienation and loss of dignity in the face of their near and dear being treated badly and killed by security forces on clumsy reasons.
If India likes to win the hearts of the people, it is only through restoration of their honour and dignity. The very sight of numerous check posts and gun-wielding security forces have become an eye-sore as they restrict movement of the people, who are looked upon as potential terrorists. It would be helpful if more innovative security measures are adopted in place of such massive visible deployment of forces. Extensive use of technical monitoring, deployment of plain-clothes security men and special forces who easily merge with local background may prove more effective in the longer run.
The Article 370 has remained more an emotive issue rather than any practical value to common people. Its revocation, therefore, is unlikely to bring any negative consequences in their normal affairs. However, vested interests, separatists and terror groups backed by Pakistan will do everything to flare up violence that begets further bouts of violence.
The key is in the Central government offering an attractive alternative plan that brings lasting peace, dignity to people and economic growth while keeping a check on anti-national forces. It is, however, easier said than done.
(Prasad Nallapati is President of the Centre for Asia-Africa Policy Research and former Additional Secretary to Govt of India)
(This article appeared in Economic Times on August 10, 2019)