It has been a month, since the Government of India revoked the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir through a Presidential order on 5 August 2019 under the Article 370, prevailing upon the Presidential Order of 1954 and nullifying all the provisions of autonomy granted to the state. Almost simultaneously, the resolution seeking the revocation of the special status through abrogation of relevant provisions under Article 370 and the bill for the state's reorganization was debated and passed by the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) on 5 August with 125 (67%) votes in support and 61 (33%) against it. The following day i.e. on 6 August 2019, the resolution on abrogation of the special status was passed in Lok Sabha (Lower House) too by division of votes among the members present and voted with 351 (83%) members in support and 72 (17%) opposing it, and the Reorganisation Bill passed with 370 (86%) members in favour and 70 (14%) against it. The voting pattern cutting across the party lines suggested an overwhelming support of the members in favour of the abolition of the aforesaid discriminatory and controversial provision.
Position Following Abrogation of Special Status
Much to the chagrin of the Indian National Congress, some other opposition parties, self-proclaimed left leaning intellectuals and liberals and a section of Indian and International media, the Central Government had taken drastic and extraordinary measures by mobilizing adequate security forces even before moving the resolution and bill in the Parliament to ensure that there was no trouble or violence in the Kashmir Valley and other parts of the state. These measures inter alia included almost a virtual communications blockage of internet and mobile services, closure of offices, markets and schools and restrictions on assembly and movements of people. People were, however, allowed to move in the event of urgent needs including medical treatment and emergencies. Besides, key political leaders and separatist leaders of the Kashmir Valley were also either arrested or put under the house arrest.
Ever since, the conditions are fast returning to normal and most of the restrictions have already been lifted from Jammu, Ladakh and parts of the Kashmir Valley. Barring few exceptions, most of the educational institutions have been opened, government offices and markets have resumed routine business but considerable restrictions on internet and mobiles still exist in some parts. These precautions and tightened security measures have ensured that a single casualty and loss of human life has not occurred that could be attributed to the security forces. During this period, only two untoward and unfortunate incidents have been reported: in the first case suspected terrorists abducted two members of the nomadic Gujjar community from a forested area in Pulwama district and later shot them dead; in another case in Srinagar outskirts, unknown gunmen shot dead a shopkeeper who had apparently dared to open his shop against the dictum of terrorists. Such isolated occurrences are not surprising in the light of fact that the state has already remained disturbed for the last many years with unabated terrorist incidents. The government is also hopeful to lift remaining restriction in next few weeks to bring normalcy and business as usual.
The Central Government has also planned the roadmap for the development of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh union territories. This includes massive investment, employment opportunities including a recruitment drive of local youth in Army, opening of more industrial units, educational institutions and hospitals, building and strengthening infrastructure and tourism, reduction in power tariff and a host of other developmental activities. Reportedly, ten Union ministries have already joined hands to speed up development work in both union territories. The Government has also planned extensive benefits to the police personnel, similar benefits to the civilian government employees and the 7th Pay Commission allowance to employees of newly created union territories. With these measures, the Government maintains that the constitutional change made in tandem with proposed investment and developmental activities will usher in an era of prosperity and progress for the people in the region. A month long campaign has also been launched to educate people about the benefits of the legislation.
On the other hand, the disruptive forces present in Kashmir too are at large in their endeavor to disrupt peace process. As the region is fast returning to the normal, reportedly mischievous posters have appeared on streets in different parts of Kashmir, particularly in downtown Srinagar, Anantnag and Shopian districts, warning people not to cooperate with the government. The posters contain threat to the government employees, shopkeepers, daily wagers, transporters and street vendors of dire consequences if they are seen cooperating with the government and security forces. These posters in Urdu claim that those who cooperate with the government are traitors. Even at national level, some leaders of the Congress, intellectuals and liberals and a section of national and international media are engaged in a tirade to condemn government action and measures taken in Kashmir. The untiring efforts of these individuals and organizations include over a dozen suits filed in the Supreme Court against the legislation and allegations against the Centre with the charges of human rights violations, curtailment of freedom and oppression of Kashmiri people.
Age Old Multi-ethnic Character of Kashmir
I first visited Kashmir in April 1984 as part of the training curriculum of the civil service that mandated exposure with the Indian Army formations in the forward areas for two weeks. That was the time when we had liberty to freely move in various regions of the state including Valley without any fear and risk. We were indeed fascinated with the lush green Valley rich in Chinar trees, magnificent mountains with dense deodar, fir and pine forests, and majestic Himalayan rivers that have fascinated elites, philosophers, poets, young couples and commoners alike for centuries. The valley was still a preferred destination for the tourists and many honeymooners for its natural beauty, tranquility and quaint lifestyle. The average Kashmiri did not appear rich yet lively and cheerful enough true to poet Amir-e-Khusru’s following couplet:
“Gar firdaus bar-rue zaminast,
hamiasto, haminasto, haminast.”
(If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.)
But things changed in the state for the worse after March 1987 state assembly elections which are widely perceived as a watershed in the politics of the Jammu and Kashmir. Many independent analysts believe that the elections were rigged at mass scale in favour of Farukh Abdullah at the behest of the Centre (Congress Government). Following 1987 elections, the disillusioned and combined opposition Muslim United Front leaders like Abdul Ghani Lone and Syed Ali Shah Geelani became separatist leaders and many young Kashmiris, out of sheer frustration with the democratic process, opted for an armed struggle that gave rise to terrorism actively exploited and supported by Pakistan. The cry of fanaticism and jihad against minority Hindus and Sikhs climaxed towards the end of 1989 to such an extent that hundreds of them were killed among the slogan of “Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive” (Convert to Islam, leave the land, or perish) culminating into mass exodus of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 onwards.
Under the influence of fanatics and jihadis, the majority Muslims in Valley actively or passively accepted cleansing of minority ethnic groups in the quest of purity of religion. With this ethnic cleansing, the Valley achieved over 97% of Muslim population. On the contrary, perusal of the history of Kashmir gives altogether a different picture. A 12th Century Kashmiri author and historian, Kalhana’s Rajatarangini is regarded as the most authenticated account of the history of Kashmir till his time. The book documents pedigree details since the legendary reign of Gonarda in Mahabharata times but more illustrious and authentic history is recorded from the time of emperor Ashoka of Maurya dynasty who is known as the founder the city of Srinagar. During the first millennium, both Hinduism and Buddhism prospered in the valley and later during the ninth century Hindu Shaivism also took deeper roots in the Valley region. The fact is Hindus are aborigines of the Kashmir Valley since ancient times. All along the first millennium, Kashmir had been a major hub of Hindu culture producing some of the greatest sages, Sanskrit scholars and treaties of all times.
In fourteenth century, Muslim rule was established in the valley during the weak and unpopular Lohara dynasty. One of the Muslim rulers, Sikandar Butshikan (1389-1413), often referred to as an iconoclast, reportedly took a drive for systematic destruction of Hindu Shrines and forced the population to convert to Islam or kill or migrate from valley to other parts of India. This application of force, intimidation and violence against Hindus was repeated by many other tyrants like Ali Shah, Samsuddin Iraqi and so on leading to constant shrinking of Hindu population. The continuous persecution led to gradual shift in the ethnic population of the Kashmir valley that became predominantly a Muslim region with time. The Muslim rule lasted for about 500 years including that of intervening more moderate Mughal period, and it ended in 1819 with the annexation of Kashmir to the Sikh kingdom of Punjab. Later, the Hindu Dogra kingdom was established in 1846 at the end of First Sikh War and Dogra kings ruled the state till independence. Thus Kashmir prospered with cultural and ethnic diversity and was famous as a land of knowledge and learning for centuries before the excesses of successive Islamic rulers converted it predominantly a land of Muslims. The Kashmir carries a legacy of diverse culture and multi-ethnic society contrary to the claims of some radicalized locals and Pakistan that it belongs only to Muslims alone.
What Kashmiris Think about Nation
Since independence, Kashmir remained a major issue and point of conflict between India and Pakistan. In fact the religion became the very basis for the partition because Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his party Muslim League felt that Hindus and Muslims are two nationalities that cannot coexist together in the same geographical unit. Pakistan forced its claim on Kashmir on the same logic that Kashmir had a majority Muslim population; hence it should be part of the Pakistan. Jinnah declared Kashmir as the “Jugular Vein” of Pakistan and subsequent Pakistani rulers did everything, employing overt and covert methods, through wars, terrorism and propaganda during the past seven decades to brainwash the Kashmiri populace for toeing a separatist line including raising arms against the Indian government and security establishments and Kashmiri brethren of different ethnic identity.
Consequently, even after its lawful accession with India, Kashmir could never exist as a peaceful and progressive state. Intermittent wars, terrorism and malicious propaganda campaign from the hostile neighbor had its harmful effects too. During the past three decades alone, about 41,000 lives were lost and property worth thousands of crores damaged. A careful perusal of the political history of Kashmir would reveal that even the mainstream leaders and political parties from Valley that dominated the state since independence had divided loyalties, by favouring India or Pakistan depending upon situation and circumstances. This averment can easily be verified from the records of statements made and action taken by them from time to time. The valley based leaders and parties have been taking stand on Kashmir (and Kashmiriat) vis-a-vis India as if both are two different entities that would stay together only so long as the latter fulfilled certain obligations unilaterally towards the former. The interpretation and stand on Article 370 by the very Valley politicians only further aggravated the situation with time.
Owing to the aforesaid factors and reasons, the opinion and loyalties of Kashmiri people remain divided. Jammu and Ladakh regions together constitute about 84.27% of the state presently with India with a majority Hindu and Buddhist population. They have remained largely peaceful and part of the mainstream India with hardly any dissenting voice ever. On the other hand, Kashmir Valley represents about 15.73% of the geographic stretch with predominant Muslim population (over 97%) following the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990s. This is also the region posing most challanges and incidents of insugency and terrorism in the state. An overwhelmingly majority population in Valley is peaceful and apolitical on the pattern of “Koi nripu hoi, hamai ka hani” (Whomsoever is king, how does it impact me!). They value their families and means of livelihood with hardly any political views or vices, and any disruption in the Valley basically hits this category hard. Even among more educated and aware Kashmiris, the majority feel proud to be known as Indians or Kashmiri Indians; a small section of them feel alienated and want to exercise the choice of self-determination: and yet another small faction of people follow the separatist leaders of Valley that want to go with Pakistan.
The forgoing position is not an unusual feature, every democracy grants freedom to its people to have or express free opinion but any decision is taken on majority opinion. This could be well understood with the recent example of Scotland where there has been a demand since long from a section of people for separation from United Kingdom, the union of four states with traditionally England as the dominant partner. Consequently, plebiscite was organized wherein Scotland decided to stay as part of the United Kingdom by 51:49 per cent votes. A somewhat similar plebiscite in Kashmir could not be organized in 1948 following a UN Resolution because Pakistan never fulfilled the first condition of withdrawal of all Pakistani nationals (troops, tribals and mercenaries) from their illegally occupied territory of Kashmir. After seventy years, Pakistan is still politicizing the issue by demanding plebiscite in Kashmir despite knowing very well that it cannot be held now in view of significant geographic and demographic changes made by them in the territory occupied by them and complete integration of the remaining part of state with India.
Fallacy of Scrapped Law and Intellectuals’ Outrage
Articles 370 and 35A were highly discriminatory and breeding ground for violence in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in the country. Recently, Kashmiri Overseas Association, a US based body representing Kashmiri diaspora, has alleged that not only Hindus and Sikhs but all indigenous Kashmiri minorities including Shia, Ahmadi and Sufi Muslims, Gujjars, Dalits and Buddhists were discriminated in the state with only Sunni Muslims as the real beneficiaries from the provisions of these articles. These articles were even a source of gender based discrimination because as per provision, any women who would marry a non-resident/outsider would suo moto be deprived of property rights in the state. A campaign of intimidation and harassment was going on for decades in the state by the fanatics and radicalized people under the influence of Wahabism. The position further worsened in the late 1980s when Pakistan started capitalizing on these elements through liberal financing, training and supplying arms to terrorists across the border. This reign of terror climaxed in January 1990 when militants and fanatics started slogan of ‘Convert, leave, or die’ and ‘leave your women behind and send the men off’, followed by targeted killings of Kashmiri Hindus and Sikhs, in order to force them to leave the Kashmir valley.
Only last week I happened to visit Mumbai where my friend introduced me to a gentleman Mustaq Bhai (name changed) who is a wholesaler of dry fruits and saffron with family settled there for many decades. While a Kashmiri Indian could freely move to any part of India, can secure employment or conduct business and even settle there, but Indians from any other parts could not go to Kashmir for business or settlement purposes. The writing on wall has been very clear: the Jannat (heaven) is open and meant only for one community, or so to say for one Phirka (Sect) of that community and the message for others is to ‘Convert, leave, or die’. This is what has been professed by a small section jihadis and fanatics in the past, an unacceptable position also passively endorsed by the mainstream political parties of the Valley for decades to serve own interests and maintain their hold on population. While they have problem with own countrymen but have no issues if thousands of illegal Rohingya Muslims move and settle in Kashmir (Jammu), many of them with valid Aadhar, Voter IDs and ration cards issued with the connivance of state officials. It is not surprising that they are opposing lock, stock and barrel when their dreams and decades old empire collapsed with one master stroke of the present Indian government.
The response and utterances of the leaders of the grand old party in India was on predicted lines, quite embarrassing for the country nationally and internationally but nothing can be done about their vision and approach on crucial national concerns because, after all, the decades old problem of Kashmir itself is a gift of Congress-ruled Nehruvian legacy. Over the decades, mostly the Congress governments in Delhi fostered and endorsed two political families in Kashmir Valley while the sense of unaccountability and entitlement grew among the handful influential and vocal people, Pakistan endorsed and escalated separatism and terrorism, and the Valley radicalized by fanatics and militants. Also they remained as mute spectators and ineffective government during mass murders and exodus of Kashmiri Hindus and Sikhs in 1990s, on unfurling of Pakistani flags or desecration of Indian national flag on many occasions. On abrogation of the discriminatory law, senior Congress leader and former finance and home minister P Chidambaram remarked, “The worst day in the constitutional history of India… which could lead to the dismemberment of the country.”
So it is in line with their traditional approach to oppose any development that deviates from the Nehrunian ideology. While the Indian Government constantly maintain that even a single bullet has not been fired by security forces in Kashmir since enforcement of preventive restrictions and no civilian casualty occurred, the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi made statement within a week of abrogation of Article 370 that situation in Kashmir was very bad and people were dying. This statement was exploited by the hostile neighbor promptly quoting it in support of their complaint in the United Nations seeking their intervention. But another far more damaging remark came from P. Chidambaram when he said that one of the main reasons for the current crackdown in Kashmir was that the majority of Kashmiris are Muslims; he further added that had they been a Hindu majority, the government would have never resorted to such action. This is, undoubtedly, a far more dangerous and provocative, or rather seditious, statement to be avoided by any responsible politician in a country.
However, any rational and patriotic Indian would be more concerned and agitated with the reaction and response of Indian liberals, intellectuals and media persons of this country because they are expected to be fair, dispassionate and judicious in approach. It’s a fact that the long years of the Congress-ruled India and patronage of a certain ideology have built an ecology comprising of left-centric and left-leaning elites traditionally in politics, industry, literary circles and media. Ironically, their response to similar set of happenings and events is often found discreet and biased on the basis of region, religion and caste of the people. On the predicted lines, many of these self-proclaimed and self-styled intellectuals and liberals are deeply agitated with the events in Kashmir in the name of human rights, freedom and legality of moves of the federal government. The ironical part is that most of these elite individuals have a very comfortable and cozy living in Metros, they are often far away from the ground realities yet they feel that when they pronounce their pompous and dogmatic opinion on any complex subject, it should be heard and read with due respect and credibility.
So it is not surprising that the recent move by the Central Government and Parliament to abrogate the discriminatory laws on Kashmir and reorganize the region in two Union Territories for better control and governance has deeply frustrated and annoyed this section. Many of them have freely vented their anguish and fury, with particular takers in the Western press and media, to name a few are BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), Washington Post, New York Times and Al Jazeera, an action that sadly, and mischievously too, not only an effort to shame and discredit the government but also India as a nation and cultural civilization. Perhaps they consciously or sub-consciously feel it suffice only to talk about the interests of only a particular section of Indian populace in the name of secularism and democracy.
To cite a few illustrations, an Indian historian and columnist, Ramachandra Guha’s article “India was a miracle democracy. But it’s time to downgrade its credentials” in the Washington Post, talks about his personal grief and frustration following the government’s decision to scrap the special status of Kashmir and at one place he refers to “government’s persecution of my Kashmiri fellow citizens”. Arundhati Roy, an author of one novel fame and infamous for her support to separatist movement in Kashmir and terrorists like Mohammad Afzal associated in attack on the Parliament in the past, in her recent article in New York Times and other forums has gone to the extent accusing the Indian government as “Reckless” and “Rogue” on scrapping of the special status of Kashmir. Another Indian historian, Irfan Habib, has categorized the abrogation as an “act of betrayal against the Kashmiri residents.” Commenting upon the outrage of Pakistan over the issue, well known journalist Barkha Dutt has opined that only viable option for Pakistan to counter Indian government’s move on Kashmir is “another Pulwama like attack” and, considering her past track record of constant tirade against PM Modi and NDA government, it’s difficult to decipher if she is cautioning India to guard against or prompting Pakistan for such an attack. Economist and noble laureate Amartya Sen slammed the governmrnt in an interview to an Indian news channel NDTV stating that India has lost its reputation of a democracy and preventive detentions in Kashmir took it back to colonial age.
My main objection against these so-called intellectuals and professionals is their adoption of double standards while dealing with issues and problems before the nation. It is no more a secret how our hostile neighbour is involved in promoting and organizing terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country. If an insurgent or terrorist is killed in the Valley or elsewhere, they spare no time in criticizing security forces and government and giving unsolicited advice to address cause instead of causative agents (terrorists) but when terrorists kill a security person or his family members or any other civilians through ambush or deceit, the same intellectuals remain mute and shut their eyes as if nothing has happened. Today they have spared no time in being judgmental on democracy and secularism in India but where were they when hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits were killed, their women raped and lakhs of them were driven out from their homes by radicalised Islamists in 1990s? We have never heard Amartya Sen or other aforesaid intellectuals and professionals ever raising their voice or expressing concern on these excesses and heinous crimes against innocent people. Apparently the obvious reason is that they are largely makings of the same ecology with common agenda and interpretation of fascinating jargons like democracy, secularism, liberty and human rights, that suits well to their political patrons besides furthering own interests. Every person has a right to pursue own ideology and criticize the opposite but this zeal to oppose should be limited to people or party. No one should cross the limit where he (or she) is seen pitted against the very nation that has given him name, fame and prosperity.
Likely Implications of Abrogation of Special Status
Today Kashmir is divided in three parts, a significant part of Kashmir including Gilgit-Baltistan is under the occupation of Pakistan since 1947-48, one portion of Ladakh was forcibly occupied by China in 1962 and remaining part of it has been now fully integrated with India by scrapping the outdated law which was also a constant source of discrimination and conflict since its inception. Putting restriction on the movement or choice of settlement of people within the parts of same country or even imposing gender based restrictions on women alone in marriage was patently wrong and discriminatory, and the government has only corrected this anomaly and evil through abrogation relevant provision in the Constitution. This does not mean that there will be a terrible rush to own property in the Valley, but, yes, interested individuals and entrepreneurs will now be able to invest in Kashmir which will only add to peace and prosperity of the region.
While conceding that the government move was in the overall interest of Kashmir and nation, some political parties, liberals and intellectuals as also Kashmiri people are nurturing complaint that the government did not take them into confidence with enough prior notice and consultation. They should realize that this temporary provision in the Constitution was creating a lot of hassles and confusion for the last seventy years with numerous debates in public and Parliament. The kind of massive support the relevant resolution and bill received in Parliament should be suffice to satisfy every person who has a genuine faith in democratic functioning. The parliamentary proceedings on the subject vindicate that a massive mandate cutting across the party lines possibly always existed for scrapping of the special status of this state. If it could not be done in the past, it was due to lack of initiative and political will of previous governments.
A separate constitution for Jammu and Kashmir with the provision of limited intervention of Centre was a serious bottleneck and drag on smooth development and progress of the state despite allocation of a lot of money and other resources over the years. The political leadership of the state constantly remained in the hands of few families based in the Valley. They are known more for amassing personal wealth, living a lavish life at the cost of exchequer and remaining always ambivalent with divided loyalty rather than focusing and working for the peace and prosperity of the state. They often used Articles 370 and 35A to further their own interests as emotive appeals and rallying point rather than accruing any real benefits to the people of state. One may disagree with the methodology of the Centre, but with the vested interests in vogue it was a farfetched dream that the state assembly would ever agree for this change. Many reforms in the past have been made such as abolition of Sati Custom, Widow Remarriage, Hindu Personal Law, and the recent abolition of Triple Talaq in Muslims. Things which are in overall interest of people should be simply done because it is impossible to seek and attain consensus on all subjects at all times.
I do not see any harm to Kashmir consequent to scrapping of its special status embodied under the Articles 370 and 35A. The only change I can visualize is that individuals, entrepreneurs and governments of other states could also now buy land and invest in Kashmir. The Maharashtra Government has already expressed such interest from tourism angle. Instead of impeding growth or interests of Kashmiris, this interaction and exchange will only work in favour of progress and prosperity of the two Union Territories. After all, is it not a fact that Kashmiri people already have liberty to move, settle and do business in any part of the country and the current legislation will allow both to and fro movement? The central government has also committed to restore the status of full state to Jammu and Kashmir as soon as the atmosphere there is conducive to peace and normal business.
Pakistan is frustrated and outraged with the current development in the Indian part of Kashmir. Their leadership is running pillar to post to internationalize the issue and garner support from the United Nations and world community. Recently, Indian Defence Minister rightly observed while commenting on Pakistan’s behaviour as “Begani Shadi mein Abdullah Diwana” (unsolicited interference in other’s affairs). Apart from blatant nuclear threat from top leadership, Pakistani Army spokesman has reiterated again that Kashmir was their "jugular vein" and that they would go to any lengths to protect (grab!) it. Recent intercepts by Indian intelligence agencies suggest that Pakistani army and ISI have an ambitious target of recruiting about 10,000 militants to increase insurgency and terrorism in Kashmir. One hopes that the Centre with direct charge of the administration would be in a better position now to fight and neutralize terror menace in the region.
More than a dozen law suits have been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the new legislation and scrapping of the special status of Kashmir. The litigants are members of the political parties, activists and individuals, who are unhappy and angry with the legislation; some of them are even proxy litigants at the behest political parties, which want to avoid direct involvement. The opinion of law luminaries, supporters and detractors is divided on the subject. The Supreme Court has scheduled it’s hearing in the first week of October 2019 and only time will tell the accuracy or otherwise of the legality of the government decision which has been welcomed and hailed by Indian masses. Judges too are human beings and prone too mistakes and course correction. Notwithstanding, I do not foresee any development in the apex court that may derail or reverse the legislative and reformist measures already taken by the government.
Note: The term Kashmir finds a recurreing mention at many places for ease but it is intended to denote all three regions viz. Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Specific references of Kashmir region find a mention as "Kashmir Valley" or simply "Valley".