5 August 2019 became a landmark date in Indian history when the parliament revoked the special status of J&K by emasculating Article 370 and revoking Article 35A. The decision received overwhelming support from the majority Indian masses, though apprehensions have been expressed by some on the process adopted.
Usually, judiciary upholds the decisions of the legislature. However, since some court verdicts in the past have “assumed permanency” of provision of Article 370, it will be interesting to follow the arguments in the Supreme Court (SC) challenging the legislative action. Besides, reverting a state to UT status as part of reorganisation of state is a first of its type of decision, which has undoubdtedly affected the self-esteem of the people, notwithstanding assurances of its revocation ‘soon’.
How ‘soon’ is ‘soon’ makes it as open ended as how ‘temporary’ was ‘temporary’ for Article 370. Will the SC restrict itself to the legality of the issues alone or look at the angles of political ethics, self-esteem and morality remains to be seen. However one does hope that the SC verdict becomes as landmark a verdict as in case of Quebec (Canada) to act as a balm for peaceful resolution and transition towards peace, progress and prosperity.
How ‘soon’ is ‘soon’ makes it as open ended as how ‘temporary’ was ‘temporary’ for Article 370.
Regrettably, the Kashmir problem is still seen from the prism of legality and its accession to India in 1947. No one can dispute that the accession of J&K to India is irrevocable and final. However, a deep dive in history shows up a Le La MOKSHI dimension as well. It is a complex problem where roles played by the different elements: Le (Legality), La (Land), M (Morality), O (Operationality), K (Kashmiriyat), S (Shaivism& Sufism), H (Historicity) and I (Identity), needs to be understood individually and in conjunction with each other.
Kashmiris are yet to forget that Akbar’s take over of Kashmir in 1586 AD was immoral. He called Yousuf Shah Chak to Delhi for negotiations but arrested and exiled him to Patna. No consent was taken from the people in 1846 AD,nor when the Treaty of Amritsar was signed by which the British gave Kashmir to the Dogras for Rs 75 lakh. It would be seeking retrospective morality, and it would be anachronistic to expect ‘civilised’ behaviour to have prevailed centuries back.
Looking ahead, Kashmiris must see the merits of integrating with the Indian state in letter and spirit. Perhaps, some interventions may help create a new construct of governance architecture and build bridges between the people.
There is hardly any Kashmiri, be it Muslim, Pandit (Hindu) or Sikh, who has not suffered in the past three decades. The trauma is deep and wounds are yet to heal. A SC led commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Restorative Justice should be appointed to look into all complaints of alleged excesses by Safedposh (Establishment), Vardiposh (Uniformed) and Niqabposh (Militants) in a time bound manner. It should make an independent investigation of happenings from 1985 AD to 2000 AD and recommend actions to ensure such conflicts do not recur anywhere. One can learn from global models followed in South Africa, Rwanda, etc.
PM should assure people that the proposed inbound proposals for investments and growth will not be at the cost of natural attributes of J&K. Ecological balance should be top priority and must be maintained at all costs. As a quick hit project, a task force led by DG CSIR should steer committees for pollution control of the Dal Lake and prevent flooding of the Jhelum river. Similarly, assure people that the Government of India stands committed to preserve the cultural attributes and demography of the erstwhile state. Announce that a centre of excellence and research of global standards shall be set up for study of Shaivism, Sufism and Buddhism, as practiced in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Such a centre can give a lot to the global community for building harmony and understanding consciousness.
Assure all new inbound projects will offer minimum 70% of jobs to the local residents of J&K. Set up a skilling development institute to train youth for the expected jobs and run a campus to corporate coaching training programmes, with costs to be borne by the Government of India.
Announce a transparent and merit based interview and selection system for all jobs in the government sector. The J&K PSC should work for mentoring the UPSC for one year to gain the people’s trust in its selection methodology of fair and transparent appointments. Appoint people with high integrity and competence as members of PSC in future. A quick bridging program in public service administration can be arranged at IIMs in Ahmedabad and Bengaluru for senior administrators.
Ensure award of contracts/work orders by all government agencies is only through e-procurement process in line with the best practices followed by the central government offices and undertakings. Make investments in IT infrastructure as necessary. Target for removal of bias, corruption or nepotism in recruitments and award of contracts.
Review the current practice of Durbarmove of all offices from summer to winter capital and vice versa. People in Kashmir need electricity and water in winter and people in Jammu need the same in summer. Regrettably, administrative heads are based at opposite ends. A paradigm shift will occur in providing governance and demonstrating transformational shifts is necessary, particularly in the Valley, if they see 100% electricity and water availability in winter. With enabling technology of video conferencing and enhanced mobility, a full scale move of offices is unwarranted and can also help save costs.
While safety, security, availability of employment opportunities and help to rebuild houses are necessary for return of Kashmiri Pandits who had to flee Valley, it cannot happen without the two communities re-engaging to build harmonious bonds to live amicably in the new construct of governance. Encourage revival of syncretic culture and a structured intervention to enhance the dominance of Sufism amongst the majority community.
It is widely acknowledged that the accession of J&K to India would not have been possible in 1947 without the support of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who was steadfast in his resolve of not accepting the two nation theory. While, one can critique his role after 1947, one cannot ignore that he also became CM as per his accord in 1975 with Mrs Indira Gandhi. Sadly, he and other pro-India polity are now seen as villains in Valley today and the rhetoric on TV debates is doing little to bridge the divide. As people wanting to support integration of hearts and minds, it is advisable to moderate our pronouncements.
If things were to normalise between Pakistan and India, bilateral trade as per report “A Glass Half Full” on Regional trade by World Bank shows a possibility of over 15 times boost of trade by 2030. There is a widespread interest in the business community in Pakistan to have better trade relations that can over time, improve people to people connectivity and improve relations in long term. Both countries are however stuck in Hawk-Hawk construct of relations and it is unlikely to change till Pakistan stops seeing Kashmir as its “Irredenta”. While, the Indian security establishment should surely be geared to respond to any threats, overt or covert, to derail return of peace and normalcy in Kashmir, we should also look at the long term goal of peace in South Asia.
From being a contestation of territorial nationalism in 1947 to becoming a case of ethnic nationalism from 1990, Kashmiris have also been at the receiving end of governance from outside Srinagar from 1586 AD. When Akbar ruled Kashmir, the seat of power rested in Delhi Durbar. Afghans took over from Moghuls and power shifted to Kabul. Maharaja Ranjit Singh ousted Afghans and the seat of power shifted to Lahore.
Regrettably, post 1947, Kashmiris have been led by local leadership who derived their power from good relations with ruling parties in Delhi. Time has come to allow evolution of a leadership that Kashmiris identify as their own and is seen to be independent of Delhi, as is the case in other states in India. Today, J&K needs a Zain-ul-Abidin(Budshah)-like leader who ruled from 1420 to 1470 AD and is still revered. This calls for a bi-partisan, all party consensus that can make India proud of its crown jewel when Kashmiris begin to feel Indian at heart by choice and not coercion. Silence in Valley should not be mistaken as deemed approval. Will politicians rise above party politics and see Kashmir as a national agenda is the key question that will decide what unfolds ahead on the ground.
The decision of the Central Government towards resolution is a bold courageous move, unlike the status quo path followed in the past but has many challenges ahead. Kashmiris are used to hearing phrases like Jannat Nishani, Jhammoriyat, Insaaniyat, Working Groups, Interlocutors but they must see the change happening for real on the ground and accept it as being for their good. For that to happen, Kashmir needs empathy for integration of hearts and minds, not rhetoric.