Article 370: Abrogation for Progress and Development of Jammu & Kashmir
Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

The divesting of Art 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution from within its own provisions and by way of Presidential decrees was a stroke of legal genius by PM Modi’s government – these Articles were seen by the rest of India as anachronistic and discriminatory. This also clearly attests to the genius of the drafters of our dynamic constitution that had considered and provided for its “Temporary and Transient” nature in no uncertain terms. It was no Holy Grail as was presumed due to political expediency in keeping fanned flames under the lid. The Parliament also approved bifurcation of the State into two Union Territories (UT) of Ladakh and J&K for ease of development and governance. The fact that an avid protagonist of statehood as Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal and his Aam Admi Party supported the move speaks for itself. For rest of the world it was but an internal matter of India.

One always knew that Pakistan the spoiler will make noises in any case and will raise the bogey of war. It has not only illegally occupied large part of Kashmir since 1948 but even parcelled out around 15 percent of it to China in order to provide it strategic access against India. China too needs to realise that this illegal acquisition could become a sore in its dream BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) project of which the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) is a vital offshoot that India does not like since it violates her sovereignty. Hence, the reaction of Pakistan and China was predictable. Russia, the old friend, and several others like UAE supported India. Others maintained a studied silence hoping for the issue not to conflagrate into yet another illegal war waged by Pakistan in its heist for the alleged cause of Kashmiris - jingoistic proclamations apart. Pakistan downgraded ties and even cut down the hardly significant trade. In its nervousness, it stopped some trains and buses, adversely affecting the movement of people, and at the same time continuing the Kartarpur Saheb Corridor Talks. India has maturely asked Pakistan to face the reality and review its off the cuff decisions. Pakistani demarche against India has met with international disdain and indifference which was evident from their Foreign Minister’s Qureshi’s statement that UN Security Council will not be waiting for them with a garland.

At home, though the Valley remains under vigil with limited communications, reports indicate that the situation is generally calm even though people are confused. In such a situation that is normal. People ought to realise and come to terms with the new and meaningful arrangement for their own good. Sooner this is effectively conveyed and exhibited in action, better it is for the peace and progress of Kashmiris. The artificial fangs of the temporary provisions that conferred an empty special status and separatist characteristic on the State have gone. Successive BJP governments had the removal of Art 370 as a prime manifesto item. It would have been difficult to explain to the people that after such an unprecedented majority in the Parliament why it could not have done it.

But this was not the sole reason as welfare of the Kashmiris who have been misguided for decades by selfish and myopic politicians needed to be corrected. Moreover, this exclusivity, apart from an emotional content, had not even served the Kashmiris well. On the contrary they missed out on important benefits and protection due to this very provision which accrued to the rest of India. Hence PM Modi and his Home Minister Amit Sah embarked on this journey to integrate what is an integral part of India through constitutional means. Whether some provisions or procedures adopted to achieve this objective will be challenged and argued legally and to what result, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has not entertained the petition due to security reasons. All the same it appears to be a systematic and well-planned move taking into account all pros and cons.

After the passage of ‘Triple Talaq' bill, which addressed the inherent discrimination against the Muslim women, at least half the constituency would understand the intent and sincerity of purpose, even if it has served a political promise of BJP. Likewise, PM has reached out to the youth with hope and employment possibilities. Time for healing touch, inclusiveness and promised development of the region has come. As such, in a democracy, any overt piece of discrimination has to count its days. Here, it has stayed over seven decades because of political expediency, lack of political will, or a mere belief that the Articles 370 and 35A will erode and corrode with time. But the Kashmiris mistook it as an affirmation of their separatist identity. They even had their own flag. Moreover, occupation of part of Kashmir by Pakistan and its deceptive design to gobble the rest through overt and covert wars, fear mongering and terrorism across the border were largely responsible for inducing the fanaticism and radicalisation in the Valley.

Well now that these provisions have been done away with and all the constitutional provisions apply pan-India, the major effort has to be to create the trust and bridge the deficit by delivering the promised dividends, especially for the people of the Valley. It won’t be an easy task in the short term but the Kashmiris will have to see the results on the ground before they give up on their inherent mistrust of the Central Government which has been fanned by the local parties and externally induced separatists for their own ulterior ends. That Kashmiris can grow and develop as an integral part of India has to be converted to reality by expeditious delivery of improved service and opportunity to the last mile and man through sincerity of purpose. Happily to begin with, the J&K Government has announced hosting of an Investment Conference on October 12.

PM Modi, in his address to the nation, laid out a clear vision, road map and menu of options that will be backed by large scale investments in infrastructure, employment generation and development of the two UTs. He assured that elections could soon be held and Kashmiris will choose their own representative in a transparent manner. He also promised that the current UT status for J&K is absolutely temporary and it will be upgraded back to the level of a State. Large number of Kashmiris would hope so and aspire for better life for next generations even if some in the Valley who had become addicted to the bounty of the erstwhile dispensation might remain unconvinced. This feeling can be assuaged if the rest of India, especially the political parties, stop celebrating this feat through chest thumping, irresponsible statements and their victory dance. Life must go on for the normalcy to return so that ease of living could be ensured for the people there.

In keeping with PM Modi’s vision for the development of J&K and Ladakh, the backup team should be working on specific proposals and quick implementation that could be announced at the earliest. It would be prudent to come up with at least a $10 bn specific investment and infrastructure projects for the two UTs. Since private sector, despite some announcements of intent by Adani and Ambani etc., will take a while to get enthused by the opportunities, Public Private Partnership (PPP) model with specific Public Sector Undertakings (PSU) taking the lead could be the way out to show early results. We need to create vocational training institutes, ITIs, IITs, medical institutions, tourism and other infrastructure while revival of local handicraft and industry which could provide employment possibilities to the locals.

Likewise, recruitment drives in military and para-military forces and local agencies should be undertaken as mentioned by the PM. UTs have to be promoted as safe for tourism and investment with commensurate incentives, publicity and promotion of Kashmir. This is where the Indian Film industry can be persuaded to pitch in. Most importantly, fake news and irresponsible statements, especially by those in power must be addressed harshly. Some discourse in the public domain is talking about land appreciation and acquisition of real estate in J&K or for that matter getting ‘Bahus’ from Kashmir. Such drumming are merely playing up and fomenting the Kashmiris’ insecurities. Even if these are misplaced notions, these are stoking Kashmiri’s fears of being flooded by the outsiders that may adversely impact on their livelihood and cherished identity.

All-inclusive efforts with the support of religious leaders and social workers for de-radicalisation and countering militancy in the medium term have to continue. To the extent possible it should be done in a humane manner where the forces are seen as friends and partners. Armed forces have already done a lot to serve the people, going out of their way in education and developing local supply sources for their procurements. This is important since Pakistan’s sole purpose is to continue to create the divides and destabilise India through its terror tools and networks. Since it will neither desist from nefarious intervention nor from its efforts to internationalize the issue, we have to be internally and militarily prepared for all options while simultaneously exposing Pakistan and its terror machine through a diplomatic offensive. We may see heightened activities by Pakistan till the UN General Assembly. So far the reactions from the international community have been broadly favourable, considering it as an internal matter of India which indeed it is. In fact, we should be exposing Pakistan’s illegal occupation of Kashmir and asking them to vacate which should be raised at all international fora.

The major powers understood the situation and took ‘neutral’ position while urging the sides not to escalate the conflagration. As PM Modi said, we need to create ‘Ease of Living' in the region and hence the campaign has to continue at all levels to ensure the peace, progress and development of Kashmiri Indians in this ‘Paradise on Earth’ in which each one can take pride. Tough call but doable.

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