For historians, August 5, 2019, will be a date of great significance. In a historic speech in Parliament, Home Minister Amit Shah announced a series of far-reaching changes regarding Jammu & Kashmir. In one fell swoop, the Centre swept aside all the constitutional, political and administrative arrangements that had defined the relationship of the erstwhile princely state with the Union of India. In an OpEd published in these columns a month before this announcement, I had made a case for the abrogation of Article 370.
The biggest concern for us was the possible public reaction on the streets of Srinagar and elsewhere in the Valley. The memories of the violent protest of 2016 summer were uppermost in our minds. It is a tribute to the planning and execution by our authorities, especially the leadership of all the security forces, that a year has gone by and we have had zero civilian casualties in large-scale direct clashes. The couple of civilian deaths have been in isolated mishaps. The streets of Srinagar have largely stayed free of stone-pelters, and more importantly, hospital wards have not overflowed with people with pellet injuries.
A word of appreciation is also required for the rank and file of Jammu & Kashmir Police and their senior leadership. There were many apprehensions about how they would react to these changes. They have laid to rest all such misgivings by their exemplary conduct and dedication to ensuring peace in the Valley. Not a week goes by when they do not reaffirm their commitment to the national cause in another episode of success against militants and by the stirring instances of supreme sacrifice by their officers and jawans. Along with the Indian Army and the central forces, the role of JKP has been critical in ensuring the peace post August 2019.
The check on cross-border infiltration and the prevention of large-scale terror strikes have been major achievements. Post-August 5, there has been constant pressure on Pak-based outfits by the ISI to do something, preferably something big and spectacular. The counter-insurgency grid in the Valley remains robust, and the last few months have seen many successful operations against hardcore militants. With every passing day, the desperation of the militants and their backers in Pakistan to do something to avenge the abrogation of Article 370 is bound to grow.
While the removal of Article 370 is a necessary condition for achieving the full integration of J&K with the rest of India, it is by no means a sufficient condition. To do so requires dismantling the ecosystem that sustained this militancy for three decades. The most critical element in this ecosystem is the mosque-madrasa network that has radicalised generations of Kashmiri youth and given a jihadi character to the separatist movement. Many of these mosques host hard-line preachers from UP and Bihar, who have spread a strand of jihadi Islam that was not a part of the cultural fabric of the Valley. Perhaps the government could consider taking over these madrasas and converting them into Kendriya Vidyalayas. This would hit the jihadi virus at its very source, improve access to education in the Valley and provide jobs.
Another important source of separatist sentiment has been the irrational fear of migration and dominance by outsiders. The recent changes in domicile laws sparked a wave of anxiety. However, as the experience of other Indian states suggests, these fears are largely baseless. No state of India has experienced a significant change in its demography or culture. Writing in these pages a few days ago, a prominent Kashmiri politician talked about listening to the Valley and spoke of fears of demographic change through the use of the domicile law. The hypocrisy of his assertion is simply breathtaking. It is the Valley that carried out ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits. It is the Valley which has consistently adopted policies to promote demographic changes in Jammu and Ladakh to ensure perpetual Kashmiri domination of the politics and society of J&K. The shoe indeed pinches a lot in the other foot.
Opinion | The long haul in Kashmir
The civil society in Kashmir needs to undergo a serious transformation too. For too long they have fed themselves a narrative of victimhood, laced with a generous dose of xenophobia towards the rest of India. The rabidly anti-Indian elements must be identified, isolated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Teachers, doctors, lawyers and civil servants who preach secession while drawing a salary from the public exchequer must not be allowed to carry on playing this double game. A limited purge of the worst offenders from the public payroll is imperative if the pro-India sentiment is to gather hold in the Valley. The media in Srinagar is ethnically homogeneous to an extent that would be unthinkable anywhere else in the country. This has seriously distorted the narrative. Some corrective measures need to be taken, especially by national media platforms.
On the governance side, the panchayat experiment, restarted in 2018, deserves the fullest support. There is no substitute for grass roots delivery if we are to build a credible pro-India narrative. The calibrated restoration of communication facilities is also worth considering. In case any area turns restive, restrictions can be reimposed.
Till August 5, 2019, Article 370 was seen as a non-negotiable foundation stone of any credible Kashmir policy. That myth has been conclusively exploded. In 69 years of its existence, all Article 370 had done was to encourage a dangerous fantasy in Kashmir. For better or for worse, Kashmir’s future is tied to India. It is up to all of us to decide by our collective actions, what that future is going to be.
This article first appeared in the print edition on August 11 under the title “370 myth gone, now reality”. The writer is a serving IPS officer. Views are personal.
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