Even more than the obvious economic benefits of expanded private and public investment in the territories of the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir, the government’s moves on Articles 370 and 35A shall strike at the heart of the festering politics of the Valley. Far from actually protecting any rights or privileges of the local people (who, if the critics are to be believed, have been living in tortuous circumstances under the jackbooted heels of Indian “occupation forces”, even while having the proverbial shields of 370 and 35A), these temporary and conditional provisions of the Indian Constitution only served to extend and exacerbate an environment in which the people of the Kashmir valley felt an “otherness” towards their fellow Indians from the rest of the country.
Why, in a country that has the world’s finest historical record on minority protections when adjusted for income, education and development levels, should a Muslim-majority state feel the need to have autonomy and special privileges? These “articles” had become little more than articles of faith for separatists to exploit, mainstream leaders to use when convenient and for all forms of nefarious influences to keep the Kashmiri Muslims in a constant state of “siege mentality”. If, everyday, your leaders tout two provisions of the Indian Constitution as being the only reasons for the continued existence and viability of a Kashmiri civilisation; and, if those two provisions essentially limit the applicability of the very same Constitution of which they are a part — and from which they draw their authority and legitimacy — should it surprise outsiders that Kashmiris have at times been found as distrustful of the Indian state?
Considering the horrific circumstances that Indian security forces have had to endure since the start of militancy in the early 1990s, and without obfuscating the occasional lapses in judgment that have undoubtedly occurred, I feel proud that overall, the Kashmiri people have had to face far fewer depredations than the Hindu, Sikh and Christian minorities in the westernmost territories of united India (that is, West Pakistan). I am even more proud when the record of the Indian security forces in Kashmir is compared with the record of the Pakistani army in its own eastern territories, and against its own Bengali-speaking population.
There can be no doubt that the Indian state has spent more than 70 years attempting dialogue, cultural exchange and even rehabilitation of separatists and militants. Only when attacked by local or foreign militants have the Indian armed forces been compelled to respond with a heavy hand. Overall, the Kashmiri state has functioned — in fact, the very statistics being touted by critics to show that J&K outclasses some hinterland Indian states along multiple development indices goes a long way to show that the Indian administration has provided education, nutrition and basic amenities to the local population in a relatively consistent manner, over a long period of time. And this, while constantly battling surprise hit-and-run attacks from heavily armed and externally-supported gunmen.
Given the circumstances, therefore, it seems that some form of drastic action was needed not only to accelerate the physical integration of the region with the rest of India — through investment in plant and machinery, expanded tourism and real estate, road, rail and air connectivity and the like — but also to accelerate the psychological and emotional integration of the Kashmiri people with the rest of India. In the post-370/35A era, even the maintenance of the same level of administration and governance, with the same level of judicial redress and other rights as the Kashmiris have enjoyed in the past, will be enough to finally drive home the point to every Kashmiri: That trusting the Indian state, its institutions and its secular fabric, is something they can do without fear.
Finally, a lot of criticism has been focused on the “means” used to conduct this sudden strike against the offending provisions of the Constitution. On this front, it is clear to me that maintenance of law and order, and the protection of our territorial integrity, are higher priorities than the temporary abeyance of certain rights and freedoms. A few days in detention for leaders who would have undoubtedly utilised this as an opportunity to stoke Kashmiri passion against the straw man of the tyrannical Indian state, a clampdown on avowed pro-Pakistani separatists and the prevention of mass media in an era of rampant fake news — these are patently sensible precautions for a state to take when attempting radical and far-reaching change. These precautions have to survive for weeks, not months.
The fact that the number of incidents of stone-pelting and militancy has been falling consistently since governor’s rule began in Kashmir, and that there seem to have been no major or minor incidents of civil disobedience in the last week — while the administration has ensured smooth provision of basic amenities to the people — proves the tactical expediency of the “means” used. I am fully aware of the dangerous, slippery slope that curtailment of any kind of rights involves. However, I do believe that in dangerous times, in a dangerous neighbourhood (which South Asia undoubtedly is), and, when faced with one of the world’s great intractable problems, “order” must take precedence over a superficial form of immediate justice. Only in the creation of long-term order, can we ever hope to have truly substantive justice for the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, who, I can say with the utmost conviction, are better off with us than they ever could be with our dear neighbours.
This article first appeared in today’s print edition under the headline: Creation of order.The writer is an alumnus of London School of Economics, Cambridge and Harvard, and lives and works in Mumbai