A friend asked me what I felt about the changes in Kashmir (not the Jammu region) one year down the line, after the dilution of Article 370. As I donned my thinking cap, I realised that Kashmir has varying manifestations. There are different perceptions in different areas, amongst different ethnic groups, and it is difficult to make a blanket assessment.
On the political front, some pro-Indian political setups have started to gain ground, like the J&K Workers Party and J&K Apni Party, and the BJP too has increased its cadre marginally. The loyalties of the J&K Apni Party are suspect; they may easily change their attitude. The PDP has weakened with some of their cadres switching to other parties, but the Mehbooba Mufti-led party has become more strident in its opposition to the idea of “merging fully with India”. The National Conference too remains a strong votary of autonomy and special status. Politically, there are large components seeking reversion to J&K’s special status, and this struggle would continue. The political field in Kashmir has always been murky, and this state won’t change. We will need to manoeuvre patiently, using deft Chanakyan practices.
Governance wise, there has been a perceptible improvement because the patronage-based corrupt systems of the past have been changed drastically, and the local government machinations have stopped. But within the State bureaucracy, a number of officials continue to drum up voices against India secretively. The J&K Police (JKP) has gained greater freedom to operate. But within the J&K administration and JKP, there are a number of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) members and sympathisers who are expanding the “Hate India” campaign quietly. The security forces are in fine fettle, due to better coordination between them, all working in synergy without the encumbrance of a devious State polity. Though the nexus of the politically influential elite has reduced, it still emerges off and on due to the bureaucracy’s sycophantic nature. Past habits don’t change overnight. The COVID-19 lockdown has also impacted the delivery of several government schemes. Largely, there is a positive governance uptick.
A sizeable section of youth nurses an anti-India mindset, especially in South Kashmir, downtown Srinagar, Sopore and other such areas. The banning of the JeI was a correct and necessary step, but their members have gone underground, and are working behind the scenes to exhort more youth to join the “anti-India” platform. The anti-national forces have not been attenuated in the last one year, but their vociferous, strident, public display of anti-India screams have been checked, they have become more surreptitious. As I see it, it would be years before the anti–India tirade tide turns.
The grant of domicile status has been a positive for the affected women and the Valmiki community. Voices against this step are presently muted, but may rise in future if the local political leadership plays it up. The availability of social welfare schemes, as available in the rest of the nation, will also be beneficial in the long run. Some of the schemes have yet to roll out fully in Kashmir.
The economy in Kashmir has been hit badly. The initial movement and communications restrictions, followed by the pandemic induced lockdown, disrupted the business and education sector. Most businesses have gone into loss, and incomes have evaporated. Also, instead of pulling youth off the streets into schools and colleges, the idle youth are being exposed to radical doctrines through the various fundamentalist setups which had proliferated over the years. The education department and teachers needed a major overhaul, which had to be supended till the lockdown lifts. The business and education sectors would need intensive care.
When I fly the drone over Kashmir, I perceive positive signals from North Kashmir, especially Kupwara, Handwara and parts of Bandipur and Baramulla. In Central Kashmir too, the situation is looking up but the volatile hotspots in Old Srinagar and parts of Budgam are worrisome and can flare up easily. In most parts of South Kashmir, violent, radical faces are seen. Fortunately, there are many silent, neutral faces in their midst, the fence-sitters. Hopefully, the new political entrants will lead their people towards acceptance of the Indian identity.
To sum up, the situation in Kashmir remains fragile, and the saving grace is that the forces to bring about a positive change are in place. The negative players will need to be kept away from the scene, and the radical groups must be defanged. Mature, rational, modern, quality education will be essential to change the mindset, and would need a generation. It is not a question of “Ek Saal Baad”, but a step towards “Bees Saal Baad”. We are in a state of dangerous calm, the Valley can become turbulent if we play the wrong tune.
The writer, a former Corps Commander in Kashmir, retired as Lt General from the Indian Army. Views are personal