Exactly two years ago, the Government of India decided to annul the country’s special constitutional arrangement with Jammu and Kashmir and separate Ladakh from the rest of former J&K. While the decision was welcomed by sections within the rest of the country, its multi-dimensional ramifications continue to be felt across the former state. All this was done by keeping the people of J&K under confinement. It was a big blow to democracy and the Constitution itself.
While our opposition to this unwarranted, unconstitutional assault on the basic foundations of our relationship with the Indian Union is known, I don’t want this column to be a reiteration of the same. I will use this occasion to objectively draw everyone’s attention to some of the ground developments.
Those who defended the abrogation called it imperative as it would promote gender equality and end discrimination against marginalised communities like the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) in J&K. Reservation for the SC community was enshrined in the J&K constitution. On the issue of reservation for the ST, many state legislators had moved a bill in the assembly, though unsuccessfully. However, the reality is that even after reservation, the number of ST candidates in the legislature will be the same as in the last assembly. This is because of the demography of ST-dominated constituencies of J&K.
I agree that a state which was once at the forefront of progressive reforms in the subcontinent should have been more responsive to the allegation that some of the executive provisions seemingly promoted inequality of women. There is a need for the political class of J&K to introspect on these issues. At the same time, our apprehensions about the post-August 5 developments should also be heard with empathy and an open mind.
First of all, the abrogation has deepened the alienation of large sections of the population. It delegitimised the mainstream political space in J&K which has worrisome consequences for the rest of the country. In the last three decades, at great risk to our lives, we have consistently argued before the local people that a federal and secular India is the best channel that can provide dignity to our distinct Kashmiri identity. The people of J&K had opted for secular India rather than Muslim Pakistan not simply by virtue of accession, but because of the promises of building a pluralist, secular India in which the people of J&K were to have maximum autonomy. Those promises were part of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and the Constitution of J&K itself. But those constitutional guarantees were gradually eroded and now fully abrogated, thereby providing an opportunity to those who wanted to undermine our relationship with the Union.
The precious space that was carved out by the sacrifices of hundreds of political activists, who were assassinated by militants, is now considerably diminished. The larger point I want to make is that in democracies, apart from constitutional, an emotional bond proves to be equally definitive in ensuring peace and prosperity. Sadly, that emotional bond stands deeply weakened.
Second, within the diverse region of J&K, the fissures continue to deepen among communities and regions. This is a subject that demands a threadbare discussion. But in the post-August 5 era, the gap has widened and it seems the executive wants to govern the two regions of J&K as de-facto separate entities of Jammu and the Kashmir valley. Even within separated Ladakh, the Buddhist-majority Leh and the Muslim-majority Kargil are now divided on religious grounds and there is no glue holding them. Connected with this is the issue of delimitation, which has merely accentuated the anxieties of people in both the Kashmir valley and the Jammu region. It seems that whatever decisions the commission takes will only deepen the mistrust among regions and communities. There are apprehensions that with Ladakh already separated, there is a design at work to execute RSS’s plan to trifurcate J&K. A resolution to this effect was adopted by the RSS at Kurukshetra in June 2002.
The Constitution is categorical that before taking any decision to tinker with the boundary of any state, consultations with the legislature of that state are required. For J&K, the bar was even higher because of Article 370. In this regard, there is already a resolution of the assembly to preserve the unity of the state of J&K and its secular character. A resolution which was moved by me on December 16, 2003 in the J&K legislature was adopted on March 3, 2004.
Incidentally, August 5 is also the birthday of the late Balraj Puri, whose work on J&K is widely respected. In the 1990s, at the height of the militancy, he had argued in his book, Kashmir Towards Insurgency, that “no Kashmir policy can succeed without taking into account the political and psychological urges of the people. The controversy over whether the policy should be tough or soft, whether it should be based on a nationalist or moral appeal, on realpolitik or ideal politics is unreal and irrelevant here. The real and relevant question is what is and what is not a correct assessment, a correct diagnosis, a correct strategy and a correct mix of force and tact. After all, Gandhi’s ideal politics had triumphed over Jinnah’s realpolitik on Kashmir.” While keeping the unity of J&K, he had consistently proposed the idea of regional autonomy with a decentralised set-up that could accommodate the diverse aspirations of various regions, sub-regions and communities that make up the mosaic of J&K.
Recently, our interaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, though welcome, has not generated any significant hope among the people. Though we were heard patiently, no concrete assurances were offered. Nothing seems to be moving in the direction of reducing “Dil ki dooriyan aur Dilli ki dooriyan”. Within the present context, immediate confidence building measures have to be taken. The immediate release of prisoners languishing in different jails has to be considered, ensuring protection of basic rights of movement and assembly, and putting an end to indiscriminate harassment. An immediate restoration of full statehood to J&K is the prerequisite to initiate a credible political process in the region. One of the essential lessons from the 1977 J&K assembly elections was that loyalty to India should not be construed as loyalty to the ruling party at the Centre. Democracy and national interest should not be seen as incompatible to each other.
To sum up, the engagement with J&K should draw from the complex history of the region. We should not repeat the mistakes of the past. Whatever the circumstances, all efforts should be focused on restoring the people’s confidence. The aim has to be to reduce the massive alienation of the people.
This column first appeared in the print edition on August 5, 2021 under the title ‘Wrong Way To Clean Up’. The writer is the former CPI(M) MLA from J&K. He is the Convenor and Spokesperson of People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration