J&K at a new crossroad
by Sandhya Jain on 10 Mar 2015 20 Comments
Jammu & Kashmir is at a momentous crossroad. The coalition hammered out by the Peoples Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party after two months of negotiations, necessitated by the need to respect the largest voter turnout in the State’s history and bridge the regional divide created by that verdict, is an instance of the famed ‘million mutinies’ that dot this nation’s chequered history. Since the regional divide is also a chasm between the mainly Sunni Kashmir valley and the largely Hindu Jammu province, the decision deserves unstinted admiration. Buddhist-majority Ladakh voted Congress, thus completing the rigid political mandate.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been generous in accepting an accord giving the PDP the Chief Ministership and 11 out of 16 cabinet berths, leaving the BJP with Deputy Chief Minister, four cabinet and five out of eight Minister of State posts. As the PDP won only three seats more than the BJP (28/25), this is clearly unequal. Yet the BJP spared a berth for former militant Sajjad Lone, though (at the time of writing) he rejected the ‘insignificant’ portfolios (Science & Technology, Animal Husbandry) allotted to him.


The contentious issues of Article 370 and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) were wisely set aside due to the sharp differences between the two sides. Article 370 is an illegitimate brainchild of then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and possibly also then Governor General Louis Mountbatten, who played a poisonous role in the State from the moment of Pakistan’s aggression and accession by Maharaja Hari Singh.


But the ultimate blame lays with Mr Nehru because once he realised he was misled into taking the issue to the United Nations and had lost one-third of the State’s territory to Pakistan, and had to have Sheikh Abdullah arrested in 1953, he should have scuttled Article 370. It has nurtured Kashmiri separatism, bred false grievances against the nation, and helped Pakistan muddy the waters.


Unsurprisingly, it is hated in Jammu and Ladakh, which have received shoddy treatment from the Kashmir valley whose writ has run since independence due to an unequal division of seats imposed by Mr Nehru. For now, the venomous Article 370 continues with the separate State Constitution and separate Flag. But the political template has shifted as for the first time, Jammu has a voice in Srinagar.


The issue of AFSPA was more complex as withdrawal is not in the national interest, and would be resisted by the armed forces which have made valiant sacrifices fighting militants and jihadi infiltrators. Under a compromise formula, the parties agreed to retain AFSPA while authorizing the coalition government to “thoroughly review the security situation … with a view to examine the need for desirability of all the special laws being applied to the state in view of the situation improving”. It may consider de-notifying disturbed areas to enable the Centre to “take a final view on the continuation of AFSPA in these areas.” Kashmiris resent AFSPA because it gives the armed forces immunity from prosecution while tackling militancy.


Given the divergences, governance will require the skill of a trapeze artist and the patience of a bodhisattva. Immediately after taking charge, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed created a flutter by crediting Pakistan, the terrorists and the separatists for the peaceful polls, that too, in the presence of the Prime Minister. Later, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Prime Minister Modi said the credit belonged to the people who defied terrorist threats to vote, the Election Commission that ensured free and fair polls, and the security forces who protected citizens and guarded against external aggression and infiltration.


A week later, a grave provocation came in the release of Masrat Alam, who masterminded the stone-pelting incidents that took the lives of 112 youngsters in 2010, without consulting the BJP. The Cassandras sprang back into action, demanding an end to the alliance. This would be immature and premature.


The priority is to protect the peace, develop all regions, and rehabilitate the victims of last year’s devastating flood. The Agenda for Alliance promises to help the ousted Kashmiri Pandits to return to the Valley with dignity, based on their rights as ‘state subjects’ (the constitutional term is ‘permanent residents’). Previous regimes expressed similar willingness in the past decade, but the overtures may get a lukewarm response as most families have rebuilt their lives and careers in other parts of the country over the past two decades, and it may not be easy to uproot the next generation. But they will get back their land and properties, which will be a blessing.


The BJP must fulfill the promises made to the mainly Hindu families who fled Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and West Pakistan following the wars of 1947, 1965 and 1971, and have been wallowing in neglect as successive regimes refused to give them legal recognition. Officially designated as ‘migrants’, and numbering around 15 lakh, they have been living as temporary tenants in Jammu Pradesh (from Poonch to Hiranagar), tilling the lands of those who left for Pakistan in 1947 and have been denied permanent allotments. Under the envisaged one-time settlement, they must be accorded permanent resident status, and assured sustenance and livelihood. Citizens living along the international border are to get the same benefits as those living on the Line of Control, but the government must also rehabilitate the Jammu migrants who were forced to flee their villages by terrorists from 1999 onwards, and are camping in Talwara.


A major milestone would be the delimitation of assembly constituencies, which the State’s major parties resisted after Census 2001. This is stifling the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Ladakh.


Most contentious will be the “sustained dialogue with all internal stakeholders irrespective of their ideological views and leanings”, a euphemism for the Hurriyat Conference, following the principles of ‘Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat’ enunciated by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. This has been criticised for ignoring Ladakh and the Dogra community that formed the backbone of the erstwhile kingdom. Meanwhile, the Chief Minister has claimed credit for the Prime Minister’s decision to resume talks with Pakistan under the umbrella of SAARC unity; but it is an open question if travel, trade, and commerce can be improved through regional connectivity as envisaged in the SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement that Pakistan has stalled so far.


It is a rocky road ahead. But the BJP has made a debut in this critical border State and positioned itself to address the Gordian knots bequeathed by history. 

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