Irrespective of what people may say against New Delhi’s decision to abrogate Articles 370 and 35A, the fact of the matter is that this is a step in the right direction that was long overdue because, no nation that prides itself as a vibrant democracy can have two sets of laws for its citizens. So, while debating on how and why these discriminatory articles found their way into the Indian constitution will take us nowhere, accusing the government of reneging a formal agreement made in the past is an extremely weak argument. But, since abrogation of Article 370 has created a ‘new normal’ by emasculating all those exploiting this skewed constitutional provision, those affected will obviously paint a gloomy picture of impending doom to get back this golden egg laying goose. So, this decision is bound to have critics galore.
Local political parties in the state are the first category that’s unhappy with abrogation of Article 370. Whereas according greater importance to self-serving interests rather than providing good governance is a common malady in politics the world over, but in J&K the rot has been far worse, because instead of working towards national integration, political parties have historically used Article 370 as a means to promote fissiparous tendencies amongst people. Their aim was simple — promote a feeling of alienation amongst the masses and then project themselves as a ‘bridge’ between the center and the state. This proved to be an excellent stratagem as it allowed political parties in J&K to eat the cake and have it too!
For political parties, “special status” provided for by Article 370 served as an excellent source for making humongous personal gains at the cost of the people and camouflaging mis-governance by shifting the blame on the center and accusing it of having an anti-Kashmir bias. So, while deprived Kashmiris grew angrier by the day and vent their anger against the center, politicians in J&K grew richer and their kith and kin enjoyed the benefits of Article 370! Let’s not forget that it was an outright electoral fraud orchestrated by certain political parties in 1987 that generated immense resentment amongst the people, which the ISI cleverly exploited to start an all-out proxy war in J&K under the garb of a ‘freedom struggle’.
Rather than firmly dealing with this brazen threat to the country’s integrity, successive state governments not only turned a blind eye to this menace, but even went as far as to express solidarity with the very forces that have openly declared their “Kashmir banega Pakistan” [Kashmir will become (part of) Pakistan] agenda. Not only this, we have the shocking case of 2015, in which a Chief Minister who while addressing a press conference after taking oath announced that, “we must credit the Hurriyat, Pakistan, militant outfits for the conduct of assembly elections in the state.” Isn’t it ironical that a person who has just taken an oath affirming that he will “bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India,” as well as “uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India,” follows it up by paying obeisance to those threatening the sovereignty and integrity of India?
Though the President of another local political party lashed out at this Chief Minister and criticised him for lauding Pakistan, separatists and terrorists, but this turned out to be nothing but political posturing because just a year later his father and the party’s patriarch openly pandered to separatists by telling the Hurriyat that “Be united and we are also standing with you. Do not think of us as your enemies, we are not,” and adding that “you (Hurriyat) move forward, we are with you till your steps are on the right track and till you take this nation forward in a right manner.”
Since Hurriyat openly propagates Kashmir’s ‘integration’ with Pakistan, one doesn’t know how can a political party that purportedly abides by the Indian constitution, possibly stand with a secessionist organisation? But while the father humoured the separatist conglomerate, his son went a step too far when during an election rally in 2019, he actually invoked the memory of slain terrorists by saying ” If voters boycott (elections), what happened in Lok Sabha elections may be repeated in assembly elections too and there will be a BJP MLA from Tral, the land of Musa (Zakir Musa, founder of Al Qaida affiliate ‘Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind’ and Burhan Wani (of Hizbul Mujahideen).” In July last year, daughter of the CM who lauded Pakistan, the Hurriyat and terrorists (who herself is an ex CM) even had the gall to threaten the center by saying that “Let me tell you that my party and other parties who carry the national flag there (J&K) despite all risks…I have no doubt in saying that (if ‘special status’ of J&K is withdrawn), there will be no one to hold it (national flag).”
As they played ‘king makers’ when it came to government formation in J&K, the dynastic local political parties here always had a good time. But, after Abrogation of Article 370 and creation of union territories (UT), they have been side-lined and won’t accept the new dispensation easily. So, while they may not be able to do much on account of their low credibility amongst the people, they nevertheless have ‘nuisance value’ and this needs to be taken care of.
Abrogation of Article 370 has also thrown the separatist camp into complete disarray as it has fully exposed hollowness of the Hurriyat’s claim that Pakistan has done a lot for the Kashmir cause and succeeded in globally exposing India’s “illegal occupation” of J&K. The Hurriyat has already lost a lot of credibility due to rampant financial misappropriation and nepotism and senior leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani quitting in protest has further eroded credibility of the separatist conglomerate.
The fact that Hurriyat’s waning popularity was visible as early as 2017. In July that year, Hurriyat’s shutdown call given to protest against the arrest of its leaders by National Investigation Agency on money laundering charges received a lukewarm response proves that the public is not prepared to close shop to help Hurriyat leaders with ill-gotten wealth. Poor response to Geelani’s shutdown-call on Hizbul Mujaheedin terrorist Burhan Wani’s death anniversary further indicates that the Hurriyat stalwart has lost his sheen. But since separatists have got ‘hooked’ to receiving funds from Pakistan, they’ll continue to act as Islamabad’s ‘B’ team pursuing the ‘Kashmir banega Pakistan’ agenda in J&K and so, there’s a need for tough action against secessionist activities.
Pakistan is also distressed by abrogation of Article 370 and has been extremely vocal in expressing its annoyance. But its angst is not related to the imagined adverse effects on the people of J&K but only because this move has smashed Islamabad’s claim of J&K being ‘disputed territory’ to smithereens. Through its proxies, Kashmiris were bluffed into believing that providing “special status” to them through Articles 370 and 35 A of Indian constitution proved that J&K wasn’t legitimately a part of India. But by abrogating these Articles, New Delhi has sent out a strong and clear message to the entire world that J&K is very much an integral part of India.
Pakistan’s efforts to make an issue out of this has drawn a complete blank and ruffled egos both in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. So, even after having been slighted at the UNSC and in the international arena, a scorned Pakistan will not accept the fact that as far as the Kashmir issue is concerned, it is standing on very thin ice. So, the only recourse it has to get even in a losing game is to step up cross border terrorism and this is something that New Delhi has to remain vigilant about.
The year gone by after abrogation of Article 370 has been relatively peaceful, but there’s no scope for complacency and good governance coupled with efficient management of initiatives to better the lot of the people in J&K and it needs to be ensured so that the benefits trickle down to grass root levels. In addition, a concerted awareness campaign is need of the hour to dispel the myths woven by Pakistan and its proxies. Some such issues are:
- Since investment in J&K by non-residents wasn’t permissible under Article 370, cash-crunch had adversely impacted health, education and tourism sectors and curbed developmental activities within the Valley, and absence of private universities and hospitals of reputed medical care chains in the Valley is an example. Abrogation of Article 370 has opened J&K to investors and even FDIs.
- Progressive laws passed by various courts in India that benefit the masses will now also be applicable to people of Kashmir.
- Gender inequality in terms of denial of inheritance rights to women who marry non-state residents has ended.
- Creation of UTs will help curb the menace of corruption in the state due to benefit of various government schemes will now reach the masses.
Since people of Kashmir have been fed with misinformation for more than seven decades, expecting them to shed their negative dogmas overnight is a tall order. So, a healthy mix of responsive governance, efficient implementation of various schemes and abundant patience is necessary to change prejudiced mindsets, because, as the wise have said, proof of the pudding is in the eating!