One year of Art 370 abrogation. What lies ahead?

Kashmiris make a snow man at the banks of Dal Lake in Srinagar, after heavy snowfall. (Representative Photo: PTI)
Kashmiris make a snow man at the banks of Dal Lake in Srinagar, after heavy snowfall. (Representative Photo: PTI)

It’s been one year since India abrogated Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian constitution as well as bifurcated the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into two union territories- Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. While Article 370 gave special status of J&K in terms of autonomy and its ability to formulate laws for the state’s “permanent residents,” Article 35A empowered the J&K state legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state and provide special rights and privileges to those permanent residents. For example, those who were not “permanent residents” of J&K could not buy property in the state.

Since Kashmir Valley had experienced violent and prolonged public agitations in 2010 and 2016, which were marked by bloody clashes between mobs of stone pelting mobs and law enforcing agencies, one had expected that the center’s decision to abrogate Article 370 and 35 A would have a major backlash in the form of widespread protests. However, it goes to the credit of the Indian government that it took appropriate precautionary measures to ensure that the public wasn’t instigated into protesting by taking law into their own hands. Thus, even though the center imposed strict prohibitory orders on movement and placed curbs on internet and social media, these tough measures ensured that unnecessary violence and bloodshed was averted.

Mainstream political parties always exploited the gullible people of J&K by using Article 370 as a tool to garner support for winning elections. But most Kashmiris were not aware of the fact that this article had been amended many times by successive J&K governments in the form of land grants bill and enhancing IAS, IPS quota, and the 2008 land row was one of its consequences.

There was nothing favourable left for the people of J&K and mainstream political parties in J&K remained confined to press statements and thus they have lost credibility amongst the masses. Time is a great teacher but it seems that some people just refuse to learn, like the National Conference (NC) President Omar Abdullah who declared that unless statehood is restored, he would not be part of elections in J&K. But after facing the heat from different political parties and from within the National Conference itself, he had to backtrack on his statement.

Government of India scrapped Article 370 so that the ‘one nation-one constitution’ rule becomes applicable in entire India and this initiative created the necessary conditions to usher in a new paradigm of good governance, development and socio-economic justice in Jammu and Kashmir. Not many would have imagined the immense benefits of this positive decision and Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicating 330 MW capacity Kishanganga hydroelectric power project located in Bandipora to the people of J&K is just one example.

The Hurriyat leadership which had built an image to project themselves as “true representatives” of the people of Kashmir was also exposed after abrogation of Article 370. Since New Delhi had already come down heavily on separatists with the NIA probing their illegal money dealings the separatists had already lost its credibility amongst Kashmiris and involvement of Hurriyat stalwart Syed Ali Shah Geelani and his family members made him all the more vulnerable. So, whereas his sudden resignation from the Hurriyat did not arouse any public reaction, many saw his accusations of misdeeds committed by other leaders as an attempt to hide his own wrongdoings.

Geelani’s political career spanning over 60 years is also questionable since he managed lucrative jobs for many of his relations, acquaintances. It is largely believed that he had, in 2016, made major compromises to get one of his grandsons appointed as manager in the government-owned SKICC. And probably it’s the suspicion of him having entered into some secret deal with New Delhi that has prompted the government of Pakistan to award Nishan-e-Pakistan, the country’s highest civil award to Geelani, so that he doesn’t join hands with New Delhi.

The new domicile law replaced almost a century-old ‘state subject law’ which barred non-permanent residents from owning land and immovable property in the erstwhile state. Under the law, the Permanent Residency Certificates (PRCs) have been defined as those who have resided for a period of 15 years in the erstwhile state of J&K, those have studied for a period of seven years and appeared in Class 10th /12th examination in educational institutes located in J&K. This automatically makes over five lakh West Pakistan Refugees and Gorkha descendants eligible for a government job in J&K and land-owning rights among other major additions of constitutional equality.

The Modi government’s decision to scrap Article 370 had given rise to new hope to people of J&K. But experts say that it would take more than mere abrogation of Article 370 to reduce disaffection amongst the people of the state and fully integrate Kashmir with India. Concrete steps to ensure economic well-being through better employment and income opportunities and economic growth as well as their right to live with respect and dignity holds the key. Kashmir’s young men are languishing. Youth unemployment in the Valley stands at roughly 41%, which is almost twice the national average and amongst the unemployed youth in the valley’s 10 districts, 60% are aged 15-24 years.

Some say that the recent faceoff between China and India in eastern area of Ladakh in which more 20 India army men including Col rank officer was killed, is due to the abrogation of Article 370. However, related events have proved that Beijing’s belligerence is due to very different reasons and part of its attempt to enhance its international clout. But since Beijing is solely guided by commercial interests, its deep involvement in CPEC and eye on rich mineral deposits in the Balochistan region of Pakistan may make it flex muscles in future too and this must be taken into account by New Delhi.

The Kashmir valley has been bearing the brunt of radicalization for quite some time now. It is nothing short of a ticking time bomb and if not addressed in time, it has the potential to destroy the future generation of Kashmir. Whereas it would be wrong to say that every Kashmiri is radicalised, but at the same time it would be a blunder to say that radicalization does exist here. So, we can’t turn a blind eye towards it and it is high time the New Delhi address this issue; else radicalization will only increase and bleed Kashmir.

The government of India must explore every opportunity for the development of the region and should fulfill promises made by the authorities by ensuring that measures announced are visible on ground so that the people of Kashmir are convinced that New Delhi is concerned about them and is working to make life in J&K better, and the government has to walk the additional mile to foster strong bonds with Kashmiri people and propagate the spirit of Kashmiriyat. The Modi government must identify and eradicate the root cause of violence as well as provide a healing touch to the people of Kashmir.


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