Clueless on way forward in Kashmir - GulfToday

Clueless on way forward in Kashmir

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Amit Shah

Amit Shah. File

A year has passed since the Modi administration, in a high-handed action, ended the special status Jammu and Kashmir had enjoyed under India’s Constitution.

It was on August 5 last year that the Centre, after beefing up army presence, detaining leaders of Kashmir’s major political parties and imposing an unprecedented lockdown, revoked Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution and rushed through Parliament legislative measures to give effect to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s objective of “complete integration” of J and K.

Home Minister Amit Shah, who piloted the legislative measures, said abolition of special status would end terrorism and corruption and usher in an era of democracy and development.

The Centre went on to humiliate the people of J and K by downgrading the state.

It was split into two units, one comprising the Jammu and Kashmir division and the other comprising the Buddhist majority Ladakh region. Both were made Union Territories, which are subject to greater Central control than states.  

Pleased with Shah’s performance in Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he had “accurately highlighted the monumental injustices of the past” and “coherently presented our vision for the sisters and brothers of J&K.”

Parliament House was illuminated that night to celebrate the BJP’s triumph. History will, however, mark it as a dark day as the abrogated constitutional provisions embodied the spirit of a covenant between the people of J and K and the people of the rest of India, made at the time of the state’s accession.

The BJP’s argument that it merely implemented a promise made in its election manifesto is puerile. An election victory does not give a government the authority to ride roughshod over the constitutional rights of a section of the people and impose its will on them.

A year after the undoing of the covenant, there is no sign of any of the elements in the vision Shah presented materialising. Terrorism has not ended.  It has not even abated.

In 2018, the last full year before the crackdown, security forces reported killing 223 terrorists. This year, according to official figures, 102 terrorists were eliminated till mid-June.

The arrest of a deputy superintend of police while allegedly providing safe passage to two militants is at once a commentary on corruption as well as the fight against terror.   The economy is in a shambles. Tourism, the mainstay of Kashmir Valley, is at a standstill. Exports dropped from $ 196.43 million in 2018-19 to $ 146.57 million in 2019-20.

The situation has worsened since then due to the Covid lockdown. Local business organisations say they have no access to the government’s stimulus packages.

The political and human costs of the crackdown are not easy to compute. The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), which has been pursuing human rights issues in the valley for a quarter-century, in a report covering the period up to December 31 last year, observed that J and K was in a state of siege.

The lockdown had affected daily life by denying access to communication facilities, health services, education facilities, justice and business and jobs, it said. The biggest congressional mosque was off limits.

It is now evident that Amit Shah’s impolitic remarks about taking back lost J and K territories played a part in the recent Chinese border incursions. On the first anniversary of the crackdown, the government is clueless about the way forward. Orders detaining former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, both of the J and K National Conference, have been revoked, but conditions are not conducive to resume political activity.

Extension of the detention of Mehabooba Mufti, who had headed the coalition government in which the BJP was a junior partner, smacks of vindictiveness. She had foiled an attempt by BJP ministers to take a temple priest and two others, charged with rape and murder of a minor girl, off the hook.

The current situation cannot be blamed entirely on the BJP’s lack of democratic sensibility and respect for human rights. Political parties and constitutional bodies that looked away when Kashmir was in distress must bear their share of the blame.

As author of the Kashmir covenant, the Congress had a duty to agitate the issue in public forums even after losing in Parliament. Failure to do so raises questions about its commitment to secularism.

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