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Abrogation of Article 370 was long overdue. But we must not hurry change in mindset

Despite Modi govt's policies that have largely benefitted the masses, one incident in J&K could spark violence. The Centre must be cautious.

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Modifying Article 370 was an epic decision that was long overdue. Although the bold move had a multitude of implications for people across communities, it forever changed the course of history. The status quo was broken. A new beginning was made. But it is still too early to celebrate.

In the last two years, investment proposals worth Rs 20,000 crore have been received from over 40 companies in Jammu and Kashmir for sectors ranging from information technology, defence and renewable energy to tourism, hospitality, education and infrastructure.  Two huge IT parks are being set up in Jammu and Srinagar. Fifteen power projects have been inaugurated and 20 more have been started.

The new All India Institute Of Medical Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Indian Institute of Management, and about 50 other new educational institutions are going to create opportunities for at least 25,000 students. Jammu has achieved 100 per cent household electrification according to the  NITI Aayog Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) India Index, 2020-21 report, about 53 per cent of rural households have access to drinking water, which is close to the national average of 51 per cent.

I was the Corps Commander in 2015, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Srinagar and announced a package of Rs 80,000 crore for various development schemes. In four years, only 37 per cent of this grant was utilised. Why could Jammu and Kashmir not absorb the money it was allotted? And why was there inadequate development in the state in previous years?

Also Read: When it comes to Kashmir and Article 370, the axe forgets but the tree remembers

Development before Article 370 was abrogated

Despite barriers created by Article 370, there were provisions that did exist before for investment from corporates outside the state, including incentives to the industry. However, when the growth story of India was taking a leap in the nineties, the security situation in J&K was bad enough to scare away even the most stout-hearted.

Meeting the growth aspirations of youth, as anywhere else, needs private sector participation. It cannot be done by government or public sector jobs alone. Any amount of incentives and openness for the industry cannot help bring in investment if there is no peace in the Valley. Therefore, there is a primacy to providing a safe and secure environment to foster development.

There has been a marked improvement in the security situation in the Valley, even if all of it is not a direct result of what happened on 5 August 2019. In 2020, incidents of terrorist attacks registered a decrease of over 59 per cent, and fatal casualties among the security forces showed a decrease of nearly 18 per cent in 2020 compared to the previous year. In fact, currently, the ceasefire on the LoC is holding out and 90 terrorists have been eliminated this year. The level of recruitment into terrorist organisations has also dropped.

Does this mean that all is well? Even if some of these reflect a positive sign, the dynamic is too complex to take heart only from the empirical data that shows improvement. When you speak to the people, you realise that they feel emotionally attached to Article 370. Even if they can’t answer why it is wrong, the common refrain is “yeh theek nahin hua”, especially Jammu and Kashmir being downgraded to a Union Territory. However, there is not too much displeasure over sidelining of some political leaders and the marginalisation of separatists.

Also Read: There is a strange silence in Kashmir and it spells only misery for students, businesses

Two Union Territories

The partition of the state into two union territories serves a three-fold purpose. First, it unshackles Ladakh from the dynamics of J&K. Second, it gives the Centre an opportunity to govern Jammu and Kashmir from New Delhi and deliver good governance, efficient administration and ensure that the effects of development reach the grassroots — right down to the remote and forgotten corners, of which there are a lot. Thirdly, when the time is right, restoring statehood will be a doable step, which can assuage the people, and set the groundwork for the start of a political process. Undoubtedly, this is the ultimate goal.

Diplomatically, the response of the global community to the dilution of Article 370 has been muted, giving strength to the argument that it is an internal issue. Few countries that have protested at the behest of Pakistan, which has snapped trade and diplomatic ties, are Malaysia and Turkey. China’s statements were measured in suggesting that both countries should sort out things amicably, but its actions in Ladakh point to a convergence of interests with Pakistan, whether coincidental or intentional. China’s biggest ally, Pakistan, feels some relief at the tying down of Indian Armed Forces and national attention in Ladakh, rather than continue with strident statements about Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).

While there is a ceasefire at the Line of Control, the security situation inside Pakistan is volatile, and a shade worse in Afghanistan. In view of this, can peace prevail on the LoC? In the early nineties, after the departure of the Russians, the ‘Jihadi’ fighters were redirected by Pakistan into the Kashmir front. Do we run the risk of a repeat this time around? In the early nineties, the Indian Army and the state were grappling with what we then thought was a law and order problem, with much lesser forces and resources. 2021 is not 1991. India has raised a full-fledged force, namely, the Rashtriya Rifles to counter terrorism, and has created a robust anti-infiltration grid on the LoC, replete with fences and sensors. We have strengthened our processes and procedures to combat terrorism in a unified approach. So, if Pakistan attempts to push in infiltrators, they will be blocked effectively.

In the Valley, things are looking up. Several new initiatives have started bearing fruit. People have tasted the benefits of life without strife and one that affords opportunities to partake in growth, just as any other state. Kashmir has not known that for a long time now. Bandhs, closure of schools and protests have deprived them of normal life, let alone one where there is development and abundant sources of livelihood. Empowering grassroots by a three-tiered panchayat system for the first time has borne fruits. Approximately Rs 3800 crore has been allocated through this route to fulfil regional aspirations. Most of all, people are able to live without the constant fear of the gun.

Also Read: Pro-India Kashmiris more or less hated here, but Delhi won’t hear the truth: Farooq Abdullah

India must be cautious

But, the situation in the Valley is still precarious. We are still sitting in a minefield. Although we have ensured a strong posture along the Line of Control, reinforced with security grids in the hinterland, the chances of a lone wolf attack or a suicide bombing case, like the one in the Pulwama, is always imminent and could easily push us into operational brinkmanship again. Any high visibility incident can trigger violent reactions in the Valley. Efforts to control that can spiral into deadly violence. Therefore, the situation calls for astute handling, including keeping a finger on the pulse of all forces and agencies. There is a need for a unified all of government approach.

Information and psychological warfare is another dimension that merits mention here. Ultimately, it is the people of Kashmir who have to give up the idea of azadi or support to Pakistan. Over time there has been religious as well as political radicalisation. But there can be no lasting peace until the people start to think differently. The youth raise slogans for azadi without even understanding what they want azadi from. There is a need to build a national narrative — one that is credible, robust, factual narrative and based on developments and progress — which can only be achieved through an all-government approach.

As I have written before in a Wion article, there have been shortcomings in building a good narrative, a space that was quickly filled up by the other side with a narrative of hate. This is our chance to reverse it. This strategic communication is needed to dispel uncertainty and the fear of the future from the minds of the people and create hope. This narrative can also be used to counter alienation and radicalisation. We must get back into the mindspace of the youth. They are key to integration. We must supplant the idea of azadi with the idea of India.

We can’t hurry the process. Two years is too little a time. What has existed for decades cannot be undone overnight. It will take at least two generations to change the mindset of people. We have to be patient. Now that Jammu and Kashmir is a Union Territory, to be administered in significant part by the Union government, it must ensure that this change leads to a better state in all aspects, taking all stakeholders into account. This will not be easy but is not insurmountable. And anyway, it has to be done to show the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the rest of India, and the world, that everyone will lead a better life in this new order.

Lt General Satish Dua is a former Corps Commander in Kashmir, who retired as Chief of Integrated Defence Staff. Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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