Tuesday, December 6, 2022
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Even a manufactured panchayat poll leadership in Kashmir by Modi govt may not be enough

An early restoration of respect for land rights of Kashmiris will find universal support in the Valley, including among separatists.

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The most recent debate on Kashmir has been on the issue of scrapping of Article 370 and the communication lockdown imposed by the Narendra Modi government since its 5 August decision. Article 370 was a self-contained Code that defined and regulated the relationship between the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union of India, carefully drafted so as to ensure the smooth accession of the former princely state. With the adoption of the Jammu and Kashmir’s constitution in 1956, it is moot whether Article 370 in its temporary form remained relevant. And from my own interlocutors during my visit to Srinagar last month, my long-held conviction turned out to be true: Article 370 was widely considered redundant.

Prime Minster Narendra Modi has himself contended that the special status enjoyed by Jammu and Kashmir deprived it of development. But the fact is that the former state was able to legislate and successfully enforce the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950 under its first Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah. As any critic will concede, the Act was the most progressive land reform introduced anywhere in India.

This progressiveness also accounts for the former state of J&K, despite a somewhat skewed development with 10.35 per cent of the state’s population living below the poverty line. Under former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, J&K became the first state in the country to provide free education to all children up to high school. The success of that initiative is demonstrable in the high rate of success of young men and women from J&K clearing the All India Services examinations. The Rhodes Scholar for 2018, Sameer Rashid Bhat, was a Kashmiri.

Also read: An unintended effect of Modi govt’s Kashmir lockdown – militants caught in their own trap

That said, from 1954 onwards, amendments to Article 370 initiated by the state legislature had brought the Article to almost complete compliance with India’s laws, with the provision simply delaying adoption even of the most progressive laws like the Right to Information (RTI). Although, the Act adopted in 2009 was far more progressive than the national law brought in 2005. The scrapping of Article 370, therefore, could readily have been explained to a disgruntled citizenry as a logical conclusion of a phase of the state’s constitutional evolution and their cooperation could have been sought in building a new, more promising phase.

But in addition to the Presidential Orders, which scrapped Article 370 of the Constitution, Parliament – through the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act of 2019 – downgraded the status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, bifurcating it into two Union Territories (one with a legislature and one without). It is again moot whether the Indian federal scheme – as exemplified by Articles 1 and 3 of the Indian Constitution – allows for Parliament to downgrade a federal entity into a unitary form, which a Union Territory is. Moreover, by imposing a brutal lockdown in the state to back the tearing away of what was no more than a fig leaf, detaining those who had always been loyalists of the Indian state and participants in governments that had readily acted under the directions of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Narendra Modi government has administered to the Kashmiri public a slap in the face.

The next phase of the relationship of Kashmiris with India is grave if we lose the Valley’s educated and talented youth to hatred. Thousands of them, including children, have been detained under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA), to be held indefinitely without trial. These will now lead the state into its future. The Modi government, out of fear of public reprisals, has sealed shut Srinagar’s cathedral mosque, its compound fencing laced with concertina wire but neighbourhood mosques where I joined in prayer are flourishing and remain a live conduit for communication.

Also read: Modi-Shah weathered Kashmir storm because West has no moral right to lecture India anymore

Unexpectedly, the public has responded not with widespread violence but with a totally silent but exhaustive shutdown of its own with markets opening only early morning and late evening to allow homes to continue functioning, covering every town and village in the Valley. This has effectively denied a hard put state government’s struggle to trumpet a return to normalcy. As a young restaurateur told me as I walked on the Bund on 18 August, the walls of which are plastered with graffiti declaring “F**k Patriarchy” and “F**k Classicists”, “we are used to this and will survive.”

Yet, given the fact that the new dispensation is unlikely to affect the functioning of government in J&K that will continue with its existing instrumentalities, the way forward can only be secured by reaching out to the people, by allowing them the liberty of Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India, their right to freedom of speech and expression, including the free use of modern technology. The Modi government is seeking to do this by activating the panchayati raj system. This is possible only with public participation but those elected in the nine-phase panchayat elections are from the margins of society who have been persuaded to participate for personal gain, and under threat from people in their respective villages.

Besides, for this, Jammu and Kashmir’s own Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, will have to be first brought into compliance with Article 243 (Part IX) of the Constitution of India. The only measure the central government has so far taken in this regard is to make provision for social audit. Surely, even aleadership as one manufactured through this panchayat route will want a voice.

Also read: Requiem for a dream: Kashmir needs a heavy dose of post-nationalism

Business in J&K is at a standstill, the government’s announcement of minimum support price for the bumper apple harvest has received little response, and schools, although open and staffed, are unable to hold classes, even though examinations are imminent. An early restoration of respect for the rights of India’s citizens, including land rights no matter how recalcitrant in the eyes of the establishment through the restitution of full statehood, must be the first step if a way forward is to be found. Such a step will find universal Kashmiri support, including, even if only tacitly, among the ‘separatists’.

The writer is former chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities. Views are personal.

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  1. The write is a Sarkari Muslim poodle of Modi
    The Kashmiri people want freedom, that is the first thing this writer should have mentioned.
    What’s happening is civil disobedience, similar to India’s freedom struggle.
    Kashmir had gone through its Gen Dyer moment, it’s own Jallianwallah Bagh.
    India has lost all moral authority to stay on in Kashmir.
    India can only rule via the Jackboot

    • Kashmiris are supposed to pay their attention towards education rather than throwing stones at Indian Military.Nothing,they will be able to achieve.


      • I think Kashmiris are capable of taking care of themselves. You better concentrate your fight against PAK Military.

  2. Restoration of statehood would be the first step in a long road to normalcy. Unclear why so much consternation has been caused to remove what was little more than a fig leaf. What good it did to the people of Kashmir – beyond giving them a sense of identity, like a married woman retaining her earlier surname – one cannot say. However, it did no harm. It will be very difficult to convince the rest of the world that it stood in the way of the state’s progress and prosperity.

    • If all is well why not let out the Nationalist Leaders out of captivity and gain their support. How long will it take to release them or will they languish there for years.

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