The stated purpose of the Narendra Modi government’s decision to dilute Article 370 was to “forever unite Kashmir with India”. Union Home Minister Amit Shah also asserted that it would pave the way for Kashmir’s development and a countdown for terrorism in the erstwhile state.
But, claims by the Modi government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) notwithstanding, the situation in Kashmir is far from normal.
Earlier, it was mainly the residents of Kashmir who were opposed to the decision. Now this criticism has spread to Jammu as well, with social media and talk on the streets criticising the BJP for having allegedly taken the Hindu-majority region for a ride.
BJP needs to look beyond political gains
Since its inception in 1980 — before that, the party was called Jana Sangh – J&K has been a major vote catcher for the BJP. Its rise as a national force can easily be attributed to Hindutva, Ram Mandir movement and Kashmir – not in that particular order though.
But, having turned itself into a formidable election-winning machine today, the BJP now needs to start putting national interest before party interest.
To that end, the Modi government has to put in place a Kashmir policy, one that will consider all possible scenarios, even if they hurt the BJP electorally, before taking crucial decisions. Diving into the deep end with nothing but splashy headlines in mind may help it in the short run but it will be detrimental to the nation’s interest over time.
Domicile issue flip-flop is a strict no-no
The latest trigger is the Modi government’s new domicile rules for government jobs in Jammu and Kashmir. Within hours of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) releasing the new rules, Jammu was up in arms, as was Kashmir. It was possibly the first time in decades that both regions of the erstwhile state were united in their condemnation of the central government. Videos of slogans being raised against senior leaders of the BJP were circulated on social media.
The main reason behind the latest anger in J&K was the clause that reserved only class IV posts like junior assistants, constables and peons for domiciles of the Union Territory, while the remaining posts were to be filled through all-India selection.
Even the BJP’s J&K unit found it difficult to welcome the decision, with many senior leaders from the region privately commenting on the absence of any foresight behind the decision.
The rules also flew in the face of Prime Minister Modi’s categorical assurance — that interests of J&K residents would be protected in government jobs and land laws — given to a delegation of supposedly pro-Centre politicians, most of whom had recently ditched the Mehbooba Mufti-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to join the newly launched J&K Apni Party.
This led to speculations that the MHA and the Prime Minister’s Office were not on the same page on two very crucial issues.
In less than 72 hours, the rules were amended, with the new rules providing for reservation in all jobs for the youth of J&K.
A trail of tall promises
Since the revocation of J&K’s special status, despite a few announcements, not one big industrial house has made any substantial investment in the new union territory.
One reason for this could be the complete or partial lockdown, with mobile telephony and internet suspended, for most part since 5 August 2019.
The long period of clampdown has only reinforced Kashmir’s image as a trouble-hit region, where investing could not be a safe bet.
Dozens of prominent Kashmiri leaders, including three former chief ministers – Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – were detained, most of them under the Public Safety Act. The father-son duo of Farooq and Omar were released recently after spending almost seven months in detention. But, more importantly, there is no informed consensus on what purpose, if any, their detention served.
Mehbooba, who was BJP’s ally in the last state government before the imposition of the President’s rule in June 2018, continues to be in detention even after eight months. Again, nobody knows how her alleged offences were more serious than the Abdullahs.
The revocation has also done little to curb attempts by anti-India forces to try and fuel further trouble in the state. Five Indian soldiers were killed in action while engaging with Pakistan-backed armed infiltrators in Kashmir’s Kupwara region.
All these developments point to one fact: the government of India grossly miscalculated, if it ever did make any long-term and short-term assessment of the ramifications of its decision, the pluses and minuses of its move.
It needs a course correction, and quickly too. Else, instead of any possible gains for the nation, we may end up losing face.
The complete trust that the residents of Jammu had in the BJP and the Modi government is also eroding.
The one step forward-one step backwards policy can only end up hurting the state and dent its relationship with and faith in the government of India.
The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.