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This is Modi govt’s 3-pronged strategy for J&K before it begins to talk full statehood

PM Narendra Modi’s 24 June meeting with 14 non-BJP leaders of J&K parties shows the Centre is moving forward to put in place an elected govt in the union territory.

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government’s roadmap to get an elected government in Jammu and Kashmir involves a three-pronged strategy and a time span of at least one year before the issue of restoration of full statehood is taken up.

The three-pronged strategy involves expediting short-term development projects benefiting the people directly and quickly at the ground level, nurturing an alternative leadership by empowering elected representatives in Panchayati Raj institutions and renewed engagement with the existing political parties. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met 14 leaders from various political parties on 24 June, which was termed as an ice-breaking move between the Centre and the non-BJP political parties in Jammu and Kashmir. 

The Centre is, however, moving ahead cautiously as it realises most of the non-BJP political parties don’t have a credible record, and many of the leaders are known to change the tone and tenor of their statements once they are in Srinagar. 

The Centre is expecting an aggressive stand by some of these leaders once they address their domestic constituencies, a section of which is anti-government. The Centre has decided to remain assertive but not show any aggression or strong reaction towards these parties. 

The Modi government has realised that the political leaders of Kashmir have to do certain posturing as well to protect their traditional constituencies.  

A significant breakthrough was achieved in the 24 June talks as the opposition seems to have agreed to the ongoing delimitation process. Incidentally, that also means the acceptance of the fact that the demand for restoration of the full statehood to Jammu and Kashmir would have to wait at least one year as assembly elections can’t be held before the delimitation process is finished. 

The delimitation process is scheduled to be completed by March 2022 and hence assembly polls would only be held a few months after that. 

Also read: Modi-Gupkar meeting was a four-part game. Delhi has upper hand in three rounds

Feedback from ground level

The Centre, meanwhile, has decided to continue to push development projects at the grassroots level. In fact, one of the key reasons that propelled the government to engage in talks with its bitter critics was the fact it has received a lot of positive feedback from the ground level. The feedback is about initiatives taken by the Centre since the reorganisation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir on 5 August 2019.

The feedback was consistently gathered through formal and informal channels and gave confidence to the Centre that the people of the UT were on its side and it was the right time to open a dialogue with political leaders and move ahead to have an elected government by holding assembly elections. 

On 5 August 2019, the Centre amended Article 370 and did away with Section 35A, which were in force in Jammu and Kashmir until then and granted the erstwhile state a special status. It also bifurcated the state into two union territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh.

The key non-BJP parties in the state — the Peoples Democratic Party, the National Conference, the Congress and some others — had opposed this move.  

Unperturbed by the opposition, however, the Centre went ahead and initiated a number of moves that appear to have yielded desirable results, reflected in the fact that these parties were able to hardly garner any support on the ground to oppose the government’s decisions.

Also read: How Narendra Modi evaded arrest for 19 months by changing his name and look during Emergency

Moves initiated by the Centre

One of the most significant moves initiated by the Modi government was to hold elections for Panchayati Raj institutions. The numbers tell the story.

Around 51.7 per cent voting took place in the district development council (DDC) elections of December 2020, in which 100 women and 280 district council members were elected for the first time. In 20 districts, the chairmen were elected for the first time. They have been given the status of a deputy commissioner.

For the first time, reservation was implemented in the political field in Jammu and Kashmir, due to which six women, two Scheduled Caste and two Scheduled Tribe leaders were elected as chairpersons.

Voting was conducted peacefully, with no reports of irregularities. A total of 2,178 candidates contested for 280 seats in the district councils, of whom 450 were women.

In these elections, 38 Gujjar Bakerwals, included in the Scheduled Tribes category, were elected as members of the district councils, of whom 15 were women. Until now, the representation of this tribe was  quite low in the state’s politics.

Earlier in 2018, a total of 3,650 sarpanchs and 23,660 panchs were elected and 3,395 panchayats were duly constituted.

After this, the panchayats were strengthened with 21 subjects being assigned to them. These include areas related to ICDS, anganwadi, monitoring of MNREGA and right to mining. Along with this, they were strengthened by putting Rs 1500 crore in their accounts.

Another important initiative taken by the central government is the initiation of the exercise of delimitation.

A Delimitation Commission has been constituted, which will decide the assembly seats afresh in the state. The grievance of the people of Jammu division was that the number of seats they got in the assembly was far less than they should have. The newly-constituted Delimitation Commission has to submit its report by March 2022. It is anticipated that the seats in Jammu division could increase as a result of the delimitation.

After the amendment of Article 370 and removal of Section 35A, a new domicile policy came into force in the state. This benefitted a number of communities living in the state without any right to permanent residence. Those who have benefitted include women, extremely backward communities (especially the Valmiki community), refugees from West Pakistan, the Gurkha community, people displaced from Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK). 

The new domicile policy ended the discrimination and opened a plethora of opportunities for them undoing the wrongs they had suffered for seven decades. Apart from this, a relief package was also given to 5,300 POJK displaced families settled in other parts of the country. It also paved the way for them to become permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir.

A step that helped the central government to take along employees working in the administration was the implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission in Jammu and Kashmir with immediate effect.

Apart from this, many of the schemes only on paper until now, related to water and electricity supply, health and housing, were launched and expedited on the ground. 

Along with this, there has also been a significant decline in the terror attacks. Due to all these steps and efforts, the central government has had positive feedback from Jammu and Kashmir.  

The result was that the ‘Gupkar group’ and other non-BJP parties started to lose relevance, triggering their return to mainstream politics through engaging in dialogue with the Centre. 

These parties know they have no other option and time is short. If they do not participate in the political process, the new political leadership emerging from the panchayat elections is ready to replace them.

While going ahead, however, the Centre would continue with a cautious approach and if needed, might make necessary changes in the roadmap.

(The writer is a research director with Delhi-based think-tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra. He has authored two books on the RSS. Views expressed are personal.)

Also read: Nehru vs RSS-backed Organiser: A battle that led to curbs on our freedom of expression


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