The accession of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) State with India was absolute and had similar conditions that were granted to other 562 states that amalgamated with India in 1947. The Constitution of J&K affirmed the accession of the state with India and the people accepted the existing relationship of the State as a part of the Union of India. Subsequently J&K was extended special status in spite of the opposition by the father of Indian Constitution Dr BR Ambedkar. Under Article 35A the state was allowed to make laws for citizenship (who should be the citizen or not) and ownership of property in J&K. Under Article 370, citizens from other states could not buy property in J&K. Government of India could not declare financial emergency. All laws passed by the Indian Parliament did not automatically apply to J&K and J&K continued to have its own flag and legislatures which were elected for six years instead of five years. As a result, the fundamental rights of the residents of J&K were dissimilar from the residents living in the rest of India.
Consequently, these provisions became a stumbling block in development and full integration of the state into the Indian Union. Political leadership of the state and proxies of Pakistan manipulated these provisions for a separatist movement, and radicalisation of masses. As a consequence, disaffection of the people against the Indian Union rose exponentially in Kashmir Valley. It is pertinent to mention that Article 370 and 35A were temporary provisions and could not be continued for indefinite period especially when state is plagued by a separatist movement and lack of delivery of governance. People could not get benefits from the laws passed by the parliament since it was not obligatory for the state to implement these acts other than defence, external affairs, finance & communications.
On 05 August 2019, the Government of India carried out reorganisation of the state and amended Article 370 and revoked 35A. What does reorganisation and amendment of Article 370 imply internally and externally? Pakistan Occupied J&K (POJK), includes Mirpur Muzaffarabad and Gilgit Baltistan. A portion of the erstwhile state has been illegally occupied by China (Aksai Chin) and another portion, Shaksgam valley has been illegally ceded by Pakistan to China. Both these nations have challenged the reorganisation of the state at various international forums including United Nations Security Council. India should be firm and proactive to deal with any such move globally. With the reorganisation, the role of United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) must be closed since India and Pakistan do not agree on UNMOGIP’s mandate. In fact it will be a diplomatic victory if now India can bring curtains on this mission.
The state was held hostage by separatists and proxies of Pakistan since they could use semi-autonomous status of J&K to cross the Rubicon. The most important aspect of the recent changes is that now laws made by the Indian Parliament will automatically apply in J&K. The constitution of J&K will cease to exist, there will be no separate flag of the state and the term of the assembly will be same as that of other states (five years).Non- residents of the state till now could not acquire immovable property but with the abolition of the Article 35A, non-residents can acquire immovable property in J&K and Ladakh. Similarly, women married outside the state can inherit the property of their parents as is applicable in the rest of the country. The J&K Reorganisation Bill, 2019, splits the state into two Union Territories (UT)—one of Jammu & Kashmir, and the other of Ladakh. J&K and Ladakh UT will have Lt Governor, however, Ladakh will not have assembly whereas J&K UT will continue to have assembly with 107 seats. SC/ST will have reserved seats in state assembly based on the pro-rata as fixed by the election commission. UT assembly will legislate on items in the ‘State List’. Police, law and order will remain under the Central government; however, issues related to land will be with the state government. Land ownership and employment in J&K UT will be open to all citizens of the country. The Home Minster of India, during the debate in the Parliament stated that 106 Central laws will now be applicable in J&K as well as the Ladakh UT with the passage of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019 by the Parliament.
The people of Kashmir were deprived of certain key legislative benefits that were being extended to other states and UTs. Some of these key benefits were, Prevention of Corruption Act, acts related to the National Commission for Minorities, Right to Education, National Council for Teacher Education, land acquisition, National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, protection of Whistle-blowers, welfare of parents and senior citizens. Now with the reorganisation bill, revocation of Article 35A and amendment of Article 370, these bills will be automatically extended to the people of J&K and Ladakh.
Intent of the Government of India
Till 2016, as per CAG, J&K’s debt had risen to Rs 55,358 crore. Jammu and Kashmir has received 10 per cent of all central grants given to states over the 2000-2016 period, despite having only one per cent of the country’s population. Ironically, J&K, with a population of 12.55 million (2011 Census), received Rs.91,300 per person central grant over the last sixteen years while Uttar Pradesh only received Rs.4,300 per person over the same period.
In spite of lack of accountability and financial propriety, the Central Government adopted a liberal approach to extend financial grants with a view to ensure development and economic empowerment of the state. Sadly, the the Government of J&K neglected the Jammu and Ladakh Divisions of the State and regional imbalances increased manifolds. Most of the development schemes remained on paper without fulfilling economic aspirations of the people. With the abrogation of the provisions of Article 370, the Centre will now be able to bring in transparency and fix financial responsibility and accountability, through Central laws such as Prevention of Corruption Act to bring culprits of mismanagement of public money to book. At the same time regional imbalances would also get addressed to a great extent.
The Centre will also now be able to directly deal with the proxy war and cross border terrorism. As of now there were multiple agencies operating under state and central government.With the reorganisation, the central government will be able to coordinate intelligence, counter terrorist operations and public order in a far more efficient manner. Arbitrary withdrawal of cases against acts of violence, subversion of masses and stone pelting by habitual offenders is unlikely to take place. Enforcement Directorate (ED), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and National Intelligence Agency (NIA) will be able to deal firmly with terror funding, radicalisation, subversion of masses and recruitment of cadres into terror groups.
The Valmikis (Dalits) who were brought in from Punjab as government sweepers in 1957 were never allowed to get any government jobs other than sweepers. They were also denied a Scheduled Caste certificate from the state government, and hence were ineligible for any benefits under central schemes. After reorganisation of J&K state into two different UTs, discrimination of under privileged classes such as Valmiki, Gujjar and Bakarwal communities will be removed by giving them SC/ST status. The perception that Valley based leadership was biased could finally end with equal representation in jobs and socio-economic development to the people of Jammu and remote districts of Kashmir valley. The Government will be able to fulfil political aspirations by giving representation through reservation to backward classes and SC/ST in UT in the J&K Assembly.
Challenges to the Government to Restore Peace and Stability
The government faces some daunting challenges to implement the reorganisation of the J&K State due to stiff opposition from internal and external opponent. For the first time since 1965, the UN Security Council has held a closed-door meeting on Kashmir on China and Pakistan’s request. While predictably the meeting received no support from other members, it highlights the fact that Pakistan and China will continue with their efforts to raise the bogey in international fora.
India will have to repudiate negative media publicity globally, because it has certain adverse impact on economic interest of India. Dealing with the Organisation of Islamic Countries as of now have supported India the situation will need careful monitoring especially if violence were to break out in the Valley. The Centre would also need to manage opposition to the move from its political opponents, some of whom are terming the move as ‘a breach of constitutional provisions,’ and ensure that such opposition does not act as a catalyst to foment instability. Moreover, the agitation if at all triggered, should remain local and should not spill over to rest of the country including in Kargil area of Ladakh UT through disaffected sections of population and political opportunists. Thus, engagement with the people within and outside the Valley is of utmost significance.
Reorganisation of J&K State will also face scrutiny of law, however, the government has an argument that it has not disturbed the Instrument of Accession and any constitutional provisions and has only revoked and amended the temporary provisions made through Article 370 and 35A.This is the first time since independence that India has altered the narrative and Pakistan and its proxies are forced to react to this move. Pakistan will make all endeavours to trigger a fresh wave of violent agitation in the Kashmir and Jammu Divisions. Separatists and even the political parties opposed to the reorganisation and revocation of Article 35A and amendment of Article 370 will be on the lookout to divide population and subvert government employees. Separatists may also attempt to create fissures among the Jammu & Kashmir Police and Armed Forces personnel hailing from the state. Therefore, intelligence agencies and Armed Forces would have to be vigilant to defeat such moves.
There would be an attempt to project this move as an intent to destroy the identity of Kashmir and Kashmiriyat. Youth anger under such an agitated environment is possible, thus it must be handled with due care and diligence. Irrational and high handed actions may lead to avoidable violence. A proactive approach to engage with the youth to lay to rest any apprehensions is vital. Lastly, political brinkmanship and rhetoric must be avoided at all cost.
There is a need to ensure that violence does not erupt, therefore the government must adopt an approach of patience, persistence and perseverance to cool tempers and prevent an emotional outburst in Kashmir. This could be ensured by slowly restoring communication, lifting travel bans and permitting peaceful demonstrations. Suppression of anger by force will not be a good idea to pursue. Youth should be given the space to express their apprehensions with regard to identity issues and statehood. The government must address these apprehensions through a carefully crafted perception management medium.
The fear of colonisation and occupation of UTs by outsiders must be laid to rest. There is a need to lay down the rules and broad guidelines to prevent reckless sale of government and private land to outsiders. Government must bring out broad policy guidelines till legislation is brought out to assure the public that, land will remain state subject and there will be conditions that will be laid down for purchase of land in J&K and Ladakh. Because this is not only the apprehension of Kashmiri population, but also of sections of the people of Ladakh and Jammu division.
It may be prudent that till these two UTs stabilise, the Government of India should upgrade the J&K Affairs cell to a full- fledged department of UTs of J&K and Ladakh under Ministry of Home Affairs to deal with the issues related to the UTs of J&K and Ladakh so that the Central Government can monitor and oversee the law and order, development, delimitation, assets distribution and issues of Kashmiri population staying outside the state.
To bring synergy in functioning of various agencies, the representatives of Army, Ministry of External Affairs, Central Armed Police Forces and intelligence agencies should be part of this department. It may be wise to have a helpline for the students of Kashmir studying outside the state so that they are not subjected to harassment during any unforeseen eventualities.Engagement and intra-regional dialogue is imperative to address the fault-lines that may creep up with the reorganisation of the state. The people to people contact should not be severed since they have linkages that date back to pre- independence era and should not be disengaged by division of the state.
There is a need to ensure logistic build up for Kashmir Valley and Ladakh for this winter season so that disruption due to agitation and weather disruption doesn’t lead to shortage of essential commodities since such a situation is likely to be exploited by inimical forces as a tool to wilful strangulation of the people of Kashmir.Pakistan will be more than eager to create instability so that fresh wave of violence erupts in Kashmir Valley and even South of Pir Panjal. Therefore, a strong anti-infiltration and CT grid is imperative. Fidayeen and Pulwama type attacks cannot be ruled out, therefore, intelligence agencies and security forces must keep a strict vigil in J&K and even on activities in PoJK. There is a possibility that some terror groups may even attempt to create sensational attacks in Jammu to create a communal backlash. In such an eventuality, it is essential that students and Kashmiri diaspora in Jammu and outside the UT are kept safe.
There is a need to quantify the benefits that Gujjar, Bakarwals and Paharis will get in the reorganised UTs. This will assist in preventing spill over effect of instability to South of Pir Panjal and some hilly districts of Kashmir valley.The Government should unveil the development projects, including metro, hydro power projects with timelines and tentative job creation through these projects. However, these projects must translate on ground and should not remain on paper. Projects such as Srinagar Metro must take off that has promised 1300 jobs to the engineers.However, government should be careful that what schemes and promise of jobs is announced these must be implemented in a time bound manner without any dilution.
In conclusion, it needs no iteration that the bottom-line of success and failure of this experiment lies in delivery of governance. The bureaucracy and police have functioned credibly under very challenging circumstances and it is to their credit that the administration functioned despite threats from the terrorist organisations and partisan political leadership. They needs to be supported and empowered to deliver governance. If the new arrangement can deliver governance, it will act as a model not only to many conflict ridden states of India but also to Gilgit Baltistan and PoJK. Therefore, there is no scope of any slippage on account of governance, control of corruption and implementation of development projects.
Brig Narender Kumar, an Infantry Officer, commanded a Rashtriya Rifles Battalion in J&K and Assam Rifle Sector in Manipur. He is currently Distinguished Fellow at United Services Institution of India, New Delhi. A version of this article was first uploaded on the USI website on 16 August 2019.