While visualising and preparing for a Jammu and Kashmir of the future, it is wise to take into account the myriad problems that it faces today. The state should join hands with other States in transforming Bharat into a knowledge society in its broadest sense
The abrogation of Article 370 has long been a nation’s demand. The autonomy offered by it enabled the Kashmir-based polities to capture most institutions and inflame communal and regional passions, use separatism to keep the situation on the boil and blackmail the Central Government for more and more funds with virtually no accountability. The opposition to this amendment is reflective of a mindset that is comfortable with the idea of the problem of Jammu and Kashmir being “managed.” It does not even look for a solution to this problem or steps towards a solution. Indeed, this mindset has its adherents across parties and has permeated deep into the psyche of India’s administrative and security set up itself.
In fact, nothing was done to address the democratic deficit, the culture of corruption and misgovernance that characterised the State and amplified the deep feeling of alienation that had already long existed given the dominant narrative of India not having lived up to its promise to the people of the State a plebiscite. This “peace” obtained by this approach turned out to be all too temporary and the problems that were created in this period would come back to haunt policy makers in the time to come.
There were reasons for normalcy not to sustain. Firstly, while terrorism was contained in the 1990s, separatist ideas were not. Mainstream political thought in the Valley as represented by parties like the Congress which were till the 1980s the principal opposition to the dominant National Conference practically stopped operating during the 1990s and thereafter adopted a low profile. Under such circumstances the dominant narrative that existed in the Valley were the various hues of separatism which grew from strength to strength unchallenged. Invariably, competitive populism led to many of these ideas being mainstreamed. The National Conference insisted that all applications of the Constitution of India to the State be rolled back and the State revert to the “pre-1953 status.” The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was more radical. After the restoration of electoral politics, the Peoples Democratic Party tried to ride on these strains of separatism where the accent was on Pakistan’s historic role in the dispute and a constitutional set up where Jammu and Kashmir would be outside India’s constitutional setup but within the Union of India! A host of proposals were floated with respect to the future of the State, with the trajectory of most of them culminating in the State or the Valley at least (along with Kargil, the erstwhile Doda District, Reasi, Rajouri and Poonch in some proposals) being granted sovereignty.
The bedrock of these proposals were, of course, India’s “breach of promise/violation” of the UN Security Council Resolutions that called for a Statewide plebiscite to ascertain whether the people of the State wanted to join India or Pakistan. Added to these were the charges that the Instrument of Accession signed by Hari Singh did not exist or quoting authors like Alastair Lamb had been obtained under duress after Indian troops had landed in the State.
Curiously enough, there were and are a critical mass of political commentators and scholars who commanded a great deal of respect and credibility to support these views and cast aspersions on those accounts/arguments that argued otherwise. Ambassador C. Dasgupta’s scholarly, “War and Diplomacy in Kashmir”, which exposed the shenanighans of the British (particularly the Generals in the Indian Army as well as the Commonwealth Secretary Philip Noel-Baker) and the Pakistanis both in the sub-continent and the UN was reviewed by A.G. Noorani who while commenting about Ambassador Dasgupta’s political orientation tried to refute his arguments without any reference to the arguments in the book itself!
Prem Shankar Jha’s masterly refutation of Lamb’s thesis was patronisingly dismissed by Andew Whitehead as depending too much on the fading memories of an old soldier, (the old soldier in question being Field Marshal Maneckshaw)! The fact that Pakistan did not withdraw its forces from the erstwhile Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir, a necessary pre-condition for the UN mandated plebiscite to take place, was considered unimportant both in Srinagar as well as in many circles in Delhi that influenced the discourse!
All this was accentuated by the spread of strains of Islam that found inspiration from Wahabi/Salafist schools amplified by Social Media. More dangerous were the artificial similarities drawn between Palestine and Kashmir notwithstanding the fact that it had been the Kashmiri Pandits who had been displaced from the land where they were the original occupants! There have also been serious efforts in the form of rewriting the history of the Valley to efface the role of Hindusim and Kashmiri Hindus which is best exemplified by Khalid Bashir Ahmed’s book which actually found a respectable publisher.
The Democratic Deficit
Gurcharan Das once described the 1990s as the liberating decade, primarily due to the process of economic liberalisation combined with the process of political decentralisation through the Constitutional mechanism. Jammu and Kashmir having missed economic liberalisation in the 1990s given the law and order situation decided to forego the democratic decentralisation and community empowerment as well. Of course, this decision was not taken by the people of the State; successive State Governments using Article 370 as a shield refused to let these constitutional provisions be extended to the State. Similarly, the State Government also refused to let the Forest Act of 2007 (meant to confer user rights to communities who dwelt in forests) be extended to the State.
The size of the government became bloated with government expenditure contributing to over half of the State’s Domestic Product. Government employment is estimated to be about five lakhs (with 70% being from the Valley). 40% of this total expenditure was in the form of Central Government assistance which was totally discretionary in nature, i.e., apart from the constitutionally-mandated share of central government taxes. In spite of considerable capital expenditure (many times more than neighbouring HP), the State’s infrastructure when it came to roads and power, fared poorly with its neighbour HP. A clue to why this is so can be had from the fact that while J&K’s per capita income is almost half that of HP, its overage Household assets is among the highest in the country. While its state Domestic Product is about 60% of that of HP, the number of vehicles registered (both private and commercial) in J&K matched that of HP. Clearly, J&K’s rulers are tremendously corrupt.
Institutions suffered. Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP) was not untouched. JKP also has been victim of infiltration with persons close or affiliated to the Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir increasingly occupying sensitive positions. In the field of education, it has been observed that government schools in the Valley are more affected by the virus of separatism and religious extremism than private schools given the open support of separatist and radical religious ideas by teachers. The Government Colleges, teachers are known to be told not to teach those parts of the History syllabus that cover the Dogra Raj.
All in all the entire eco-system consists of different inter-locking strands that support each other in increasing alienation through the continuous spread of wrong information and versions of history that affect impressionable minds from a very young age, misgovernance, corruption and administrative exclusion that increases alienation across the board and the actions of overground workers of terrorist groups that orchestrate mob action aimed at rescuing trapped terrorist invariably ending in civil casualties which serve to increase alienation even further. Remarkably, all this is financed by the Government of India but is operated by the eco-system behind the shield of Article 370 as it existed before August 6th August 2019.
THE NECESSARY REBOOTING
Over seven decades later, India found itself supporting a corrupt, inefficient and a non-participatory government in Jammu and Kashmir, whose sins of commission and commission continued unabated but the people especially in the Valley blamed India for all their ills. Thus the Indian Nation, it appeared, bore responsibility for all ills that had visited the State since 1947 without actually having the power to improve things.
It is clear that the problem of Jammu and Kashmir can no longer be solved by halves. A mere “spell” of President Rule to “right” the ship and hand it back to the old crew will not do. Experience has proved that this policy is akin to treating a dreadful disease with less than its full course of antibiotics which returns in a more virulent and drug resistant form.
To change all this requires a total transformation in the administrative, security, economic, educational and cultural set up of Jammu and Kashmir. The obstructive nature of Article 370 as it read before 6th August 2019 which prevented the application of provisions of the constitution that made our democracy more participatory and inclusive and empower its citizens and hitherto excluded communities had to be necessarily done away with. This has been accomplished by the Presidential Notification of the 6th August which rewords Article 370 so that the Constitution of India applies in its totality to Jammu and Kashmir without exception. Thus the 73rd Amendment can be implemented in a manner so that rural communities are empowered from the grass roots onward starting from the level of a Village, to the Block and then upto the District. Given its unparalleled diversity, geographical, cultural, linguistic or religious there is no alternative to democratic decentralisation and involving the people in governance. Excluded and marginalised forest communities of the State like the Gujjars, Bakerwals, Gaddis and Sippis have to be given respite from colonial Laws that legally excluded them from their natural habitat i.e., the forests which is exactly what the Forest Act 2007 was designed to do.
Given the enormity of the attempted transformation and the reformed polity that would hopefully follow post this transformation, the change of status from a State of the Union to a Union Territory was vital! Significantly, it allows the Centre to manage and control law and order even after popular rule is restored. Thus this is an aspect of the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir which is vital to ensure that law and order does not slip back even if the State’s politicians are tempted to play around with separatist politics.
It may be asked why the State had to be bifurcated, ie what was the need to create a separate Union Territory of Ladakh? The answer is simple. There is very little in common between Ladakh and the rest of J&K. The Zoji La is a perfect boundary between Ladakh and the rest of J&K. There is virtually no overlap of ethnicity, languages, culture or even geography. Even while Kargil is overwhelmingly Muslim, it is Shia Islam which is practised here. To travel from Ganderbal district to Kargil district via the Zoji La (or vice versa) is to arrive at different worlds even though the two districts are adjacent. On the other hand, Kargil and Leh were once a single Ladakh district which was bifurcated in 1979 on communal lines.
It is vital to insulate Ladakh from the current poisonous politics of the Valley. As long as Ladakh remained part of J&K, the Kashmir polity played up religious differences to the detriment of this region. At the same time, it ensured that this region remained backward and hostage to the situation in the Valley. The enormous potential of this region in tourism, hydel power, horticulture etc remained untapped while a similar region in HP, ie Lahaul-Spiti in spite of its small population does not suffer from the same fate. Even those Kargilis afraid of Buddhist domination accept that the Valley’s rapacious elite have given them little. They feel, that being Muslim ensures national neglect and being Shia has led to neglect by the State. Post reorganisation in the new UT of Ladakh and unhindered by Article 370, their problems can easily be tackled. Roads from HP to Padam in Zanskar leading to Kargil is already being built. The Rohtang Pass is also being tunneled so as to ensure better connectivity between Leh and HP. Intra-Ladakh connectivity has to be given stress. If Kargil Airport is appropriately operationalised and Kargil properly promoted as a tourist destination, Kargil will be no longer isolated; given its low population, a modest inflow itself will boost incomes and employment. Kargil, indeed Ladakh’s horticulture hitherto suppressed will find a national market leading to rising incomes and employment. Simply put, Ladakh as part of J&K was artificial and its future as a UT seems far brighter.
The question as to why the State was not trifurcated is easy to answer. If the cities of Jammu and Srinagar are assumed to be the Dogra and Kashmiri poles, there is no line or border where it can be said that Dogra language and culture ends and Kashmiri language and culture begins and vice versa. Indeed, the areas that harbour mixed communities with respect to languages, religions and culture is easily larger than the Kashmiri and Dogra hinterlands and straddle both Kashmir and Jammu Divisions. If communities be classified thoroughly with respect to language and sect, there is no community in the State that comes close to 50% of the population. It is therefore a measure of the manner in which the institutions of this State were captured given the all too visible cleavages/divisions arguably as much based on deprivation as any other factor, in the so called majority community.
Reorganising the State affords policy makers to ensure that all these communities are appropriately empowered and represented in the new dispensation. This representation can take the form of reservations in the Legislative Assembly (inevitable for Scheduled Tribes). But even democratic decentralization can go some way in this regard because there are always areas/jurisdictions where a certain community no matter how small can elect one of its own. But in the process of reorganisation done in a consultative manner with all communities represented and on board, this can be achieved in a more comprehensive way. In fact jurisdictions can be created or withdrawn to achieve this worthy goal where majoritarian domination becomes impossible. Indeed, the land grab that was masked by the Roshni Act can also be appropriately dealt with in the UT where the IAS Cadre is no longer the J&K cadre but the AGMUT cadre lessening the fear of reprisals from politicians.
Economically too, opportunities can be provided in a manner that while being constitutionally unimpeachable, all these communities are included in the process of growth. Reorganisation affords the creation of certain processes that can acquire a life of their own long after. For example, in the 1980s, Governor Jagmohan using his powers under the J&K Constitution under Governor’s Rule set up the Shree Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board which started to regulate the hitherto chaotic pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Shree Mata Rani in Katra. This self financed entity located in a fragile ecological zone today handles over 7 million pilgrims while generating huge surpluses. This single institution is the backbone of Jammu’s tourism industry. While J&K is still a UT, possibilities for several other initiatives in the region become easier still, that can do similar wonders, generating incomes and employment in a sustainable manner decades after being set up.
While land availability for industry is a major problem in many states, this is not so in J&K. The problem is that poor road connectivity makes much of this land inaccessible. This problem is further compounded by poor power management. While distance from markets and raw materials is a problem when it comes to industrialisation, there are certain industries that create their own scale economies i.e. Mother industries supported by ancilliary industries. This requires a single-minded commitment to expanding the road network to land less suited for agriculture. Equally importantly it requires a long term road map to bring the power sector back to health. This has not happened given the populism of elected governments of the State wedded to the expectations of the Central Government footing the bill for their excesses. Where J&K is concerned, it can be argued that this is best achieved when it is a UT. Similarly, the hydelpower potential of the Chenab and other rivers long lying unutilised are unlikely to attract investment as long as uncertainty over J&K persists. On 5th and 6th August, much of that uncertainty came to an end. Thus, for example, it can be argued that long term investment on the Chenab River located in Jammu Division located in the State of J&K becomes more attractive when it becomes long investment on the Chenab River located in Jammu Division located in the UT of J&K.
The transformation of Jammu and Kashmir from a terror-afflicted region with an entire infrastructure geared to undermining the very idea of Bharat politically, ideologically, culturally and militarily financed, ironically entirely by the Republic and held in place in great part by a provision of the Constitution of India itself was no longer possible by cosmetic measures. “Management” no longer being an option, transformation is the only way out. Transformation of a polity by its very nature is multi-dimensional. The complete application of the Constitution of India to J&K by rewording Article 370 is necessary but by no means sufficient. The complete overhaul of its administrative apparatus, systems of governance, structure of incentives, system of education require urgent reorganisation – a total reboot of the system. The idea is to lay the foundations for a New J&K. And what is that?
While visualising and preparing for a Jammu and Kashmir of the future, it is wise to take into account the myriad problems that it faces today. It would be myopic, however, to be constrained by the same when visualising and planning its future. The aim of Bharat should be to project a vision of the Jammu and Kashmir which is eminently achievable: that is a Jammu and Kashmir joining hands with other States and UTs in transforming Bharat into a knowledge society in its broadest sense, engaging fruitfully with the process of globalization in all its forms.
This knowledge society thus not only has modern technology as one its components but more importantly is a free, dynamic, cosmopolitan and liberal society aware of the geographical, social and political environment in which it exists and is able to use its knowledge and organisational skills optimally in this milieu and where freedom of the individual is only limited by the equal rights of others.
(Professor in Department of Economics, University of Jammu)