Are not the people of Jammu and Kashmir entitled to the fundamental rights that we have given to the people of India minus Jammu and Kashmir? Who made Sheikh Abdullah the King of Kings in Kashmir? It is because Indian troops went there. Did we do it for creating a sovereign republic within a sovereign republic? There is no scope for varied constitutional patterns and disparities between one federating unit and another” – Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, in his speech delivered in the Lok Sabha on June 26, 1952
Almost after two years of the shocker to amend Article 370 and abrogate article 35A, the Modi Government in a constructive initiative held a dialogue with the fourteen political leaders of Jammu-Kashmir. Lots of speculations and predictions have been tried by the media and experts about the meeting. The Valley centric leaders did their usual posturing by singing the Pakistani tune. Congress made yet another attempt to be relevant by making a senseless comment through P Chidambaram. Yes, Jammu-Kashmir is ‘not a real estate’, and that is why it should be treated like any other part of Bharat. International media expectedly tried to bring the pressure angle into it. How should we look at this initiative by the Union Government?
Since the repeal of the so-called special status of Jammu-Kashmir, many inclusive development steps have been taken. The domicile policy is in place, and many marginalised groups became the citizens of Bharat in the real sense as they got the employment opportunities and right to settle down by purchasing land or house. The governance became more people-centric with bureaucratic reforms and the implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission. Thirty thousand homes were built under the Prime Minister housing scheme in the rural area. More than 40,000 crores are earmarked for the development expenses. And infrastructure development projects made the life of ordinary people comfortable. Jammu-Kashmir has taken the lead in the vaccination process by taking it to 76 per cent of the eligible population, which is a good enough indicator to assess the changed situation.
The marginalised groups like women, Gorkhas, West-Pak refugees, Scheduled Tribes etc., who hitherto faced systemic exclusion, got their right to political participation. By and large, peaceful elections took place for the local self-government. First-time the political reservation was applied. More than 23,000 Panchayat representatives were elected, more than 1,000 administrators were appointed, and 21 subjects were delegated to the local bodies with necessary financial provisions. Similarly, District level bodies also witnessed representation from women, Scheduled-Castes and Scheduled-Tribes categories. Even for the displaced Kashmiri Hindus also, 6,000 jobs have been ensured.
All these initiatives made the people realise that they were fooled by the vested interests in the name of ‘special status’. At the same time, the dynastic political leadership realised that if they do not participate in the process, they will become irrelevant. Hence, while accepting the Prime Minister’s invitation, there were no ifs and buts from Abdullahs and Muftis. The fear of alternate leadership emerging from below and growing acceptance by people of the post-370 situation forced these blackmailing, Kashmir centric and self-serving leaders to capitulate their position.
The Delimitation process for carving out the new constituencies is going on. The Central Government naturally wants the political parties to be part of this process. They can make suggestions or raise objections while the Election Commission is carrying out this exercise. As the ground situation has improved with cross-border infiltration going down and local insurgency not getting much support, the Government has nothing to lose. There is no question of restoring the ‘special status’. This has been made clear, and regaining statehood is a process in which these leaders have to cooperate.
While doing so, we need to be cautious considering previous experiences. The old habits of doublespeak, toeing the Pakistani line and negating rights to the Jammu region will not die down so quickly. Jammu-Kashmir is an integral part of Bharat. Rehabilitation of the displaced Hindus and reclaiming the illegally occupied territories by Pakistan are the only outstanding issues. Whatever dialogue that takes place has to for realising these goals. To achieve the same, more extensive participation of civil society groups, especially from the Jammu region, has to be ensured in the next stage.