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A new chapter of strife will now unfold in J&K

Editor-in-chief of Kashmir Times writes that there will be loss of participatory democracy, new social conflicts, and a host of economic and developmental issues

Jammu & Kashmir now officially loses its special status. Along with that, it also lost its statehood status. The geographical and political entity it was till some days ago is now erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir (notwithstanding a previous erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir as it stood in August 1947). The previous division and change came as a quirk of history in the aftermath of the upheavals of Partition, the present one by stealth and deceit garbed as a constitutional and democratic exercise.

The BJP’s brute show of strength in Parliament, and the misleading manner in which the power of the legislative assembly was arrogated to the Parliament to decide on the special status of the state, ensured the final passage of the Bill in two days, followed by the quick assent of the President of India. Unless challenged and overturned in the court of law, this monumental blunder is a reality.

India has lost its only Muslim majority state—an ugly sore in the conception of the idea of New India. And primarily for this reason, there are jubilations across a country that once took pride in being a liberal, democratic and secular republic.

What does the new reorientation mean for people of Jammu & Kashmir? It will virtually alter their lives in multiple ways.

A separate Ladakh territory has been carved out and given Union Territory status under direct central rule. Jammu & Kashmir regions have been so far retained as a single entity, perhaps to be sliced further into two or Balkanised n number of times for a later pursuit, and given Union Territory status under the Centre but with limited Assembly powers. The reckless division is a reminder of the hastily drawn boundaries between India and Pakistan by the British which was in a teeming hurry to exit from India in 1947. But unlike the inclusion of the representatives of the Indian public in the negotiations of the fate of South Asia in 1947 by a colonial power, the largest democracy in the world chose to withdraw that right from the people of Jammu & Kashmir. The state is now converted into two distinct geographical and political entities, both demoted to the status of Union Territory.

The decision will have a huge impact on the social fabric of Jammu & Kashmir as people will be vertically divided on the issue, taking two very strident positions, guided by, among other factors, religious identity. While some will overlook all its ugly manifestations and implications to celebrate the success of ultra-nationalist Hindu assertion, for the others, a new chapter of brutality and suffering will unfold.

What is likely to happen in Kashmir in years to come depends on what actions the Centre is presently taking in ghost-like Kashmir right now, hidden from everybody’s gaze behind a film of curfew, barricades and unprecedented militarisation. Reckless killing fields followed by some years of fatigue? The usual fare of arrests, pellets and bullets leading to more venomous and radicalised insurgency inspired by ISIS-like ideology? Whatever it is, the survivors will live to see the horrors of a deepening conflict that resembles Palestine’s Gaza strip.

Political and economic motives will bring an influx of settlers and investors to many parts of the erstwhile state. Some may look forward to the promised development. Perhaps this may yield some jobs to youth bogged by massive unemployment issues and yet, it may not. The state’s original residents will have to compete with more qualified and experienced candidates for many posts. The disparities between the developed, underdeveloped and ultra-backward regions of the state will consequently increase, giving rise to new social conflicts.

Investments and business enterprises need land. In a state with difficult topography and terrain, and military barracks and camps occupying vast tracts of land, usable land is already in dearth. To pave way for development, agricultural and forest lands will be cleared and further squeezed.

As corporate houses and businessmen with deep pockets make their way to Jammu & Kashmir, economic upheavals may be a natural fallout. The creation of more powerful monopolies and hegemonistic economic practices will defy the principle of equitable development and keep the majority out of the loop, perhaps also decreasing the affluence of the existing affluent residents. For the economically weaker sections, there may be no booty to share other than the government doling out houses, toilets, cooking gas stoves and electric bulbs through social welfare schemes.

Politically, with the now granted UT status, citizens will henceforth lose all rights to voting and participatory democracy. Though the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir will have some sort of a legislature with limited rights, this is hardly reassuring. The previous state has had a history of puppet governments being imposed on it. The level of sham will only further be enhanced. Local bodies and panchayats will become redundant and the Union Territory of Ladakh will lose its hill development councils. Other UTs like Puducherry, Lakshwadeep and many others will manage with a similar arrangement. But the unusually large size of the newly carved out UTs, built on the debris of a now-dead state, will make governance ineffective, particularly in Jammu & Kashmir with its burgeoning population which will further see an increase.

Article 370 was already reduced to a hollow shell before it was finally laid to rest. In its original form, the Centre had jurisdiction in erstwhile J&K only on three issues—defence, communication and foreign affairs. Now the Centre has a monopoly over everthing as any sham local government would be reduced to a simple municipality. From puppet regimes, there would be a transition to residents “being treated like vassals”.

What is shocking is not only the action taken but also how it was done covertly. The last vestiges of democracy in Jammu & Kashmir, whatever it will now be called, have been completely destroyed with curfewed and humiliated (even though some may see in their humiliation a reason to rejoice and celebrate) population.

This is not the end. It is the beginning of an end.

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None of this is easy

By SUSHANT SAREEN

The deed is done, there’s no scope for any backtracking. What matters is what comes in the wake of this epochal change in the constitutional and political status and structure of erstwhile J&K.

What will change is the political dynamics and equations in the newly-created Union Territory. Power will be distributed more equitably between Jammu and Kashmir, which might make people in the latter feel somewhat disempowered because they will no longer have the run of the place as they did over the last seven decades.

Given the new power realities and political terms of engagement, Kashmiris will have to make adjustments. This will certainly cause immense heartburn, resentment and outrage. In protest against the reorganisation of the former state, the mainstream parties could decide to distance themselves from the political process. But this won’t be an easy choice to make because that will open the field for new players and could also lead to a marginalisation of the established parties and players. But participating in the political process too will not be an easy choice. These parties will have their work cut out for them in re-establishing their connect with their voters, many of whom will be seething with anger over what has happened.

The apprehension that the BJP could be making a strong play to form a government in the UT will also act as a motivating factor for many mainstream players to not give their nemesis a walkover. They could decide to form an alliance to rout the BJP, not just in Kashmir but also dent the BJP in parts of Jammu. But they could just as well decide that the BJP has done what it wanted to do and there is hardly anything that the party can now do that would warrant their coalescing.

If the BJP is sensible, it will allow non-BJP parties a leg-up when elections are held. The BJP has very limited stakes in Jammu and Kashmir. Whatever traction J&K has in national politics has already been cashed in by the BJP by making Article 370 redundant. The dividend of this step for the BJP isn’t so much in the reorganised UT—it has only five parliamentary seats—as it is in the rest of the country where it has over 300 seats.

Everything will depend crucially on how the security situation evolves. Everyone is now braced for how the street will react once the blanket of security starts getting lifted. The authorities clearly anticipate some trouble, which is why extraordinary steps were taken—all civilians from outside the state were evacuated, all communication links were shut down, prohibitory orders were issued, and the security force presence was substantially beefed up. There are two possibilities going forward. The best-case scenario is that there will be few protests but by and large the people will reconcile with the new reality and give it a chance to succeed. In the event, things will get back to normal pretty quickly, and pave the way for New Delhi to deliver on the promises and assurances on development and good governance that have been made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.

The worst-case scenario is that the Valley literally explodes in anger. There are widespread, violent protests which are then crushed with sheer brute force, which in turn will further fuel resentment, and the vicious cycle will spiral out of control with Pakistan doing everything possible—inciting and instigating people, carrying out a disinformation campaign and information warfare, pumping in weapons and pushing in terrorists, ratcheting up tensions at the Line of Control, and maybe even indulging in some military adventurism—to keep things on the boil. Basically, this means that the situation will be a lot worse than what followed Burhan Wani’s killing. If this scenario unfolds, it will unleash some unintended consequences.

For now, there has been a pretty muted response from much of the international community. But if the situation blows up, then the reaction from most of the important and influential countries will be more intrusive and interfering. The only way this can be prevented is by preparing and equipping the security forces to handle crowds much better, and with greater sensitivity, than they have done in the past. While the international community will maintain a studied silence on anti-terror operations, they will almost certainly be forced to pressure India to ease up on the crackdown and take some political and diplomatic steps that otherwise India might not be inclined to take.

The spiral of violence could also give a fillip to international jihadist organisations like the Al Qaeda affiliates and ISIS-inspired and linked groups.

If a sense of desperation and hopelessness occupies the mind space of people, then the Valley could descend into complete chaos with tactics of other war theatres – Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, East Africa –  being replicated. For now, this all seems a little alarmist and perhaps far-fetched. But to ignore the possibility of something like this happening would be leaving yourself to be caught by surprise.

The jubilation and celebration over the passage of the J&K Reorganisation Bill, 2019, is understandable, but it is critical that members of the governing dispensation abjure anything that smacks of triumphalism. The very purpose of integrating Jammu and Kashmir with rest of the Indian Union will be defeated by loose talk which seeks to humiliate the people of J&K. There is a tendency among many people associated with the extended family of the governing party to put a foot in their mouth every time they speak about Kashmir. A conscious and concerted effort needs to be made to sensitise and if required censure, even penalise, people who shoot their mouth off on this sensitive issue.

Alongside, the government will need to work double-time to demonstrate by actions and not merely statements that the new political and constitutional arrangement is for the benefit of the people of the erstwhile state. There needs to be engagement and political outreach which cuts across party lines. The economic activity needs to be kickstarted and the government needs to facilitate private sector investments in partnership with local residents. Public-private partnerships need to be encouraged and promoted. A lot needs to be done very quickly which instils confidence.

None of this is easy. There are decades of baggage and suspicions that colours the perceptions of people and this won’t change overnight. But now that the government has taken the plunge, the only option for it is to land safely is to deliver, and fast. Otherwise, things won’t end well, an outcome that the detractors of this government within India and outside are fervently praying for and will go to any length to ensure.

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