Governing J&K: The Way Forward From Here

Jammu and Kashmir as a state of the Union of India has had a chequered history for governance right from the start when the erstwhile princely state acceded in 1947.

It was not a trouble free accession as the tribesmen raiders from Pakistan had to be first driven out from the outskirts of Srinagar city and boundaries of the state, for the local civil government to exercise any authority and control over the affairs of administration.

   

As is common knowledge this task of driving out was executed by the Indian Army with active cooperation of the local population. The first civilian government under Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah began well having successfully brought communal violence in Jammu under control. But soon, wrangling with the central government over the type and nature of relationship of the state with the union and notwithstanding the Delhi Agreement of 1952 between the two in this regard, matters came to head with the sudden and dramatic arrest of Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in August 1953, clearly a fall out of behind the scene conspiracies of a few colleagues of Sheikh in the state and unfriendly assistants of Pandit Nehru in Delhi, thereby throwing Jammu and Kashmir into the first round of deep political uncertainty compounded by a diplomatically active Pakistan knocking all possible doors internationally invoking J&K’s so called disputed status and UN resolution for a plebiscite.

Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad who took over as the next Prime Minister somehow managed to calm the anger of people by reaching out to them quickly with concessions, relief, contracts, permits, trainings for the youth and jobs in the government. He received Delhi’s applause until told in 1963 that he had become a liability and must go.

Bakshi’s removal was followed by changes in nomenclature of Sadr-e-Riyasat to Governor and Prime Minister to Chief Minister through an amendment in the J&K constitution in 1965. This type of mainstreaming had already begun with the extension of All India Services (1958), Comptroller and Auditor General (1958), full authority of Supreme Court (1960) and Election Commission of India (1960). In the following years, different provisions of the Indian constitution and the related laws kept on getting extended to J&K in terms of the provisions of Article 370. As on 2018, reportedly 469 central laws had already been extended and were applicable to J&K. Unfortunately, an impression was always sought to be created in rest of the country right from the day the constitution was promulgated in 1950, that because of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, J&K was insulated from the central laws including anti corruption and transparency laws thereby giving a free hand to the local politicians and bureaucrats to run the state like a fiefdom without any accountability. On the other hand, the reality was that either the central laws had been made applicable or the state had come to have its own laws which were often a replica of the counterpart central laws on the same subject like the J&K Criminal Procedure Code, Ranbir Penal Code (equivalent of IPC), J&K Evidence Act, J&K Prevention of Corruption

Act, J&K Right to Information Act, 2009 etc. J&K always had hundreds of its own laws on statute and many of these had been inherited from the days of Maharaja Hari Singh (1925-47) or even earlier, particularly laws pertaining to land, tenancy and succession and all types of economic activities and trade, the state subject law, criminal laws etc.

Since mid sixties, administration in J&K has largely been run by All India Service (AIS) officers belonging to IAS, IPS and IFoS (Indian Forest Service) as in other states. All central paramilitary forces have always been deployed here and kept available to the state police for maintenance of law and order and internal security as in other states. The state government hardly enjoyed any major immunity which other states did not. Articles 352 and 356 of the Constitution of India were very much applicable as in other states to deal with emergencies due to external threat and break down of constitutional machinery respectively. J&K has witnessed direct central rule and Governor’s rule on different occasions for an aggregate period of over 12 years, longest spells being 1990-96 and 2018
till date, much longer than the longest for any other state.

Militancy erupted in 1989 and peaked in 1990. Article 356 was invoked to impose president’s rule after six month’s of Governor’s rule imposed under section 92 of the now defunct J&K Constitution. In subsequent years, militancy began to lose steam and plummeted by 1996 when elections to the assembly could be held and an elected government installed. Post elections, many from among the ranks of militants and political outfits supporting them began to leave and join the mainstream politics or return to normal life.

The transition from peak militancy in 1990 to a situation under control in 1996 was not easy or smooth. Apart from the sacrifices made by the security forces and police, hundreds of civilians from the majority community and religious minorities including the Kashmiri Hindu community, political workers and leaders of pro-India parties were targeted or killed by militants to terrorise and eliminate any opposition to their so called cause and movement. Also, thousands of youth from the state who had joined the ranks of militants or their non-combatant supporters and sympathizers got killed in security operations and so did many civilians in collateral damages. There were also incidents of reported excesses by police and security forces which were got enquired and investigated and in many cases punishments meted out.

The elections of 1996 did not bring about closure to the mayhem unleashed by militancy but it certainly heralded a new hope, return to people’s rule after six years of absence of elected representatives. Despite another upsurge in militancy after 1996 elections, marked by the first major fidayeen attack on Badami Bagh Army cantonment in 1999, Kargil conflict 1999 and violent flare up in the valley by militant groups and infiltrators during and after the conflict, Chithisinghpora massacre in 2000, fidayeen attack on the Assembly building at Srinagar in 2001, attacks on minority hamlets at some places in the valley and militant attacks on Amaranth yatris resulting in many deaths, killing of some important political workers and leaders including blowing up Minister Ghulam Hassan Bhat and his convoy on Qazigund-Dooru road in a mine blast 2000, assassination of founder of People’s Conference Party Abdul Ghani Lone 2002 and many other major incidents of militant violence and encounters with security forces, the political activity went on and even the Lok Sabha election was held in 1999.

This period from 1996 up to the assembly elections in 2002 was a tough period witnessing last ditch efforts by Pakistan to revive peak militancy but the democratic bulwark stood in its way. Post Chithisinghpora killings, the Sikh community threatened to migrate but with the efforts of the state government led by Dr Farooq Abdullah and assurances by late Prakash Singh Badal, the then CM of Punjab during his visit to Chithisinghpora, the Kashmiri Sikhs agreed to withdraw their threat and stayed back. Facing and handling this tough period between 1996-2002 was not easy and had it not been for the unwavering leadership of Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah and his tough stance viz militancy and separatist activities, things could have drifted again as in 1989-90. He did it even at the cost of his personal popularity and political interests.

The assembly election of October 2002 was another turning point in the contemporary history of Jammu and Kashmir. It was the harbinger of a peaceful phase as the new Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed announced the healing touch policy to reach out to all sections of society in Jammu and Kashmir and held out an olive branch to separatists to join in peace building through dialogue and discussion. He tried to adopt a pro-people approach and projected his administration as pro-people and sympathetic to all sections irrespective of political affiliation and ideology. He was reportedly hurt by the Congress insisting on rotational CM forcing him to hand over Chief Ministership to Ghulam Nabi Azad in November 2005.

Mr. Azad ran a good government but had to resign before the end of his tenure as PDP withdrew support in July 2008 in the wake of Amarnath land transfer agitation and violence that followed. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed became CM again in the PDP-BJP coalition government in 2015 after 2014 assembly elections but this time he was not in the same mood and enthusiasm as in 2002. Many people think he was quite disappointed on losing to National Conference in 2008 assembly elections which he thought his party PDP should have won based on his government’s policies and performance during his first tenure as CM, 2002-2005. Subdued enthusiasm was also perhaps due to his ill health in 2015 resulting in his unfortunate passing away in January 2016.

These real stories about impact of elections in Jammu and Kashmir are a pointer to the utility elections have had in restoring people’s faith in the democratic processes and reviving their enthusiasm in participatory governance. The elected governments in J&K have run good administrations generally and ushered in long peaceful and politically active periods. Among the few major political and administrative backlogs which should have been resolved were, inability to settle the issue of West Pakistan refugees and grant of permanent resident status to the non-permanent resident husband and children of permanent resident women marrying non- permanent residents.

Loss of statehood and bifurcation in 2019 came as a bolt from the blue for the people in J&K. Suffice to say, Jammu and Kashmir is presently at a juncture when its people want to have statehood restored and an elected government to fulfill their democratic aspirations. It is their constitutional right to elect and have a government of their choice whom they can hold accountable as accountability is to the people who elect. There can be no true accountability to the people if they have not elected the government that is governing them.

J&K is too big a territory and population to be governed permanently as a UT, even though it may be allowed to have an assembly and elected government. Given the political complexion of J&K and its political past, democratic aspirations of the people can only be fulfilled by an elected state government with the mandate and powers like other big and old states in the rest of the country. Expectedly, it is for these reasons that the PM and HM assured about return of statehood in due course. With fifth year of UT status running, it is time to redeem that assurance.

For the much awaited elected government the challenges will be many. The most important test will be whether it is able to maintain peaceful conditions as prevailing now and improve upon the success achieved so far and to provide clean, efficient and effective governance and justice to all sections.

The elected government will be called upon to deal immediately with challenges of facilitating local self governments in urban and rural areas, urban governance, environment and ecology, conservation of natural resources and assets, solid waste management and pollution, traffic, skilling and employment, education, health, energy and power, to match efforts for infrastructure development and execution of big projects like the smart city projects as are presently in hand and to embrace and carry forward the new systems of e-office, e-governance and digitalization that have transformed the way the government employees work.

It will also be called upon to deal with issues of domicile law, protection of employment for the locals and their lands to compensate partly for loss of special rights of state’s permanent residents due to constitutional changes of August 2019. The new government will hardly get any time to prepare as all these challenges will brook no delay.

( Khurshid Ahmed Ganai is a retired IAS officer of erstwhile J&K cadre and former Advisor to the Governor )

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