When union Home Minister Amit Shah began his three-day visit of Jammu and Kashmir, his first since abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, there were debates whether he would recall his promises made in the Parliament? He had something more to say, a bright future was beckoning the youth of Kashmir, for whom new opportunities have been opened in all fields.
This message was clearer, when he asked, “Who is going to live in this land (J&K) for next 40 years or more”, and answered, “not me nor ( Lieutenant Governor ) Manoj Sinha.” His answer : “ you” ( the youth of Kashmir) , made his question and the reply thereof profound. In reality, it was the real roadmap beyond the roadmap rolled out by him- Delimitation Commission, Assembly elections and then the restoration of the statehood to J&K.
Let’s look at the big picture. Amit Shah who had piloted the abrogation of Article 370 in the parliament in August 5, could not have said anything different on the issue than what he had stated that time. He reiterated the same, but the difference was that it was the soil of Kashmir from where he broadcast virtues of the removal of the Article 370.
Politically speaking, the Home Minister spoke of the elections to be preceded by the Delimitation Commission, that then is to be succeeded by restoration of statehood (to J&K) as a reminder to the people here that these commitments were there and he was going to deliver on the promises he had made in the Parliament. In the Parliament, he said through the good offices of Speaker of the House. Here he was talking directly to the people of J&K, especially the youth – 70 per cent of whom are below the age of 35.
He also had the answers to all those who have listed the holding of the elections as a necessity to restore democracy in this place. He divided his answer in two parts: one, this time the elections would be held against the backdrop of expanded field of democracy. “Earlier, you had an assembly of 87 members. Now you have panchayats, BDC and DDCs across J&K with 30,000 elected representatives. So a firm foundation for grassroots democracy has been laid for the first time”. Now there is new leadership waiting in wings to move to the higher institutions. This is the change, he said. In essence, he had answered the question what was done since August 5 , 2019, and of doing what was left undone for the past 70 years.
Second part was technical but deeply related to the democracy as well. Many quarters in J&K had felt left out as they did not find adequate representation in the Assembly, so they had made the delimitation of the constituencies necessary. There are many odds in the existing demarcation (of the constituencies), the administrative units of one district overlap with other, and so is the case with the tehsils. In fact, this exercise should have been undertaken when new districts were added to J&K in 2007. This incongruity had spelled out ambiguity. It had to be removed.
Once the elections are held, the statehood would be restored, is the national commitment. There is no harm if the parties are asking for it. But Home Minister placed it third in the series on the list in which things would be done.
To my mind, the statehood is the byword for more responsibilities in the given situation. There is absolutely no doubt that Jammu and Kashmir was one of the largest states in the country and it had 200 years of history. But when it was split into two union territories, it was not the same state that it was even 75 years ago. It is fragmented since 1947, and thereafter what happened to the state since 1947 following the invasion of J&K by tribesmen, duly supported by Pakistani army, is not unknown to the people. The political turmoil was an accompanying story.
Until 1976, the state assembly’s life was five years - it jumped from five to six years after the Parliament added one more year, five plus one- years to its life during Emergency. But, in 1977, when the whole nation restored it back to five years, J&K did not do the same and took excuse of Article 370.
Leaving aside the argument that its erstwhile assembly had the powers to do so, what did we see after the 1977 elections, political instability- sometimes engineered by Delhi, and, on other occasions by the situation within the state. Political rivals started agitations to pull down the governments. The modern history stands a testimony to that. This turmoil affected Jammu and Ladakh regions as much as it did Kashmir. The development and policy making took a back seat. The Delimitation Commission, as the expectations are, would offer a balance of power without infringing the development and the respective political narratives. And the biggest beneficiaries would be the youth who stand to gain by new opportunities coming their way, and also proving themselves as the ones who would shape new J&K.
That was the essence of Amit Shah’s visit to J&K. It was the first visit since August 5, but the message he left at the conclusion of his visit , needs better understanding and study .