Year on, J&K faces political uncertainty

Greater Kashmir

A year after government of India scrapped Article 370 and split J&K into two Union Territories, the political uncertainty that wrapped the region on 5 August 2019 has grown by the day.

From a state that enjoyed a special constitutional position in the Union of India, J&K, now a federally-run territory, is facing a deep political uncertainty. In hindsight, this all started building on 19 June 2018 when BJP pulled the rugs beneath the feet of then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, as “part of its plan” which finally culminated on August 5.

Today, the regional political forces including the People’s Democratic Party, the National Conference and the People’s Conference are in disarray, clueless what future holds for them.

It has been over two years now that J&K is without a representative government. This is the second longest period in its political history when J&K is directly ruled by the Centre.

Last time, it took more than six years to the Centre to restart the political process in J&K following Governor’s and President’s rule which lasted from January 1990 to 1996.

Even after passing of a year since 5 August 2019, the government of India seems uncertain about its next move in Jammu and Kashmir which has been hit by the double lockdown – the August 5 clampdown and communication blockade, followed by COVID19 lockdown.

The businesses are closed, the economy hit by the consecutive lockdowns is in a shambles and nobody knows when the normal life will resume.

In his televised address in August last year, after the Centre revoked J&K’s special status and bifurcated the erstwhile state into two Union Territories, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had defended the move. “This act of the government will usher in a new dawn in the region and help in the development of the youth there,” he had said.

The situation on the ground, however, contradicts the government’s claim. “The uncertainty on all the fronts – political, economic and educational have only deepened since August 5,” said political analyst, Noor M Baba.

For the past one year, the government has failed to attract any new investment to J&K, despite claims by the Centre that the August move would open new opportunities for people and usher “new era of peace.”

When government of India announced Rs 21 lakh crore economic package to reopen the economy across the country that has been badly hit by COVID19 pandemic, the Valley business organisation lamented they have been kept out of the package.

At the same time, the repeated assurances and promises by the government to create new jobs and fill the existing vacancies have not fructified. Around 10,000 Class-IV vacancies identified in different departments are yet to be filled.

On the security front, the Centre had claimed that abrogation of Article 370 would “end the violence” in Kashmir. But the situation on the ground continues to be dismal.

A latest report by a human rights organization has shown that violence in Kashmir continues unabated, resulting in killings and destruction of civilian property. In its biannual report on the human rights situation in the region, the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (J&KCCS) has revealed that Kashmir saw “229 killings in 107 incidents of violence during the first six months of this year; among those killed included 32 civilians, 143 militants and 54 armed personnel”.

On August 5, J&K will complete one year without high-speed or 4G internet. Itchy about the situation, each time the government has reviewed the internet ban it only decided to continue with it “in the interest of national sovereignty.” That people have been deprived of the service even in the times of COVID pandemic sums up the situation on the ground.

Several decisions like implementation of domicile law and delimitation of Assembly segments have reinforced the fears among local population about “demographic changes” in Jammu and Kashmir.

These moves are now evoking resentment from even mainland Jammu, the stronghold of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), which had welcomed the August 5 move. The voices are now growing shriller. Last week, a migrant Kashmiri Pandit body, “Reconciliation, Relief and Rehabilitation,” came out in open to seek restoration of Article 370.

On the other hand, there is no word from the government of India on holding the maiden Assembly polls in Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

But whenever the announcement is made, it would be a herculean task for the regional political parties to hit the political turf. The August move, many believe, not only has made the mainstream camp irrelevant in J&K, but decimated it completely.

“When you imprison the people who have for the decades held the fort of Delhi in Kashmir and many of whom have remained partners of the present regime in Delhi in the past, it only shows how unpopular the August 5 decision has been,” said Prof Baba.

While of late some political parties have renewed the demand for restoration of statehood and holding of Assembly polls, most of them seem to have reconciled to abrogation of Article 370.