The prominent, elected representatives of the state of J and K which had acceded to India in 1947, were arrested in a swoop on 5th August 2019 along with thousands of other citizens of the erstwhile state. The Assembly had been dissolved earlier in November, 2018 unexpectedly by the then Governor on unconvincing and flimsy grounds. The charges of their arrest were diverse and went on changing from preventive detention act to Public Safety act. The demotion of this state which has a portion being governed by Pakistan and China to a Union territory (UT), has international ramifications also.
Within a year, without any visible changes on the ground, the release of these leaders began. Release was sequential starting from Farook Abdullah of National Conference on 13th March 2020, 10 days before his son Omar. Leader after leader followed and the last very significant release was that of Mehbooba Mufti of the People’s Democratic Front on 13th October. Her recent stance emphasizing the return of the flag of the erstwhile state with special status as guaranteed under the constitution, which is close to the heart of the Kashmiri’s who know the history of the Post Maharaja era, is music to their ears. There are still a large number of political workers languishing in prisons.
What had changed in the state during the period of their arrest is not visible to its people. It certainly has increased the alienation of the people of the valley. They continue to feel humiliated and ignored. While world is talking about 5G, they have to live with 2G because the 4G facility still eludes them. In these days of online education, financial transactions, webinars and several other portals, they have been put to a big disadvantage, and this is true for Jammu also. People who can afford are putting broad band or Jio fibre to get a reliable faster network in their homes and places of work. This has a recurring expenditure not affordable by the majority. One wonders what is this policy achieving towards the development agenda?
Kashmiri Pundits living in Jammu, including those living in camps, have realized now, that they are too few to make noise and their plight has only been exploited and used to politicize their misfortunes. Rehabilitation has no chance, even during the Centre’s administration. Jammu inhabitants after an initial euphoria, soon realized that this demotion is cutting into their business and chances of getting jobs, which have been opened for all the states. There are thousands of vacancies of Government jobs which are going begging because of no machinery to recruit. COVID 19 is given all the blame.
Residents of the high-altitude desert region of Ladakh are at the cross roads with no recruitment agencies to fill gazetted posts, no formal bank, and a dispute over the capital city. There are over 5,000 government posts lying vacant and the bickerings between people of Ladakh and Kargil are more than visible. Tourism which used to be their boon has almost collapsed and is also compounded by the Corona virus problems.
India, a country with a diverse population consisting of all religions, can ill afford to treat the only Muslim majority state by “teaching them a lesson”. By offering no satisfactory explanation for the reason of arresting the mainstream politicians (some of whom have even represented Kashmir for India at international forums including the UN) and then releasing them has brought unity in the major political parties under the banner of the “Gupkar declaration” initiated by Farooq Abdullah. They are now pledging to fight for the cause of restoring the statehood and the special status unitedly. People who were getting disillusioned with their poor performance before August 2019, now realize that they have no other alternative. The feeble attempts to promote and bless the new parties by the Centre does not seem to be making any headway so far.
The focus therefore unfortunately from the development agenda, after forming the UTs, has shifted back to restoration of the statehood and bringing back the lost morale of the public. The authorities meanwhile are drawing new demarcation lines, so that the ruling power goes out of the hands of Kashmiris. These self-defeating agendas do not promote talent, solve the problems of un employment and bring in prosperity. It is important to remember that the development indices of the erstwhile state are higher than the national average, everybody has a house to live, no hunger deaths and in spite of a large portion of the valley and Ladakh becoming snow bound, deaths because of cold exposure are not heard of. The priorities in this region are therefore different. Getting a decent employment, better quality health care, modern amenities for farming, higher education for the youth with vocational training etc. All these measures might also reduce the home-grown militancy which has remained unaffected by the stringent measures of the last 15 months.
We thus need to break the political stalemate and change the popular sentiment for the better. Bring back the much-needed faster communication networks, hold the assembly elections and have people’s representatives. Even expressing the problems being faced by the residents to their elected persons makes a difference in the right direction.
The demotion of the state to UT and separating Ladakh, which had traditional relations with J&K, has strengthened the third player in the game, China. They have opened the quiescent border disputes leading to heavy troop movements, at a time when we are already facing a severe economic crunch. This has been complicated further by the pandemic.
The release of the Kashmiri leaders seems to be a well thought of plan, since their keeping away did not help in anyway. Hasty decisions do not solve problems and wrong decisions make you pay later.
Author is a Kashmiri Cardiologist, recipient of Padma Shri and Dr BC Roy Award