Pre and Post Article 370: Reality vs. Hype

Greater Kashmir

De Lolme, a British political analyst, once said, “The British Parliament can do everything except make a woman a man and a man a woman”.

The “decommissioning” of Article 370 (including Article 35A) and the “demotion” of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to the status of UnionTerritory last August were direct outcomes of the ensuing legislative frenzy, a manipulation which, in A.G. Noorani’s words, was akin to “constitutional skullduggery, and was “a murder of insaniyat and of India’s solemn commitment to Kashmir”.

The special status enjoyed by J&K was always posed as an existential question for India by its rightwing. The polarising polemic that had accompanied the issue right from the beginning was driven more by negative rather than positive emotions. It took a lot of spin doctors to frame a succulent narrative in favour of its abrogation–which was supposed to be in the interests of not only the nation but also Kashmiris. Yet, were Kashmiris ever consulted?

The Centre for Studies of Developing Societies (CSDS) had conducted a survey in 2014, and had sought the opinion of J&K residents about what they thought was the best solution to the Kashmir problem. Just 0.2% of the respondents voted for “amending Article 370”, which was interestingly equal to those who thought Vajpayee’s formula was the appropriate solution. As it happened ultimately, the government preferred its own instinct over Vajpayee’s view. Three broad reasons were spelt out by the Government of India in this regard: development, security and integration. One year down the line, a little bit of reflection on these would be worthwhile.

Development

While discussions on the special status of J&K were going on, the Home Minister, Amit Shah, said in the Parliament, “Despite J&K getting so much money, the people there are still poor…there is no right to education for children, no quality healthcare…there is no PPP or private investment because of (Article) 370”. The BJP General Secretary, Bhupendra Yadav, also lamented this “investment problem”. Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Union Minister for Law and Justice, said that the government was bringing an entire system for J&K’s development, employment and planning. All this was sought to create an impression that the special status of J&K had existed to the detriment of its development.

But the facts prove otherwise. On many parameters like literacy rate, marriage age, fertility, Child Sex Ratio, Infant Mortality Rate, school attendance (especially of girls), J&K has fared much better than most of the states in India. On the sub-national HDI (UNDP) J&K stood at 11th  among 25 states, ahead of Rajasthan, Andra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and even Gujarat. On NITI Aayog’s SDG Index as well, J&K did better than UP, Bihar and Assam. In fact it was in the league of “Performers” alongside Gujarat and Maharashtra.

As far as health, gender and poverty indicators go, J&K is among the country’s best or “just a notch below it”. The Total Fertility Rate for J&K is 1.6 (UP: 3.2, MP: 2.7, national average: 2.2). The Per Capita GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product) is Rs. 1.02 lakh (UP: Rs. 57024, Bihar: Rs. 40832). In 2011-2012, 10.4% of J&K’s population lived Below Poverty Line. The corresponding figures for Bihar and Odisha were 34% and 33% respectively (all India average: 22%). The unemployment rate in 2017-2018 in J&K was 5.3%, while in Kerala it was 11.4% and in Delhi 9.7%. The literacy rate for J&K is 67.2%, for Bihar it is 61.8% and for Rajasthan 66.1%.

The life expectancy for the people of J&K (2012-2016 figures) is also one of the best in the country: 73.5 years (national average: 68.7). There is one doctor for every 3060 people in J&K, for Bihar it is one doctor for every 28391 people. J&K is also better in family planning than even Gujarat. The Multidimensional Poverty Index (Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative) puts J&K at 15th position among 36 states and UTs–all Hindi-belt states feature below it.

Regarding financial inclusion, as per NFHS data for 2005-2006 to 2015-2016, the percentage of women with bank accounts increased from 22% to 60% in J&K, which was substantially more as compared to Bihar, Andra Pradesh, Haryana and Karnataka (for India as whole: from 15.5% to 53%). The households with electricity in J&K is 97% and its rural road infrastructure is better than Goa (Basic Road Statistics of Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways).

The grudge regarding J&K “being a drag on Indian tax payer’s money” can be rubbished by the fact that the per capita assistance for J&K is Rs. 15580, while for Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh it is Rs. 51128 and Rs. 55254 respectively. The national average is only slightly less, i.e. Rs. 14080. As for the growth rate of J&K, it remains low for obvious security reasons, yet it has been more than that of West Bengal or Jharkhand.

One final question: How many vacancies has JKPSC filled in the last 5 years? Just one KAS examination has been completed in the said period! It is no wonder that overqualified  youth of J&K are forced to be a part of a mad scramble for class 4th jobs. Where does the fault lie then?


Security

There was a presumption that the special status of J&K was an anathema to peace in the region. The corollary was that revoking it would end violence, militancy and separatism. But did it? An anonymous government official told The Hindu just after Article 370 was reduced to naught, “Article 370 was neither the problem, nor a solution to militancy…people can never be won over by killing someone…there is a need to revive the political process”.

As anything that is imposed is “anything but a solution”, a recent Ministry of Home Affairs document, The Future Ahead of Kashmir, acknowledges that there is “a long and a bloody struggle” ahead in J&K. “But”, the document adds, “that must not deter the state from preserving the basic character of the Constitution, i.e. equality”. An interesting dimension of this argument is that it doesn’t talk about what was done to the principle of federalism in J&K (also a part of the basic structure of the Constitution as per S. R. Bommai v. Union of India judgement, 1994). It in fact showcased how the governor’s will could be used to substitute the people’s will anywhere in India. Isn’t this form of danger to federalism dangerous to national integrity, and in turn to national security?

Though the number of incidents related to militancy and the number of militants killed have gone down (118 militants killed in the first 6 months of 2020), this is no reason to be complacent. This may be due to COVID and is in no way a sign of things coming to normal. This year small Arms recoveries have increased as compared to last year. There is a new militant outfit taking shape: TRF (The Resistance Front). A spurt in local recruitment has also been reported with an increase in pitch and fever, and local recruits are adopting a more radical posturing.

Sometimes anger has a face, sometimes it doesn’t. The years from 2011 to 2013 were also prematurely (and mistakenly) believed to be heralding a new era of peace in Kashmir. What happened thereafter is known to all.

Also, today the goodwill that was always necessary for creating a conducive environment for Kashmiri Pandits to return with dignity to their homeland lies in tatters.

On the international front too, relations with Pakistan and China have taken a turn for worse. What has also being noticed is a “rightward” shift in India’s foreign policy. The perception management by inviting the right-leaning parliamentarians of Europe to visit Kashmir has proven counterproductive as well, for it now seems that Indian government is slowly losing the benefit of bipartisan support in many countries, including UK and USA. Even international scholars like Francis Fukuyama, Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman have articulated their concerns about the policies adopted by the Indian state.


Integration

There can be no integration that starts with disintegration. A former Indian Army Commander, having served in Kashmir, just last year wrote that one of the key requirements for ensuring sustainable peace in J&K was to bring its three regions–Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh–closer to each other. What happened instead? Bifurcation.

It may not end there. One of the fundamental RSS agendas has been the trifurcation of the State of J&K. The RSS backed Praja Parishad had started agitation for this as early as 1950s itself. So if tomorrow Jammu is made a separate state, it should not come as a surprise. But will all that bring the people of J&K closer to India–emotionally? Fingers crossed. For now, as The Outlook observed, the local support to any of these policies is a chimera.

Earlier there used to be four groups of people in J&K: pro-India, separatists, pragmatists and post-1990 generation. There was a lack of consensus among these, a reality that stood India in a good stead. But with the revocation of the special status, and with New Delhi itself discrediting its chief assets in J&K (the pro-India group, including mainstream politicians), the pragmatists and the post-1990 generation have been disillusioned.

For the first time since 1947 there is probably an ideological and a sentimental monolith staring at New Delhi from J&K. Jean Drèze, the Belgian-born economist, social scientist and activist, had once aptly put it, “Nothing unites Kashmiris like shared persecution”.

Thus, New Delhi seems to have left behind a sullen, tired and an alienated generation in J&K, with no or  immensely squeezed democratic space. And whatever be the case, one cannot starve a goose and expect it to lay golden eggs. The gains through a muscular policy are like froth, even counterproductive for any democracy. Once hope and faith are lost it takes more than a lifetime for these to be restored among people.

Christopher Snedden in his book Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris writes, “Since October 1947, there have been at least 48 small or broad roadmaps given by different entities for the resolution of the J&K dispute”. Nothing substantial has come out of these. The abrogation of the special status of J&K may have been the 49th, from the Indian side. Again, it seems to have overlooked the underlying anxiety and dynamics. Whether it was a “cardinal blunder and a fatal legal error”, as P. Chidambaram described it, let history decide. But that the whole exercise was not as much about development, security and integration as it was about ideology, politics and vengeance, would not qualify as an overstatement.(The author is B Tech  from NIT Srinagar, also JRF in Political Science and International Relations)