On October 31, Jammu and Kashmir morphed by law into two federally administered Union Territories (UTs) of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Losing over 70 years of statehood will have long-term consequences for both.
New UTs in place
As in any seminal change, success or failure lies in execution. Nearly three months after both houses of Parliament legislated the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019, the positives outweigh the negatives.
But the Narendra Modi government as well as the new Lieutenant-Governor of J&K, Girish Chandra Murmu, will need to move swiftly to deliver to Kashmiris the promise of peace and prosperity that has eluded them for seven decades.
With block development council (BDC) elections out of the way, the move to build a new grassroots leadership has begun. Significantly, independents won 217 of 307 posts in the BDC elections.
The BJP won 81 seats with smaller parties picking up the rest. By boycotting the BDC polls, the Congress, National Conference (NC) and Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) missed an opportunity to test their strength in villages and panchayats across J&K.
Since 1947, J&K has been ruled and misruled by two families: the NC's Abdullahs and, latterly, the PDP's Muftis. Creating a non-feudal ecosystem of grassroots leaders invested in J&K's prosperity rather than their own will take time and need patience.
Meanwhile, the most pressing issue facing the Modi government is the timing of the release of the old feudal leadership from their palace and five-star hotel detention.
When Sheikh Abdullah was regarded as a threat to national security and integrity, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had no hesitation in putting him in jail (not under house or hotel arrest) for 11 years. At some stage though, the detention of Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and other leaders must end. The timing will be tricky.
In 2010 and 2016, dozens of Kashmiris died amid violent protests. In 2010, Omar was chief minister when over 100 people were killed in the Valley. In 2016, following the elimination of the terrorist Burhan Wani by security forces, over 50 people were killed. The chief minister was Mehbooba Mufti. The BJP, in one of its most damaging blunders, had entered into an alliance with Mufti's PDP and must share the responsibility for the government's ineptitude.
Time to relax curbs
Internet connectivity was shut down for three months in 2016 to control mob violence abetted by the Pakistani Army's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The same fear of mob violence and stone pelting has compelled the Modi government to again restrict internet connectivity which ISI-sponsored handlers use to incite violence in the Valley by posting fake videos of Indian Army "brutality" and hate messages.
And yet, with J&K now constitutionally a Union Territory, the government must restore normalcy as soon as possible. It's not enough to claim, as the Centre does, that 99 per cent of the Valley is peaceful and that over 60 per cent of mobile phones are active (only prepaid mobiles, vulnerable to misuse by terrorists due to lax KYC norms, are still off-limits).
The choreographed visit by European Union MEPs to the Valley achieved little. What Kashmiris need is a clear roadmap to the prosperity denied them by feudal overlordship under the benign gaze of the Congress for decades and of the BJP during its short-lived misadventure with the PDP.
The global investor's summit planned in October by the J&K administration in association with the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) has remained a non-starter. Despite withdrawing its advisory to tourists to stay away from J&K, the houseboats on Dal Lake and the hotels in Gulmarg and Pahalgam remain empty. Those in Srinagar make do with detained Kashmiri leaders though a few, not regarded as likely to incite violence, have been released from detention.
Free the oligarchs
The release of leaders in detention will soon become a cause for global criticism which has been relatively muted so far. J&K presents India's foreign policy establishment with a stern test.
It will need nuanced but robust diplomacy by the Modi government to overcome it. At some stage, possibly within a month, the government will have to bite the bullet and take the calculated risk of releasing the Abdullahs and Muftis from detention.
Will that lead to a spike in violence? Grenade attacks in Sopore and elsewhere are a grim sign of the challenges the new administration faces.
The recent spate of murders of migrant labourers from West Bengal and of truck drivers carrying fruits from Rajasthan to the Valley has set the stage for an outbreak of orchestrated terrorist attacks as the new UT administration in the Valley seeks to move gradually towards full normalcy.
The government must take head-on the challenge of greater violence by Pakistan-sponsored terror groups and begin easing restrictions as swiftly as the security situation allows. If there is a surge in violence in the Valley when the feudal leadership is released and full internet connectivity is restored, the people of Kashmir will know who their well-wishers are — and who are not.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)