To win the trust of the people of J&K, trust them | Analysis
Different sections of Indians hold sharply divided views about the developments of August 5, 2019, in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Were these, in fact, as many Indians believe, simply a consummation of a process initiated by the state’s accession to India upon Independence, which had left it with a special status? After all, Article 370 was titled “Temporary Provisions”. Or was it, as several other Indians including Kashmiris see it, a repudiation of a commitment guaranteed by the Constitution, the abrogation of which has betrayed even a semblance of the freedom that the state was promised?
The personnel appointed to administer the two new Union territories (UTs) are, without a doubt, of great merit. The officer chosen as lieutenant governor (LG) of the UT of Ladakh was Chief Information Commissioner of India who has accepted a demotion in status in the service of the nation. But Ladakh is left with a makeshift administration, without a recruitment agency to fill gazetted posts, no formal bank and locked in a dispute over the location of its headquarters — Muslim-majority Kargil or Buddhist-majority Leh in what is a Muslim-majority UT. Although in contrast, the officer appointed LG for J&K is a bureaucrat of the Gujarat cadre, he is assisted by an array of advisers of outstanding reputation. The administration won approbation for the efficiency with which it arranged testing materials on the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak and the return of students stranded abroad and also migrant labour. But the virus’ spread has been exacerbated by the import of migrant workers to work with the public works department. Many of them have tested positive. Many young people are out on the streets of Srinagar without any form of protection despite government advice.
In the Rajya Sabha debate on the J&K Reorganisation Bill 2019, reading down Article 370 of the Constitution, home minister Amit Shah said the state’s special status was the root cause of corruption. But a year since Article 370 was abrogated, a long-time campaigner for the right to information, good governance and transparency in the J&K government, Raja Muzaffar Bhat, found that corruption remains pervasive.
The Centre has been busy in enacting legislation such as the domicile law and the UT government in issuing sanctions. Five medical colleges, including two All India Institutes of Medical Science, have been inaugurated and colleges of nursing sanctioned. Announcements are regularly made of the LG sanctioning a host of hydel projects in the power-deficit state, which nonetheless is a major contributor to the national power grid. Long-pending road construction has been approved. But educational institutions remain shut with no provision for distance learning except in a single school in Pulwama. Power and water supply are fitful; roads await maintenance for years including vital link roads along the Line of Control.
A Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir constituted by retired justices of the Supreme Court and the high courts, ex-civil servants, former senior defence personnel, academics and campaigners for human rights recently released its first report, Jammu and Kashmir: The Impact of Lockdowns on Human Rights covering the year following August 5, 2019. Their findings: One, the absolute priority given to counter-insurgency has brought across-the-board violations of human rights and increased terrorist activity. Two, in the 11 months of lockdown, the public saw incessant harassment through closures, barricades, checkpoints and suspension of communication, crippling public health, with pervasive post-traumatic stress disorder even among children. Three, education flounders at every level with the limiting of networks to 2G thereby making online classes dysfunctional, in violation of the constitutional right to education. Four, commerce and industry have suffered massive losses. Tourism and cottage industries, reliant on 4G networks, are out of business. Local employment is at a standstill.
Five, journalists have faced harassment with recourse taken even to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Six, the military presence has been accentuated.
After August 5, 2019, the Concerned Citizens Group, of which I am a member, made two visits to Kashmir on September 17-18, 2019 and November 22-26, 2019. In our statement of May 20, 2020, we said that J&K has continued in a social, economic, political and communication lockdown since August 5, 2019, now doubly reinforced by the pandemic. “Senior political leaders,” we wrote, “including a former chief minister, continue to be in detention, in several cases under the draconian Public Safety Act. Meanwhile, there are attempts to incubate artificial political processes — through village and local body elections and facilitating the launch of a new political party. However, these processes have failed to fill the political vacuum.”
Following the August 5, 2019 decision, there have been discussions in the US Congress, the European Union parliament, the UN Security Council and statements by the UN Human Rights Commission on Kashmir. Many security analysts believe that J&K’s change in constitutional status has brought about the Chinese intrusion into Ladakh. But while many residents protest that their lands have been occupied by China, the Union government has maintained a degree of ambiguity on the issue.
Where do we go from here? For residents of J&K and Ladakh, democracy and secularism must be real as they have been for all other Indians by making them participants in governance. The government knows this, which accounts for its abortive efforts to institute panchayat raj. But gestures will not do. The country must place its trust in its own people if it expects their trust in return.