What Narendra Modi needs to do next in J&K | Analysis
As anticipated, the legitimacy of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, and the Presidential Order that abrogated the special status of the state have been challenged in the Supreme Court (SC). The outcome of the challenge, including how it impacts the implementation of the framework of transformation envisaged in the impugned legislation, would be known only after the SC concludes its hearings. Meanwhile, the ripple effects of the decision have been felt mostly in the Valley, but more audibly in our immediate neighbourhood.
At the same time, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, has, while explaining the rationale of his government’s historic steps, assured the restoration of normalcy, early assembly elections and full statehood to J&K. Echoing what home minister Amit Shah said earlier, the PM too declaimed that the articles 370 & 35A had only “given terrorism, separation, nepotism and massive corruption to J&K”. He added that the articles had been used as a weapon by Pakistan. He seems to have forgotten that not so long ago, with his blessings, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) not only hobnobbed with Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party, which is wedded to articles 370 and 35A, but happily cohabitated with it.
While assorted champions of the special status of J&K, ranging from its former chief ministers (CMs) to separatist leaders to stone-pelting misguided youth to self-styled liberal intellectuals, lament the murder of democracy, the Sangh parivar, the hawk-eyed real estate mafia, the chest-thumping-mustachioed retired generals, and the channel commentariat hail the decision. The hapless people in the Valley, especially widows and children of the victims of the mindless violence and bloodshed that still ravage their land, however, live in perpetual paranoia.
The overwhelming support that the National Democratic Alliance garnered in Parliament reflects the mood of the country, borne out of what was happening in J&K in the last seven decades. For many outside the state, it was a theatre of violence and bloodshed where our soldiers faced stone-pelting mobs and death, fighting the local militant-separatists, the jihadi brigades from across the border, and the Pakistan army.
For them, the Instrument of Accession of J&K with the Union of India and the articles 370 and 35A do not matter much. The Modi-Shah rhetoric — that the two articles of the Constitution were the handiwork and blunder of a sentimental Jawaharlal Nehru under pressure from a dubious Sheikh Abdullah, and this was responsible for the agony in J&K and the bane of India — was persuasive. Even the house arrest of their former CMs and the curfew-like situation in the state did not evoke strong and passionate anti-government sentiments in J&K. The rudderless Opposition parties too failed to outwit the strategic moves of the Centre, and its unrelenting, well-orchestrated visual media blitz.
Assuming that the SC would uphold the new framework, would J&K be on the smooth path to integration with the rest of the country, and become a normal state? Would the people, especially in the Valley, accept the change, and reconcile themselves to the new political and economic paradigm, and coalesce into the rest of India?
The Centre and its surrogate state government will hold the key to these legitimate concerns. They have to move forward fast, first and foremost with tangible steps to establish their credibility with the people of J&K, the rest of the country, and the world. After having abrogated constitutional guarantees stealthily and undemocratically, it would take some hard convincing of the people who have become cynical about promises held out to them by successive regimes in New Delhi.
Removing the restrictions on freedom of movement and expression and other civil liberties without delay should start the process of confidence-building. Free and fair elections to the assembly within the shortest possible time, and installation of an elected government, without recourse to cynical manipulations and horse-trading of the kind orchestrated in Karnataka, would be the obvious next step, and the most important step.
The restoration of full statehood should follow. Considering the burden of the backlog of development in J&K, the Union government should provide funds and expertise to the state in order to enable it to catch up with the other states. Though the laws and regulations and socio-economic plans and schemes of the Centre applicable to other states are already in J&K, provisions could be made to suitably modify them in implementation, taking into account the special circumstances of the state.
Notwithstanding the grandstanding of industrialists, attracting private capital for productive, employment-generating investments would require prerequisites that have to be painstakingly put in place. Positive discrimination in favour of the state, subject to periodic review, will go a long way in facilitating and accelerating the pace of development. Needless to stress, the responsibility for safeguarding the state against infiltration and threats from across the borders would continue to be with the Union government. If the Union government can tread the path of integration of the state through an open, inclusive development agenda, with the same alacrity with which it changed the constitutional map of J&K, the Modi-Shah combine could script a new welcome chapter in the chequered history of the state.