J-K, Ladakh will prosper in new era that has begun, says PM Modi

PM Modi’s radio address is seen as part of a comprehensive outreach programme to reach out to the people of Jammu and Kashmir to ally their apprehensions and establish to them that twin decisions would create more opportunities for them.
The government has reasoned that the contentious articles of the Constitution were behind most of the ills of the state — from corruption and lack of development to political violence and terrorism. (HT photo)
The government has reasoned that the contentious articles of the Constitution were behind most of the ills of the state — from corruption and lack of development to political violence and terrorism. (HT photo)
Updated on Jun 12, 2020 10:23 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByHT Correspondent

In his first public address after the government pushed through constitutional changes with regard to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to citizens in the state-turned-Union Territory with a vision of peace and development for the future.

Addressing the nation on Thursday evening, Modi laid out the rationale for ending Article 370, bifurcating J&K, and making it a Union Territory along with granting a distinct UT status to Ladakh. He outlined the economic, educational and development opportunities that would now open up for Indian citizens in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh; reassured J&K that its system of political representation would remain intact and that there would be a return to full statehood once the conditions were right; signalled to government employees that their work would be recognised and rewarded; underscored the importance of Panchayat leaders in delivering welfare programmes; acknowledged the difficulties that citizens had to face in the region currently with a promise to ease them eventually; and greeted citizens on the upcoming Eid festival with a reassurance that the government would create an environment where it could be celebrated.

The PM, in a televised address, also urged stakeholders across the country to work towards creating opportunities in the two UTs; appealed to those who disagreed with the move, including the Opposition, to now work unitedly for the progress of J&K and Ladakh; and argued that the changes would strike a decisive blow to terrorism and separatism, encouraged by Pakistan, and eventually lead to peace.

Also watch: ‘Pakistan used 370 to spread unrest in valley’: PM Modi’s address to nation

 

Union home minister Amit Shah had shepherded the relevant motions and bills in both Houses of Parliament, which rendered Article 370 ineffective and reorganised the state. While the PM was scheduled to address the nation on Wednesday, he postponed it out of respect for his senior party colleague and former external affairs minister, the late Sushma Swaraj, who was cremated that day.

Modi’s much-anticipated address began with a direct explanation of the government’s assessment of Article 370 and Article 35A, the two provisions which gave Kashmir a distinct status. “A system which had deprived citizens of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh of rights, which had impeded their development has now ended with all our efforts...These two provisions only gave separatism, terrorism, dynastic rule, and corruption.”

Modi then went into specifics of how the presence of Article 370 had kept people in J&K deprived of the rights and opportunities that citizens elsewhere in the country possessed. “Laws made in Parliament were not applicable to the rest of the country. In other parts of India, children have the right to education, but in J&K, they were deprived of it. In other places, girl children got benefits, but in J&K they were deprived of it. In other places, the Safai Karamchari Act is applicable, but safai karamcharis in J&K were not covered by it. In other places, there is a strong law on atrocities against Dalits, but Dalits in J&K were out of its ambit. In other places, there is a Minorities Act to protect them, but in J&K, minorities are deprived of it. In other places, there is a Minimum Wages Act for workers, but the workers in J&K enjoy this only on paper. In elections everywhere else, there are seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but not in J&K.”

 

With the end of Article 370, Modi claimed, Jammu and Kashmir would now get liberated from its negative effects. The PM then went on to construct a case of how the new system would actually benefit citizens.

He first reached out to government employees, including the local police, and assured them that they would, after a review, be able to avail of facilities and benefits available to employees in all other UTs. He then addressed young people, assuring them that all vacancies both in the central and local government would soon get filled. The army and paramilitary forces would also now recruit locals through a sustained campaign. Modi added that both central Public Sector Units (PSUs) and private sector companies would also be encouraged to create opportunities in the state.

Later in the speech, the PM underlined how the recently-elected Panchayat leaders of J&K -- who he had interacted with in both Srinagar and New Delhi at his residence -- were playing a transformative role in delivering welfare. He claimed that with the end of Article 370, they would flourish. He also appealed to both the young and the women in particular to take up leadership and tap opportunities. Modi spoke of the potential of various sectors in the new UT, from tourism to natural resources. He held out the hope that like films used to be shot in Kashmir in the past, the era of film shoots would return; he outlined the potential of sportspersons from Kashmir who would be able to bring laurels for India globally with the right sporting infrastructure and support that the government would now provide; and he urged citizens from the rest of India -- from industrialists to those in the technology world -- to do their bit in creating avenues in J&K. Modi also spoke of the specific opportunities in Ladakh, including of spiritual, adventure and eco-tourism.

Among the contentious decisions taken by the government, and passed in Parliament, was the one to change Jammu and Kashmir’s status to a UT.

Modi claimed that this had been done “after careful thought”. He said that in the past year, under direct federal rule, there had been increased coordination between the state and central administrations. This had, according to the PM, enabled both good governance and transparency, projects stuck for decades had now picked up, connectivity was gaining ground from rail and road links to airport modernisation, and a new work culture was being institutionalised.

However, in a clear signal of reassurance to the citizens who may fear the curtailment of political rights as a change in the state’s status, Modi said, “You will vote like you voted before. Your representatives will be chosen among you. You will continue to have members of the legislative assembly, ministers, and a chief minister like you had in the past. We want assembly polls, a new government, and young people as ministers and CM. I want

to assure you that with all honesty and transparency, you will get a chance to elect government like you got a chance to elect your panchayats.”

Modi then held out the hope that the UT status was temporary. “The paradise on earth, J&K, will attain development heights. It will attract the world. The ease of living of citizens will improve. They will get their rights unimpeded. The administration will take forward welfare schemes. And, then, we won’t need to have the UT status in J&K.” The PM, however, emphasised that the UT status for Ladakh would continue.

The PM then reached out to those who differed with the move. “Some have differences. I respect it. The Centre is responding and addressing these concerns. It is our democratic duty. But please keep national interest first. We need to move beyond who supported or did not support the move in Parliament -- and work unitedly for J&K.”

It was towards the end of his speech that the PM addressed the current situation in the Valley, where security restrictions are in place, movement is curtailed, and both phone and internet connections are non-operational.

“There was a need to take some steps. There have been some difficulties because of it. People are facing it -- and are supportive. A handful of people want to spoil the environment, but they are being given a response by the local people there,” he said.

He added that Pakistan’s conspiracies to back separatism and terrorism had been fought by patriotic people from J&K itself. “I want to tell them that slowly, situation will become normal and inconvenience will reduce.”

Given the fact that Eid is around the corner, on August 12, there have been concerns about how the restrictions would impede the occasion.

The PM said that the government was conscious that people should not have a problem marking Eid. “The government will help all those who live outside and want to return home for Eid.”

The main opposition party, the Congress, was not convinced.

Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said PM Narendra Modi’s speech was “hardly reassuring” for the people of the state. “What the Prime Minister has said is a repetition of what home minister Amit Shah has said. That can hardly be reassuring for the people of Jammu and Kashmir... It lacks any conviction and logic which, would be reassuring the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir about the respect of their fundamental rights,” he told PTI.

His party colleague Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the time now was to stand behind the country. “PM Modi’s speech meant rightly mainly for J&K inhabitants; once Parliament has passed what it has, the country must remain united behind it; despite different views (eg I found it legally flawed) but decision must be supported as a nation; hope confidence & faith must be imparted to all in J&K+ L {Ladakh},” he wrote on Twitter.

Independent observers felt that PM Modi’s speech did not address Kashmiri concerns.

Happymon Jacob, an academic at the Jawaharlal Nehru University who has extensively worked on Kashmir, said: “Mr Modi’s statement was geared towards gaining legitimacy for the BJP government’s Kashmir policy within India than to ensure that Kashmir becomes truly democratic or trouble-free. It was an exercise in half-measures towards an alienated population.”

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Monday, November 29, 2021