At the stroke of the midnight hour, on August 6, India lost one of its states.
With the introduction and passage of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019 in the Rajya Sabha, a radical, political move by the ruling BJP converted the state of Jammu and Kashmir into the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, along with the creation of a separate Union Territory of Ladakh including Leh and Kargil as districts (without a legislature).
As per the Bill, the powers of administration of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir shall now rest in the hands of a Lieutenant Governor – similar to Delhi, who will be appointed by the ruling New Delhi consensus while, with its new formation, the legislative assembly of J&K shall now have 107 seats (as against the 87 present now).
The extreme move has already seen divided legal and constitutional opinions on the manner in which Article 35A was ‘scrapped’ and the state of Jammu and Kashmir was disintegrated for its people to ‘integrate’ with rest of India.
While some from legal fraternity, like Harish Salve, argued that the government’s introduction of this Bill acts more as a ‘statutory resolution’ (i.e. binding on state government) using Articles 2 and 3 to reorganise Jammu and Kashmir, others like P. Chidambaram challenged the very constitutionality of due legislative process, that surpassed any consultative process of negotiation or approval from the constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, seeing this as an act of subterfuge.
Legally, this move is likely to remain a subject of long debate and deliberation.
However, one popular justification provided for this unilateral action based on what home minister Amit Shah said in his speech, is how such a move will allow the process for greater ‘integration’ and ‘economic development’ of people of Jammu and Kashmir.
“Jammu and Kashmir is the mukut-mani (jewel in the crown) of India. Give us five years, we will make it the country’s most developed state”, said Shah. And, it is in this statement of justification that one may find some serious trepidations.
To understand how, one may need to undertake a thought experiment.
Think of yourself, living as a part of an entire state population that is locked down indefinitely in curfew, where pregnant women are without access to medical means to reach a hospital, where all voices are buried amidst a perpetual inundation of para-military troops, and where the local leaders that remain, are put under house arrest without any reason or notification. And the reason you later receive from those who have put these restrictions suggests that these circumstances were imposed in the very interests of your well-being (along with those living under the same realities).
It is difficult to even imagine how in such conditions of un-freedoms, any state’s own people will regard this as a part of greater economic freedom.
The real question one needs to ask then is what purpose such a drastic act is likely to serve? One part of the answer involves viewing this as a careful rhetorical distraction of national attention away from more pressing issues like the economy, rise in violence against women etc.
The second, and much more crucial reason is to see this for the national electoral dividends it will provide. Demonetisation – touted as a ‘necessary cure’ to address black money in 2016 (in spite it being an economic disaster) – reaped great electoral dividends for the BJP in the state elections of Uttar Pradesh.
In a similar context, especially for the majority living and residing outside the state of Jammu and Kashmir, a national signal to ‘scrap Article 370’ and reorganise the entire population in Jammu and Kashmir, will receive great majoritarian support and approval.
There is already a spike in polarisation as seen from the responses evident on social media platforms (some seeing this as justice for ‘Kashmiri Pandits’). And one might argue that it was, perhaps, for this reason – with what the majority might accept – that a number opposition parties members, including the chief whip of the Indian National Congress, supported the Centre’s decision, even if it meant dissolving the agency and cultural identity of a whole people.
It is pertinent to highlight how justifications of ‘development’ and ‘national interest’ for the rule of law to be enforced by stealth are a part of dangerous illusions that are often peddled by dictatorships or those pushing for a more insidious agenda to ‘colonise’ political power, and homogenise societal, economic roots of a fragmented multi-class nation.
The current government and its actions seek to do just this.
If economic development was the actual goal of the current, or any national government, one would start by giving greater – and not lesser – agency and market opportunities to Kashmiri traders, who have historically enjoyed greater domestic and export success with the trade of Pashmina wools, kesar (saffron) farmers, or by investing consistently in access to social services (especially education and healthcare).
In fact, in the last five years, the growing state of joblessness amongst an alienating Kashmiri youth population, due to lack of proper employment opportunities and higher education access, combined with the strong heavy-handedness of New Delhi has fueled common feelings of distrust, discontentment and resentment in the state. The upsurge in militancy since 2014 validates this line of reasoning.
More than what has happened, the way Jammu and Kashmir has been reorganised, will only exacerbate these negative-emotive sentiments in the months and years to come. Those, within the Kashmiri population, who earlier felt that there was a possible way to protect or cultivate their cultural distinctiveness while being a part of India, while respecting the democratic structure and rule of law, will find little solace or reconciliation from the recent events.
Deepanshu Mohan is an associate professor and director, Centre for New Economics Studies at O.P. Jindal University. He is a visiting professor to the Department of Economics, Carleton University, Canada.