Image Credit: Boats on Dal Lake: Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India by Adam Jones/Flickr; Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Written by Brajesh Kumar.

Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution (granting special status to the region of Jammu and Kashmir) represented a curse on Kashmir by limiting its growth and development and fostering unmitigated trouble for all the common people, apart from a small minority of Kashmiris who flourished. The Indian parliament abrogated these provisions on 5 August 2019 by a Presidential Ordinance, which was later ratified by both houses of parliament (the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha) with more than a two-thirds majority.

It was a bold initiative by a government which had decided to bring an end to the imbroglio in Kashmir, which had been simmering for more than seven decades, and it surprised most of those who had some connection with the situation in Kashmir.

Nobody had any inkling as to what was happening. It was a constitutional coup executed with consummate skill

The impasse over any political initiatives due to the attitude of various stakeholders in the region had become a constant irritant in the Indian scheme of things. At the same time, India’s smaller western neighbour, Pakistan, seemed to be happy with fuelling a low-intensity conflict in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) over the last three decades, despite adverse international opinion, which had lately been gathering steam.

The political landscape and reorganisation of Indian states

The erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir comprised five regions, each with its distinct geography, culture, religion and linguistic diversity. Three of these regions – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh – became part of India, whereas the other two areas – Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (previously known as the Northern Areas) – were administered by Pakistan. The eastern region of Aksai Chin is still disputed between India and China (the Tibet Autonomous Region), while some areas of the Shaksgam Valley have been ceded by Pakistan to China (illegally, as far as the Indian government is concerned). Meanwhile, Indian and Pakistani troops are locked in a stalemate in the Siachen Glacier region in the north of Kashmir, which is the world’s highest battlefield.

The Indian states have been reorganised many times since independence to cater to regional and sub-regional aspirations, with the intention of bringing democracy closer to the people by carving out smaller units. The number of states has swelled from 12 to 29, in addition to the 7 Union Territories. Throughout, however, Jammu and Kashmir remained untouched by this development, despite having greater diversity, and so it was stuck in a time warp with its three distinct regions.

Governance in Kashmir at the grassroots level

The constitution of the state assembly of Jammu and Kashmir was so crafted that Kashmiris were given a dominant say on all matters of governance. Not surprisingly, then, until now all the Chief Ministers of J&K have come from the Kashmir region, which accounts for 16 per cent of the state’s area and is home to 54.9 per cent of its population.

More importantly, most of the budget has been used in the Kashmir Valley, leaving very little for the Hindu-majority Jammu region or Buddhist Ladakh. Amendments 73 and 74 to the Indian Constitution in 1992 provided a fillip to better governance at the Panchayat (district council) and Zila Parishad (district panchayat) levels, enabling local self-governance with elected representatives. However, this did not apply to the state of J&K under the special provisions of Article 370. The dynastic ruling parties in Kashmiri politics – the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – did not favour these provisions, however.

It should also be noted that the state receives 9 times more grants and aid on a pro rata and per capita basis than some of the poorer or larger states in India, such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. However, the quality of governance in Kashmir has been poor, with significant distortions at the economic level. Many of India’s central laws do not apply in J&K, and the state is also outside the jurisdiction of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s highest police investigative agency

Special status under Articles 370 and 35A

At the time of Kashmir’s accession to the Union of India, it was temporarily granted special status to take care of the concerns of Kashmiris and ease the state’s assimilation into the Union. Since then, a few of these provisos – such as having a separate flag, having separate laws on issues other than for finance, defence and foreign affairs, and having a Prime Minister as the elected head of state rather than a Chief Minister – have been removed, but the substantive ones remained.

Many distortions persist in Jammu and Kashmir. For example, there are still many Sikh and Muslim refugees from Pakistan and the Northern Areas of Kashmir who remain stateless, 72 years after they first arrived in the state. And Kashmiri women who marry outside the state lose their rights to residency and/or inheritance. Investment in the state, so vital for growth and economic activity, has also suffered. Young men educated in the madrasas under the influence of local imams have had issues while growing up and have been recruited by insurgent groups wishing to disrupt the administration, rather than enabled to develop a productive career.

Special status has created a new set of stakeholders with strongly vested interests who would prefer the status quo to continue forever.

The 1989 elections and insurgency

Kashmiris are a gentle people who were not prone to violence. However, the perception of rigged elections by the ruling local government in 1989 led to the youth becoming disenchanted. This was perhaps the turning point, when Kashmiris started being influenced by externally aided radical elements, with Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Muslim states being the main contributors. The situation became alarming with the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits (Hindus of the Valley). They were driven away from their land and homes by coercive means, with the active participation of Pakistan, which has attacked India twice to seize Kashmir by force.

During the last 30 years Kashmir has seen the growth of state terrorism, which is assumed to be sponsored by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency with  the help of the Hurriyat – a separatist group based in Kashmir. The Hurriyat also enjoys the support of the NC and the PDP, and these three together have benefitted immensely from the status quo. Meanwhile, the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been on the receiving end of the terrorist activities and anti-terror measures of the security forces. The situation has certainly not benefitted any of them.

Passing the J&K Reorganisation Bill

The J&K Reorganisation Bill, which removes Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution, envisages breaking up J&K into two Union Territories – Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir – which will be governed centrally from New Delhi. Jammu and Kashmir will have an elected assembly.

Passage of the bill was handled swiftly by the central government, which inducted additional armed troops in the region so as to pre-empt any untoward incidents. Other measures included cancelling the annual Hindu pilgrimage to Amarnath Yatra and requesting tourists to leave the Valley during its busy season. Members of the Hurriyat and leaders of the dynastic political parties were taken into protective custody. Hence nobody had any inkling as to what was happening. It was a constitutional coup executed with consummate skill. Even though it may be challenged in the Supreme Court, it is unlikely that the bill will be stayed or modified.

Security-related issues

There has now been a paradigm shift in India’s security perspective at the strategic level, as it moves from being passive/defensive to active/offensive. As the veteran journalist Shekhar Gupta puts it: ‘Narendra Modi has broken the post-Simla status quo. Pakistan’s space for sub-military manoeuvre is gone. No political party of consequence is questioning the abrogation of Article 370, only the method.’

More importantly, the Indian Defence Minister has stated that India adheres to the ‘no first use’ nuclear doctrine; what happens in the future depends on circumstances.

We may now even see India being proactive in the two regions of POK and Gilgit–Baltistan, which would be a first. With little support for the insurgents coming from the Hurriyat, as well as a crackdown on dubious money and a lack of political patronage from the Valley parties, India’s Special Forces will be able to control the Kashmir Valley effectively and assist the people of the region in good governance. Given the size and growth of its economy, India is in a strong position to influence Pakistan’s poorly governed regions of Gilgit–Baltistan and POK, where people will be able to see the fruits of development.

Action and reaction

Strong measures are likely to invite reaction from various quarters. Most significantly, it can be expected that the government of Pakistan and its army will be active, along with local Kashmiri groups which are inimical to India. The fact that this has not yet happened is due to the element of surprise and the Indian government’s ability to close down the terror financing. There is no room for the Indian government to be complacent, however. Tactical restraint is important and the key to success.

Ladakh now becomes a new Union Territory (UT) (without legislature), which will be governed centrally from New Delhi. The population will see their dreams fulfilled in terms of development, economic activity and governance. In Jammu and Kashmir, routine precautionary measures were imposed, such as a curfew, protective arrests, a temporary ban on cell phone and internet use, and the induction of additional troops to prevent any untoward incidents. Restrictions have since been eased in the Jammu region, and in the Kashmir Valley schools have been told to reopen. Landline communications are also once again being permitted.

The road ahead

It has been a challenge to manage the situation in the Kashmir Valley and along the Line of Control (LOC). Given the current state of Pakistan’s economy, and with the country currently on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) watch list, it is likely to bide its time. With little interference expected at the international diplomatic level, India will have to manage the return to normality in the Kashmir Valley and implement the constitutional changes deftly.

The next major task is to organise the new assembly and move speedily to holding elections in the region. It is particularly important to ensure that there is a new set of political leaders drawn from the grassroots level.

In conclusion, now that the ‘curse of Kashmir’ has been removed, the Indian government will find it easier to convince the people of the Kashmir Valley that they will have a better future by being integrated into an emerging powerhouse – India – with a responsive form of governance, where their aspirations are more likely to be met. If the government can achieve this, then it will have accomplished a difficult job well.

No doubt this will still take a while. The path is long and arduous, but eminently doable. Let us wish them and the entire set of new stakeholders well.

Major General Brajesh Kumar (Retd) AVSM VSM is a security analyst based in Noida, India.

*Articles published by The Asia Dialogue represent the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of The Asia Dialogue or affiliated institutions.

Comments

  1. Eminently put across with crystal clear analysis.
    India should open it’s borders for Sindhi, Baloch and Pakhtun fighters to arm train and send them back (a la Mukti Bahini) and help them light a fire in the rear of a tottering Pakistan, to bring it down to it’s knees.
    India should also negotiate a pact with the Afghan and Yankee leadership to not negotiate with the Taliban and replace American troops with Pakhtoon and Indian troops to thwart the efforts of Pakistanis and their Taliban proxies.

  2. Brief, precise and to the point article with an easy to understand language. However, certain prominent concerns, in my personal opinion, haven’t been addressed.
    The reaction of the international community, the reaction of the very people of the Kashmiri people and futuristic steps to contain the adverse.
    I am personally in complete favour of the bold step , which should have been taken long back.
    Thanks for an opportunity to put forth my candid views.

    1. The response of the international community has been muted. It is of little concern but does provide comfort to the GoI.
      Kashmiri ppl would be upset as few strong precautionary measures have initiated, but these are of temporary nature. There is no getting away from the fact that peace is a prerequisite for getting the Pandits back, activating political process with ppl at grass root level, getting big ticket investment into tourism infrastructure which goes towards enhancing the QOL of local ppl. It is a long process & will take some time as India has permitted it to drift for long period of time.

  3. A balanced and well written article addressing all dynamics of J&K in a concise manner. A bold step, long over due has been taken by the Govt. Normalcy in Kashmir in particular, as one desires is a long march. We are all stakeholders in this process as a secular nation.

  4. Excellent analysis covering all aspect of a complex subject. Abrogation of 370 and 35A is only the first bold step on a long road of recovery. Proper manuvering the pot holes should result in significant reduction in cross border terrorism and corresponding increase in national security.

  5. Hallo Brajesh,

    As in earlier articles , youe continue to display a vast knowledge of facts and provide an insight into the future of Kashmir.Language is simple and easily understood.
    I am of the view that it is appropriate to give the readers a glimpse of the following:-
    (a). In 1947, the princely states accepted to remain and be a part of our Union, Maharaja Hari Singh also signed the set of accession paper. There was no constituent assmbly in Kashmir or in our Union.
    (b). Till 1949, no reference was made to suggest special status to Kashmir. Even when Pandit Nehru asked Abdullah to talk to Dr Ambedkar, to suggest special article in the drafting of Indian Constitution, Dr Ambedkar had refused, saying it will be a treachorous action on his part, So Nehru prevailed on President Rajendra Prasad, to sign the Ordinance to provide special status temporarily to Kashmir. It was only in 1050 that we got our Constitution.
    Just to highlight the benginning. You may like to ponder…..!!!!

    Fond Regards. Venu

    1. Very well articulated and clinically analysed the burning issue of J&K. We all hope that the bold initiative of the present day govt would bring about much needed change on the valley.

  6. A well articulated perspective on the recent dramatic developments in Kashmir. Arguments are well concealed in facts thus presenting a favourable view of dispensation. Whether the constitutional coup will pave the way for developmental politics or take the valley deeper into alienation is a question that only time can aptly answer. Wether the constutional coup will withstand legal scrutiny! again time will tell. While the author places substantial arguments giving higher probability for ingress of developmental politics, the article falls short of examining the likely negative fallout. Also some analysis on how reverses can can possibly be managed would make interesting read. . Hope the sequel will dwell more on these aspect

  7. A very well written and informative article .Read and reread to understand certain aspects which we didn’t know. Great work !!!

  8. Sir, You have written an excellent article. I am sharing this on social media and would appreciate if you could further explain Kashmir situation as time goes by.

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