The abolition of Article 370 and 35A, as well as creation of Ladakh as UT and converting J&K to UT, is not the decision taken all of a sudden. This has been possible following the tireless efforts of scores of people in the country which aimed not only at curbing the fake narratives built by separatists, misinformation campaigns carried out by their coteries and twisting of facts even by a section of the media but also by restoring the narratives on the right track. Jammu Kashmir Study Centre (JKSC) is one such body, which has been working on this agenda since 2009. Organiser Chief News Coordinator Dr Pramod Kumar spoke to the president of JKSC and veteran journalist Shri Jawahar Lal Kaul to know what he thinks after this decision and how they aspire to redevelop J&K now. Excerpts:
How do you look at this historic decision taken by the Government of India on August 5, 2019?
It was late, but a good decision. In fact, Article 370 had lost its validity even during Sheikh Abdullah’s regime. Politics is not a simple game. One has to think ahead of the time. In the form of Article 370, Pt Nehru had provided Sheikh Abdullah a tool to keep Indian Parliament, democracy and Indian politicians out of Kashmir. It was not a simple matter that Article 370 does not allow non-Kashmiris to purchase land in J&K. There are many other states like Himachal Pradesh and some north-eastern states that do not allow outsiders to purchase land there. There is no Article 370 there. It is the right of every Legislature to pass a law to protect the rights of the people in public interest. But Article 370 stopped J&K becoming an integral part of Bharat. Sheikh Abdullah wanted to rule Kashmir as he wanted. He wanted to define democracy and secularism in his own way. In fact, this discriminatory Article should have been abrogated immediately after Sheikh Abdullah passed away. It could have been abrogated even during Jagmohan’s time. Jagmohan had himself advocated a method for its abrogation in those days. Then the idea was that in the absence of the Legislative Assembly, the legislative and administrative powers rest with the Governor. In that situation, the Governor’s suggestion is as good as the Legislative Assembly. Jagmohan had suggested this idea even to Rajiv Gandhi but he did not follow. The same idea has now been picked up by President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovind. However, it has been processed slightly with a difference. I am of the opinion that no party ruling at the Centre ever tried to seriously study Article 370. It was like a Bhasmasur who could have killed anybody he wanted, including himself.
Easy money has been the main source for people there. Corruption is an accepted norm. All these have to be curbed. We have to encourage the Kashmiri youth to work, build up their own industries and use new avenues for development in the changed scenerio
Can we now expect the Kashmiri Pandits going back to the valley safely and settle there as they lived there prior to 1990s?
It is a very difficult question. The community that left J&K 25 years ago has now settled in different areas. It is very difficult for any community to get uprooted again. There is a full generation gap. Secondly, the Kashmiri Pandits are the educated class and they are already in services. J&K is in a situation today where there is no service. A large number of Kashmiri youth are already unemployed. How can the Kashmiri Pandits get jobs there? So, it is not an easy question to answer at this moment. The houses that they had in Kashmir have either been sold for petty payments or have been occupied by others. Of course, some people, especially from villages who are not much educated or still do not have jobs and are living in refugee camps, will be the first to go back. For others, it depends upon the rate of development there in the days to come.
Do you see any reaction from the radicals after this decision?
Let us be practical about it. Radicalism or separatism has been there for the last three decades. A strong network of terrorists has been established with the help of their Pakistani bosses. That network has not been completely smashed before the abrogation of Article 370 or 35A. It is still there. Their supply lines have to be blocked. Also, new recruits have to be discouraged. We need to create anti-terrorist sentiments in the state. We have to show them that those who are forcing them to join terrorism are rich and enjoy all facilities by the government. The Home Minister has said in a statement that most of the terrorist families are thriving in J&K. Their children are studying in good institutions in India and abroad. In fact, they are as rich as Kashmiri politicians. The children of poor, who have been denied the fruits of development and facilities in all these years, have been forced to join terrorism. They are not terrorists by nature but were forced to opt for that. Approaching the section of the people who are willing to listen and work for peace and progress should be the main mission of the Government of India today. The decision to convert the state into Union Territory is good because these difficult issues can better be addressed in UT as the Central Government is directly involved in the administration. It will save time, money and will prevent the schemes from being misused. The government has rightly stated that once the state is back on development the full-fledged statehood will be restored. There are some industrial areas in J&K. Three are in Srinagar itself. But they all are defunct because even the Kashmiris are not willing to work there. Easy money has been the main source for people there. Corruption is an accepted norm in government offices in Kashmir. All these have to be curbed. We have to encourage the Kashmiri youth to work, build up their own industries and use government avenues for development. It should not take much time for the Kashmiris to start small projects.
Now, after this historic decision, are there hopes that PoJK will soon be part of India?
PoJK should be part of India someday, but Article 370 has nothing to do with that. Article 370 is a change that has taken place in the area that we hold. On PoJK, the Government of India has to think a fresh. Since we have already passed a resolution in our Parliament that entire J&K, as it was in 1947, is part of India. The government should show some concern about it. For the last 50 years, we have not talked about Gilgit, Baltistan, Muzaffarabad and other areas in PoJK. Now we talk about them. We should help the people who are fighting there for independence from Pakistan. We should find ways on how we can do that. We have reserved 24 seats for the people of PoJK in J&K Assembly. There are lakhs of refugees from PoJK who live in J&K and other parts of the country. We should at least give them representation in the J&K assembly. If we do that it will be an internationally bigger issue. Article 370 cannot become an international issue because we are dealing with our international administrative setup. Some day we have to deal with PoJK issue.
The credit to this historic change goes to JKSC also, as it has been working tirelessly for the last ten years to change the narrative on J&K. What has been the idea behind JKSC?
The JKSC was established to counter the fake narratives created by the leftists and pro-separatists. Those narratives were based on misrepresentation of facts, misinformation and sometimes on twisted facts. It was completely one-sided narrative or the narrative of terrorists. So, we decided to go deep into the problem, encouraged research not only on the politics of J&K but also on various subjects—culture, knowledge traditions and the issues of people. Initially, we had a small group of researchers. But about three years back we created a legal cell also. Somebody in that cell found that there is an Article called 35A. Most of us did not know anything about that provision. When we talked to the lawyers, we found that hardly anybody ever heard about it. Even the working judges said they did not know about it. In the Constitution, Article 36 comes directly after Article 35—no mention of 35A. We found this law in the Schedule or the Annexure which comes at the end of the Constitution and whom hardly anybody wishes to go through. The law was not only against the democratic rights of Kashmiris but it was unconstitutional. It was amending the Constitution of India without going to the Parliament. Constitution of India does not give any right to the President or the Prime Minister to amend the Constitution without following the procedure laid down for it. Since it was a serious matter, we launched a campaign against it throughout the country. Over a hundred meetings were held involving lawyers and intellectuals. Apart from its illegality, all the misdeeds of Article 370 were clubbed with this Article. Article 35A defined how Article 370 should be implemented. After the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad had tried to implement some important laws of the Indian Constitution in J&K, but then the pro-separatists raised the issue of separate sovereignty. This mindset affected even the courts of J&K. In a case, even the High Court of J&K commented that even the SC cannot interfere in the affairs of J&K because it has inherent sovereignty or it is a sovereign state. Then SC made it clear that there is only one sovereignty, one nationhood and one Constitution in India. The JKSC raised all these issues and after a stage, the Government of India also started contemplating on them.
It was completely one-sided or the terrorists’ narrative that was going on in Kashmir. we decided to go deep into the problem, encouraged research not only on politics of J&K but also on various other subjects—culture, knowledge traditions and the issues of people
Now what will be the future agenda of JKSC as the issues of Article 370 and 35A have been almost resolved?
Our work will continue. We feel better integration of J&K will be achieved with the integration of the people of J&K with the rest of the nation. Kashmiris have a long and rich history that connects them to the entire nation. No state has contributed to the country’s philosophy, Sanskrit literature, drama, etc as J&K has done. In the ancient time, it was known as the seat of learning. Nambudiris of Kerala during ‘yajnopavit’ of their children ask them to take two and a half steps towards Shardadesh as a symbolic gesture that I am sending you to Shardadesh for study. This shows that J&K was an integral part of the Indian subcontinent. That affected the Kashmiri Muslims too as they were against the two-nation theory. But now there is a negation of Kashmiri history and culture. Their history now begins with the entry of Muslims in Kashmir during the 14th century. We actually want the people of J&K to remember their past. Most of the Kashmiri Muslims know that they are former Kashmiri Hindus. They are not willing to accept it in public. We want to revive the history of J&K. We want to create an economic system for J&K which is nature-friendly. We want people to people integration. The JKSC will try to create models and enthuse the Kashmiri youth to take their own initiatives.
During this journey what kind of problems were faced by the team JKSC?
We had the manpower problem. Only two people were with us. Financial problem was also there. Gradually, we overcome all the problems. Sometime back we celebrated 1000th birth anniversary of Acharya Abhinav Gupt, the great philosopher of Kashmir. Today, 17 universities in the world teach Abhinav Gupta. But unfortunately, none of the Indian University did that. When we started the 1000th birth anniversary celebration under the leadership of Sri Sri Ravishankar, we found many worthy scholars coming forward to start work on J&K. Now many universities have started conducting research on Abhinav Gupt. As people started thinking about Abhinav Gupt, they basically started thinking about Kashmir as an integral part of India.
There should be a rethink over tourism. Right from 1947, we have not created any new tourism destination in J&K. The same destinations are being exploited. We should develop heritage tourism in the stae now
What should be the focus of developmental activities in J&K now?
Right from the very beginning, the developmental concept in J&K was anti-Kashmir. During Sheikh Abdullah’s regime, none of his developmental programmes focused on the development of the villages and small cities there. Both were carried on in an arbitrary manner that ended up with destroying the village economy. They made the village artisans redundant and forced them to work as labourers at tourist or pilgrim centres. Over the years, Dal Lake in Srinagar has created its own system of sustenance. It is not a single lake. It is connected to many lakes and rivers. It has created water transport for the city. But now the oxygen level in the Lake is very poor where the aquatic animals find difficult to survive. Pollution is rising to an alarming level. Today, Dal Lake is almost at its death bed. The bio-oxygen demand is rising, which indicates the poor health of the Lake. It is not the case of Dal Lake alone. All other lakes of J&K face a similar situation. This type of economy will only destroy J&K. We propose that the Government of India, in consultation with the J&K government, should create an economic system for J&K which is not only friendly to nature but also creates more jobs, is less automative and the raw material comes from local sources.
Do you find the need to rethink over tourism model also?
Yes, there should be a rethink over tourism.
Right from 1947, we have not created any new tourism destination in J&K. The same destinations are being exploited whereas the tourism influx has increased manifold. You have rush; you have pollution, and you have disturbances. So, let us expand the tourism circuits. We should also develop heritage tourism. Why confine to Amarnath and Vaishno Devi? There are many more religious places which should be promoted. Instead of promoting five-star hotels? Why should we not create small guest houses and why the villagers should not manage such guest houses themselves? This will give the feel of J&K life to the tourists and pilgrims. We want to revive waterways also. We also want to increase forest coverage. Today, we have only 2 per cent forest in Kashmir. It has been reducing for the last 25 years. Deforestation means destruction of plant and wild lives including birds and animals. We know some of the popular birds are no longer in Kashmir and migrant birds do not visit Kashmir now. These minor issues have a major effect on the climate. If we want to create ‘Naya Kashmir’ then we have to think in a better way and go deep into solving the problems.