August 5, 2019, will be remembered as a watershed date in the post-merger history of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). On this day the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Government in New Delhi led by Narendra Modi set at rest all speculations and allegations of BJP using the abrogation of Article 370 as a mere election-winning gimmick. The country’s Home Minister Amit Shah announced in the Upper House of the nation’s Parliament an epoch-making historical decision of the government to abrogate not only the divisive Article 370 but also discriminatory Article 35 A of the Constitution of India. These two J&K specific articles were included in the newly written Constitution due to the pressure exerted by a Kashmiri leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who enjoyed the full confidence of Jawahar Lal Nehru, a tall leader of the Congress and country’s prime minister.
Maharaja’s decision to merge with India was taken in the best interest of his subjects since he realised that their future would be safeguarded in a secular and democratic India. But Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who was a firm believer of “exclusivity” harboured a different ambition. He was waiting for an opportune moment to overthrow the Dogra ruler and perpetuate his own Abdullah dynasty in the State. It did not take him long to fulfil his ambition with the active connivance of his well-wisher Pundit Nehru. To strengthen the hold of his party and usher a dynastic regime he convinced Nehru to accord special status to J&K by the inclusion of Article 370 in the Constitution which limited the applicability of the national Constitution to only the three subjects. It also allowed drafting of a separate constitution for the State by the State Constituent Assembly. Later he also managed separate flag and complete autonomy in the internal administration of the State. Article 35 A was included subsequently allowing State’s residents to live under a separate set of laws, related to citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights, as compared to the residents of other Indian states.
To ensure the unhindered rule of Abdullah dynasty Sheikh promoted the idea of “One Party State.” He abhorred opposition to his dictatorial whims. His cadre filled the air with slogans like, “Ek Rahnuma-Sher-e-Kashmir, Ek Jammat-National Conference, Ek Jhanda-Hal” (One Leader Sheikh Abdullah, One Party National Conference, One Flag Plough-NC’s flag), thereby undermining the authority of the Government of India and the National Flag.
The opposition to Sheikh was spearheaded in Ladakh by Kushak Bakula and in Jammu by Pt Prem Nath Dogra’s Praja Parishad.
Parishad launched an agitation in 1949, which was brutally suppressed by Sheikh Abdullah with the support of Nehru by dubbing it “communal.” However, the Movement received the support of newly formed nationalist party Bharatiya Jana Sangh that was opposed to the appeasement policies of Nehru. The whole nation began to support the demand of “Ek Pradhan, Ek Vidhan and Ek Nishan.”
It was a dream come true for hapless West Pakistan refugees, Gurkhas and Valmikis who numbered almost three to four lakh and had lived a life of humiliation and inequality for generations. They became free citizens of free India literally after 72 years of Independence after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A. They also celebrate today because for the first time they are entitled to apply for government jobs in the UT
Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, founder President of Jan Sangh, was strongly opposed to Article 370, seeing it as a threat to national unity. He fought against it inside and outside the Parliament with one of the goals of Jana Sangh being its abrogation. He termed the arrangements under the article as ‘Balkanisation of India’ and the ‘three-nation theory’ of Sheikh Abdullah. The State was granted its own flag along with a prime minister whose permission was required for anyone to enter the State. In opposition to this, Mukherjee once said “Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur Do Nishan nahi chalenge” (A single country can’t have two constitutions, two prime ministers, and two national emblems). Dr Mookerjee ultimately sacrificed his life for the cause when he died under mysterious circumstances while under detention in Srinagar on the orders of the Sheikh. Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee termed his death as “Nehru Conspiracy.” His mission for ending exclusive status of J&K was continued by Jan Sangh and BJP later and many karyakarta also sacrificed their lives for the achievement of the same.
Both the impugned articles were responsible for promoting separatism, communalism and terrorism in the State. All Kashmir centric parties promoted separatism despite swearing loyalty to the Constitution of India. Once known as “heaven on earth”, the State was relegated to hell by the inept and self-seeking Kashmiri leadership which wanted the pot of militancy to continue to simmer. Rather than condemning Pakistan for fuelling militancy and daily bloodshed, the Kashmiri leaders harped continuously to negotiate with it claiming Pakistan to be a stakeholder. Under the shelter of 370 and 35A, Kashmir was gradually being distanced from New Delhi. The gap between the three regions was widening to the point of no return. It appeared then that New Delhi was fast losing its grip on Kashmir. Strong action was needed to stem the wrought.
It finally happened on August 5, 2019, when the NDA Government-led by PM Modi abrogated 370 and 35A and new dawn ushered for the people of beleaguered State.
With 370 rendered ineffective, 35A consigned to the flames and a separate constitution for the State becoming part of history, the majority citizens of Jammu & Kashmir felt positivity and freshness in the air as they were for the first time breathing freely as part of India of their dreams. The happiest lot was the so-called “unseen orphans of partition” or more popularly known as the West Pakistan refugees. It was a dream come true for hapless West Pakistan refugees, Gurkhas and Valmikis who numbered almost three to four lakh and had lived a life of humiliation and inequality for generations. They became free citizens of free India literally after 72 years of Independence. They also celebrate today because for the first time they are entitled to apply for government jobs in the UT.
The people of Jammu & Ladakh heaved a sigh of relief from the Kashmiri hegemony and dreamt of an honourable life as equal citizens. All provisions of the Indian Constitution were made applicable to J&K. In addition, The Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 was passed by the Parliament enacting the division of the State of J&K into two Union Territories to be called Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Union Territory of Ladakh. The Home Minister also informed the House that statehood would be restored to J&K as soon as the situation improves. The reorganisation became effective with effect from October 31, 2019.
The administration undertook the restoration of infrastructure projects which had been languishing for three to four decades. 593 projects costing 1313.24 crore pertain only to road and bridges. 111 projects costing 2221.74 crore had been completed till February this year. The process of black-topping all roads in the State has begun with 100 crore being sanctioned as the first instalment. The government had planned to complete about 2000 vital projects by March 2021 but have been hampered due to Corona
Thirty-seven central laws became applicable to the UT J&K, which included laws like the Prevention of Corruption Act, The Goods and Services Tax Act, The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. These would help in eradicating corruption from the UT. The repealing of Ranbir Penal Code and Ranbir Criminal Procedure ensured applicability of uniform law throughout the country with the applicability of the Indian Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure. An empowered Anti-Corruption Bureau is functional as well as the UT is now under the ambit of CVC and CIC. It also has an independent bench of Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT).
To ensure the continuation of Kashmiri hegemony, the National Conference had resorted to gerrymandering of worst order by unilaterally allotting more seats in the State Assembly to Kashmir than Jammu. The distribution was such that even if the Kashmir based parties failed to win a single seat from Jammu region yet, they could form a government. To remove this discrimination, a fresh delimitation commission has been ordered, which has already begun the exercise.
The people of Rajouri district in Jammu & Kashmir are overjoyed after witnessing several development projects being carried out by the Centre in their district after the abrogation of Article 370
The biggest beneficiary of the August 5 decision has been law and order in the State. The separatist voices have been crushed. The Hurriyat has become a non-entity. The octogenarian separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has left the Hurriyat. Terrorism is on the decline with the security forces going all out to eliminate terrorism and the terror support network. There is no stone pelting on the security forces, nor the flags of ISIS or Pakistan are being freely flown. There is comparative calm, and peace is fast returning. The pro-Pakistan voices have been silenced with Pakistan no more a stakeholder but abettor of jihadi terrorism. The world has accepted the events in Kashmir post-August 5 as the nation’s internal matter. The Government of India has told Pakistan in unambiguous terms that only issue as far as Kashmir is concerned relates to the vacation of the occupied areas known as POJK. Anti-India political voices have vanished like the hawala money. National Flag flies proudly on all government buildings and everywhere in the UT. JK Police has become a highly motivated and professional outfit with outstanding achievements.
The much-wanted issue of unemployment is under active consideration of the government. For the first time, a separate amount has been allocated in the budget for employment generation. The process has been set in motion through the announcement of recruitment for about 10000 jobs under the accelerated recruitment process. The Lieutenant Governor has promised many more jobs. The requirement of interviews has been done away with for posts under class 3 and 4. This will weed out the corruption in recruitment. The Domicile rules have been framed, and all government jobs, including gazetted, have been reserved for the domicile only. The IB residents have been provided reservation at par with the residents of LoC.
The much-needed development has suffered a setback despite adequate budgetary support due to the onset of corona pandemic. Nonetheless, the administration undertook the restoration of infrastructure projects which had been languishing for three to four decades. 593 projects costing 1313.24 crore pertain only to road and bridges. 111 projects costing 2221.74 crore had been completed till February this year. The process of black-topping all roads in the State has begun with 100 crore being sanctioned as first instalment. The government had planned to complete about 2000 vital projects by March 2021 but have been hampered due to Corona.
Tourism, the main source of the State’s economy, is the worst sufferer. Yet Jammu has emerged as a higher education hub and the work on AIIMS has commenced. New Medical and Engineering Colleges have become functional. The connectivity has improved due to construction of bridges. The real game changer will be the Kandi Dam and Ujh Barrage projects. The work on New Delhi – Katra superhighway is likely to commence soon. Land banks have been created to welcome the setup of industrial units. Many foreign and domestic investors have shown interest in investing in the State. Much talked about Investors’ Summit had also to be called off due to the pandemic.
The present administration has brought in many administrative reforms to make the administration transparent and accountable. Financial measures to streamline and boost the State’s economy have also been introduced. The digitalisation of land records and e-stamping are path-breaking decisions. The expectations of many people were too much, and they expected the changes overnight. It doesn’t happen that way. Administrative reforms need time to mature and be effective. A cultural change is required to overcome the status - quo mindset. The ball has been set rolling, and it is for the different players now to derive benefit from the changed healthy environment. With opportunities galore, it is for the people to grab them. Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Kutch to Katra, India is one now.
(The writer is a Jammu based veteran, political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst)