Repeal of Article 370 and its Discontents

Hindus in J&K and Buddhists in Ladakh are anxious about loss of jobs, land and identity but they fundamentally differ with Muslims  as to the solution

IN a development hitherto unknown to Ladakh, there has been a rare call for boycott of the elections to Ladakh Hill Development Council (LAHDC) pending inclusion of the union territory under 6th schedule that will guarantee constitutional protection to region’s demography, land, environment and culture. The call has been given by the former chairman of the LAHDC Rigzin Spalbar. And in doing so he has taken a stand that resonates with popular sentiment in Leh if not in the neighbouring district of Kargil that has its own LAHDC.

Deprived of the constitutional protections under Article 370, Leh feels suddenly vulnerable to influx of people from rest of the country and consequent dilution of its identity. In addition, as a union territory, Leh has even been deprived of local self governance. In the new scheme of things, the democratically elected LAHDCs,  both of Leh and Kargil, have become redundant. The region is now directly ruled by the centre through a Lieutenant Governor. So, elections to LAHDCs mean little for regional empowerment.

Earlier this month¸ a resolution was moved in LAHDC-Leh, otherwise controlled by the BJP, seeking protection of jobs, land rights and businesses for locals. The resolution offered the centre several options to address the issue: that Union Territory of Ladakh be granted constitutional safeguards either under 6th schedule or under Article 371 or Domicile Act of the constitution of India “to protect the tribal rights of indigenous people of Ladakh”.

However, LAHDC-Leh’s stand met with a stiff opposition from the LAHDC-Kargil. The latter, instead, has demanded reversal of the revocation of J&K’s autonomous status and sought to be made a part of the Muslim majority Kashmir Valley.

Centre has so far baulked at granting any kind of constitutional safeguards to Ladakh, although it hasn’t said no to it.

The situation in Leh is by and large mirrored in Hindu majority Jammu division of J&K. The region is also experiencing a deep sense of anxiety about the post-Article 370 state of affairs and for more or less similar reasons: loss of jobs, land and identity. A majority of people apprehend that the militancy in Kashmir Valley will persuade all eligible outsiders to settle in Jammu. People from outside are expected to find Jammu safer and culturally favourable. The new law has already granted citizenship to West Pakistan refugees, Gurkhas and Valmikis,   who had been living in Jammu for decades without a J&K citizenship.

Jammu’s fears are real so are that of Leh. And interestingly, there are similar fears in Kashmir Valley, in Kargil and in Muslim majority areas of Jammu. But there is a fundamental difference: Non-Muslim populations of Jammu and Leh largely support the withdrawal of Article 370 while as the Muslims want reversal of the move. Recently six political parties with Muslims as their core or majority support base got together to jointly fight for the restoration of Article 370.  They released a joint statement that termed  “the series of measures undertaken on 5th August 2019” as grossly unconstitutional and a challenge to the basic identity of the people of J&K.

It is improbable that Hindus in Jammu division and Buddhists in Leh would identify with Muslim majority’s demand for restoration of autonomy. And the reasons for it are understandable: Revocation of Article 370 and subsequent constitutional measures have served to dilute the political centrality of the Muslim majority Kashmir Valley. Power, both at a political and a psychological level, has shifted to minorities in the newly created union territories – Hindus of Jammu in J&K and Buddhists of Leh in Ladakh.  And the two communities would hardly be in a mood to let go off this advantage. More so, in J&K where the ongoing twin exercises of granting permanent residency rights to outsiders and the delimitation of constituencies is not only expected to dilute the Muslim majority character of the region but also give more legislative positions to Jammu division.

This is expected to bring first a parity in political power between Kashmir and Jammu and subsequently decisively tilt it in favour of Jammu. So, no matter what fears Jammu has about the potential dilution of its Dogra identity and the loss of land and jobs, it stands to gain in the long term. It could be a matter of time before J&K reverts to Dogra rule, this time in the guise of democracy. Delimitation of the constituencies, if it stays true to the apprehensions in the Valley, will serve to turn the region’s demographic majority into a political minority.

Ditto for Ladakh, where despite Muslims being in a slim majority and wanting to stay as a part of Kashmir Valley, it is the demand of Buddhists for a union territory that was accepted.

If anything, it shows that in the new scheme of things, minorities in J&K and Ladakh have disproportionately more political heft than the majority.   So, why would they want it reversed. As for their anxieties about identity, land and jobs, they would want these addressed under a post-Article 370 dispensation. It remains to be seen how centre will respond to them and whether it can extend such redressal without, in the process, accommodating the concerns of the majority community as well.

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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