Time to Rethink Kashmir

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Because very little that we thought and understood about the former state before August 5, 2019 applies now

SIXTEEN months after revocation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019 Kashmir is a different place. The establishment parties who were otherwise bitter rivals of one another have united for the common cause of the restoration of autonomy. Once vaunted separatist conglomerate Hurriyat Conference has become extinct. Many of grouping’s top leaders continue to be in jail or under house arrest. This has hobbled its capacity to organise any political activity.

But even if the separatist leaders were free – and some of them are free – the situation would hardly be different. The government has outlawed any sign of dissent in whatever form and disproportionately raised the costs for a separatist leader or an activist to go out and champion the cause. Ditto for civil society and civil liberties groups. There is hardly any one that is able to freely hold any activity or express an opinion on the situation.

There have also been far-reaching administrative and legal changes right from the domicile laws to new land laws. As a result, J&K citizenship and the buying of land have been thrown open to outsiders. Government has also overturned the Roshni Act whereby occupants of state land were allowed to own it against payment determined by the government. Scores of the other laws have been extended to the former state that are aiding the process of fundamentally changing the facts on the ground.

At the same time, the government has altered the electoral map of J&K by creating District Development Councils, a third tier of the grassroots democracy, whose members unlike in any other state in India are being directly elected. The DDCs are expected to not only undermine the role of the gram sabhas and the Block Development Councils – the first and second tier of Panchayati Raj respectively – but also detract from the powers of the Assembly. The 14 member DDC headed by a chairperson will be solely in charge of the district. Their decisions are likely to override those of a panch, sarpanch and a BDC member. Similarly, an MLA despite being a member of the DDC will have no role in the election or removal of its chairperson.

As for the prospect of a non-BJP party or the alliance like People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) winning a majority of the DDCs, this will change little on the ground, other than making the local administration a bit more approachable for the people.

Only thing that remains constant from the pre-August 5 days is the militancy. It has gone on regardless of the far-reaching changes that have overtaken Kashmir despite the killings of above 200 militants over the past year.

Militancy has survived as the youth picking up arms are ready to pay with their lives for their choices. So, the government measures to silence politicians and activists don’t apply. And as long as the local recruitment continues as looks likely and the armed men continue to cross over from Pakistan, the militancy seems here to stay.

Going forward, the current situation is likely to linger on for a while. There is little chance that the Assembly election will be held anytime soon. At least, not until the delimitation commission enhances the seats for Jammu making it politically at par with Kashmir. Until that time, the DDCs will serve as a replacement for the Assembly.

Similarly, the Centre is unlikely to restore the statehood of J&K. This also appears to be subservient to the completion of the delimitation exercise. The centre, as seems clear, doesn’t want its Article 370 decision to be in any way challenged by an Assembly dominated by the parties which have Kashmir as their core base.

The past year has also shown that the world doesn’t care about the withdrawal of Article 370. Even the concern about human rights in the months following the repeal of autonomy has abated. Kashmir is now off the international radar. Similarly, while Pakistan may not have reconciled to the constitutional changes in Kashmir, it has now kind of gotten used to a new state of affairs. Its protestations about India’s actions in Kashmir haven’t found adequate traction across the world. In fact, the US and Europe which largely influence world opinion have been barely responsive.

What does the future have in store? The probability is that it will be more of the same. At least, as long as the BJP is in power. But even if the BJP loses power in future, the Article 370 move remains a fait accompli. And if a large number of outsiders acquire citizenship and buy the land, as the new legal regime has made possible, J&K will be a different place a few years down the line.

Very little that we thought and understood about Kashmir before August 5, 2019 applies now. And if we continue to look at the situation through the same prism, there’s no way we can understand what is happening in ‘Naya Kashmir’.The new Kashmir needs rethinking our decades old understandings and narratives to make a sense of it.

It is clear that the Modi government has changed the game in Kashmir internally and as a consequence externally too. A static thinking rooted in the early nineties will get us nowhere in sorting the fraught situation confronting us.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

  • The author is the Political Editor of Kashmir Observer 

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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