Start With Statehood

AS the second wave winds down, India is witnessing a gradual return to normalcy. The economy is reopening and hopefully would not have to be locked down again going forward. And with normalcy the political activity has also resumed. The centre’s recent outreach to the leaders of Jammu and Kashmir was a most conspicuous example of this change. It was the first major attempt to take the regional political actors on board following the rescinding of Article 370 in August 2019. The meeting didn’t produce any concrete outcome though. There is also no indication that the initiative would be followed up in the weeks and months to come.

The ebbing pandemic would also open up space for major political events like elections. In the near to medium future, assembly elections would be held in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. This would be the first major test of prime minister Narendra Modi’s popularity following his government’s abysmal performance in dealing with the devastating second Covid-19 wave that took lakhs of people ill and killed thousands, a large number of them dying for lack of oxygen. Would the BJP pull through in Uttar Pradesh, India’s biggest state that sends the largest number of members to parliament? It is difficult to tell this right now.

Be that as it may, for now it would be interesting to see how New Delhi seeks to tackle Kashmir. For their part, the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, the five party group that seeks restoration of J&K autonomy has already expressed disappointment over the outcome of the meeting with the PM. The alliance lamented the lack of Confidence Building Measures, such as releasing political and other prisoners from jails, and taking steps to end the atmosphere of suppression.

The centre continues to remain ambiguous about the restoration of statehood. According to both prime minister and the home minister Amit Shah, the statehood would follow once the delimitation commission has increased the seats of J&K Assembly, a process which is due to be followed by elections within the union territory framework. Even then there is no guarantee that the statehood would be the next logical step. Or whether the statehood to be granted would be full or a truncated one - one that resembles a Delhi-type arrangement where the real power remains vested with the governor. Such an arrangement would hardly be enough to make a redeeming difference to the existing state of affairs, as fundamentally there won’t be much that would change on the ground. So, the centre must be more considerate and sensitive towards the demands of the people of J&K and start the process of outreach with the restoration of statehood itself.

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