Elusive Statehood

UNION Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday hinted about the imminent restoration of J&K statehood in her remarks on Centre-state relations. This has triggered speculation about the centre’s near-term plans for the union territory which is likely to go to the polls early next year. The finance minister said that J&K gets 41 percent of the tax revenue as opposed to 42 percent since it was no longer a state. She, however, added that “it will soon become —- may be some time.” So, does the centre have a plan to restore J&K statehood before elections? It would be great if it did, but this looks very unlikely. No less than union home minister Amit Shah has made it clear that the statehood of J&K would be restored only after elections are held and a representative government is formed. There has so far been no signs that the centre is reviewing its policy. Restoration of statehood also makes eminent sense from the centre’s point of view. It seems that the union government wants to first see how the future elected government would look like and what its political and governance priorities would be including its approach to the issue of the revocation of Article 370. Also, it is as yet unclear if the centre would be inclined to restore complete statehood or a truncated one on the pattern of Delhi.

One thing is clear, though: The J&K statehood seems subordinate to the circumstances thrown up by a future elected UT government. The centre, as appears obvious, doesn’t want its decision to undo Article 370 to be in any way challenged by an Assembly dominated by the parties that have a contrary view on the issue.

J&K has not had an elected government since June 2018 when Governor’s rule was imposed after the PDP-led coalition government lost its majority following the withdrawal of support by the BJP. The last four years have witnessed a drastic political makeover of the state-turned-union territory, so much so that in many aspects, the current J&K bears little resemblance to what it was pre-August 2019.

For now, we can only hope that the elections, whenever they are held, will lead to the restoration of statehood. It is expected that a government led or influenced by the BJP could pave the way for a faster return to statehood than a non-BJP government. But, for now, this is all in the future. All we can hope for now is that the elections are announced earlier than later.

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