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Mainstreaming Kashmir

Jammu and Kashmir always had a questionable special status under the constitution since 1954, derived from article 370, by which it had a separate constitution, state flag and autonomy to administer itself. The 1954 Presidential Order issued after consultation with the state’s Constituent Assembly had profound provisions, drafted in Part XXI of the Constitution. These were However, “Temporary, Transitional and Special”.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_370_of_the_Constitution_of_India – cite_note-indiatoday-5 Article 35A, issued under the same order, empowered the J&K state’s legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state and provide special rights and privileges. The government on 5th August 2019, abrogated the special status. The critiques However, continued to question the repealing, citing dissolution of the Constituent Assembly without recommending abrogation of Article 370, and hence deemed permanency.


What exactly were these privileges? The residents could purchase land and immovable property, could vote and contest elections, seek government employment and avail other benefits such as higher education and health care. Article 35A, allowed the J&K state’s residents to live under a separate set of laws, which included citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights. Is this inequality among equals or equality among unequals?


Now for the discriminatory part. Non-permanent residents of the state, even if Indian citizens, were not entitled to these ‘privileges’. Migrant labour suffered the most. No land or property could be purchased by citizens from other states. Even State’s own female residents, would lose their permanent resident status by marrying out of state. No one ever asked why at all, citizens from other States should accept such glaring differences even as all of them belonged to the same nationhood. It was only natural that the idea of a State within a State was going to be abhorred and criticised for all times to come. The unequal treatment led to continued skirmishes and clashes resulting in brutal killing of almost 350 members of Hindu community most of them Kashmiri Pandits in 1990. More tragic was that at least ten thousand Kashmiri Hindus converted to Islam sowing the seeds of discontent in Kashmir. A 20% Hindu population in 1947 dwindled to less than 2% in 2020. A constant sniping and attack of the neighbour, kept the cauldron simmering. Its non-State actors promoted unrest and terrorism shattering the peace of an otherwise calm and beautiful place.


That a constitutional wrong triggered a genocide was extremely unfortunate. That terrorism still thrives, killing our brave forces every other day is doubly unfortunate. The government to its credit, contained and continues to contain the damage to the borders, never letting the mayhem penetrate rest of the country. More steps were However, required, for a lasting solution warranting a course correction, for several past acts of omission and commission had rendered the situation volatile, insecure and politically very sensitive.


Only a Military intervention or an all-party political solution or a change of government that thought differently or a combination of these would have been an option for peace to prevail. Sure enough, the country saw a change in government in 2014 and the back-channel efforts at forging peace were on in right earnest, though they yielded very little. When the government returned to power in 2019 with a bigger mandate, it was beyond doubt for all concerned that the people were ready to back its decisions with elan.


The context having been set, the government on 5th August 2019, took the bull by the horns, issuing a constitutional order, superseding the 1954 order that passed muster with a with a 2/3rd majority. It meant that J&K was completely under the Indian constitution. The order of 6th August declared all the clauses of Article 370 except clause 1 inoperative. The master stroke of all was the passing of the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019, enacting the division of the state of J&K into two union territories, J&K and Ladakh. Thus, the last nail was driven into the coffin of inequalities and ambiguities that we were living with. The road to peace is long and arduous. The UT’s cannot and must not become States as we understand, until a complete integration is affected.


Continuing the ‘work in progress’, on 26th October this year, the government notified several changes to laws in the UT of J&K, under the provisions of the Reorganisation Act. For a start, it will allow outsiders to buy land in the UT, a right allowed to its permanent residents, fulfilling a long-standing demand of the citizens of the country. A change in the demographic composition of the region is also tied to its prosperity, in as much as allowing industrialisation and providing a pathway to Kashmiri pandits to walk back home. The flip side is that the restrictions on outsiders purchasing land in the state are actually about recognising the needs of various regions and the people inhabiting them. These concerns also must be addressed.


Industrial development zones can now be set up in the region without the involvement of permanent residents, and contract farming can be conducted on agricultural land, two essentials for growth. Though agricultural land is out of bounds for non-permanent residents, its conversion to non-agricultural land use with the permission of the District Collector, could have a potential for misuse by displacing genuine farmers in the name of industrialisation or infrastructure projects.


Similar laws exist in Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and the North East and now Ladakh, ostensibly to protect the locals, which also need to be repealed for a unifying narrative of “One Nation – One People – One Law”. More so if the 5 trillion-dollar GDP is to be realised. In as much as local needs must be protected, can it be achieved at the expense of industrial and infrastructural development?


Yes, there will be several voices that will ask for a rollback of the decisions. Unfortunately, even work done for the public good also can have critics. That it cannot be rolled back must be understood and accepted by all concerned. The government has shown both intent and action. It means business in unequivocal terms. There However, is more work to be done. Our side of J&K is part of a larger region of Kashmir. The rest of it has been in occupation since 1947, partly by Pakistan and, partly China. The next step must surely be to liberate it to see one Kashmir in One India in our lifetime.

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