With the President's assent to Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019, two Union Territories: Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir will officially come into existence on October 31, coinciding with the birth anniversary of the Iron Man of India. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was the first Home Minister of sovereign India and was instrumental in the integration of nearly 565 princely states into the Union of India following Independence. The Parliament had earlier footed the proposal of bifurcating the culturally and geographically diverse and politically sensitive state. This splitting up of Jammu and Kashmir state is definitely a very daring move which is bound to have far-reaching consequences as it will politically reconfigure the region. The purpose of this split is primarily to contain and eradicate the protracted militancy in Kashmir. But, on the less-talked-about side, there are more pragmatic reasons to have specific approaches to specific regions for optimal function. As it is in the case of Union Territories, law and order is the responsibility of the Central government. In the composite Jammu and Kashmir state inclusive of Ladakh, the valley-based (much smaller in proportion) politics unfairly dominated the politics and political status of the entire state; meaning thereby that visibility was virtually denied to the non-Kashmir entities of the state. Ladakh region was for long in want of the Union Territory status but could not assert its demand due to dearth of numbers. Now that the bifurcation has been mandated, a more methodical approach to the development and governance of India's northern most region can be undertaken. It needs to be clarified that this spilt, in effect, has no pertinence with communal leanings. The Ladakh region is largely segregated as an ethnically distinct, Buddhist-dominated area with a particular concentration of Muslims in Kargil district. Yet, after the recent development, the Muslim-majority district of Kargil remains with the Buddhist Ladakh and Hindu-dominant Jammu stays administratively conjoined with Kashmir.
A glimpse into how the states were organised and reorganised in Independent India will be crucial to understanding the relevance of the Modi government's bold and dramatic move. It was 1953 that the first linguistic state of Andhra Pradesh was created for Telgu-speaking populace in the expansive state of Madras. The government at that time was compelled to carve out a separate Telgu territory in the face of prolonged agitation and death of Potti Sriramulu after a 56-day hunger strike. This led to similar demands of carving out separate territories from the mainland on linguistic basis. In 1960, the state of Bombay was disintegrated to create the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra after violence and agitation made it necessary to take this step. In the Northeast, in 1963, Nagaland was born for the Naga people. The Shah Commission report of April 1966 materialised the Punjab Reorganisation Act, following which, Haryana got the Punjabi-speaking areas and the hilly terrains went to (the then Union Territory of) Himachal Pradesh. It was in 1971 that the state of Himachal Pradesh came into existence. Other Union Territories of Tripura and Manipur were also eventually converted to states. The disputed status of Sikkim region was accorded statehood in 1975 and Arunachal Pradesh in 1987. In November 2000, three new states were carved out of existing larger states, bringing into existence Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Uttarakhand (then Uttaranchal) from Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh respectively. Telangana is the latest addition to the list of Indian states since June 2, 2014. There is a reason for making language the basic criterion for division of states. With language as a common factor connecting people of a region, the participation of local people in the administration and order is better ensured since communication will not be a barrier. This will also lead to the development of vernacular languages and in turn preserve cultural heritages with some degree of exclusivity – something which was long ignored by the British rule. Along similar lines of reason, governance is made easier also when geographical features are shared. Cultural and social affiliations and necessary to take into account to connect effectively with the local people. This will subsequently lead to economic development which will open the doors to greater prosperity. Chattisgarh is an apt example, the state is witnessing remarkable overall development after it split from Madhya Pradesh because development in this region was ignored for decades together.
A good and prospering state is definitely a national asset. It makes perfect sense to create favourable conditions for the upliftment and betterment of a state or to take control of a region for this motive. With adequate opportunities for growth, a region thrives with prosperity. Additionally, for the sake of better representation, political entities tend to associate themselves with identity politics. This has its consequences with respect to exclusivity which is not ideal but with such specific approaches, less visible communities find voice and representation. Hence, if a political move results in safeguarding social and cultural identities, it is bold, it could be met with caustic criticisms, but, then, it is a right thing to do in the long run. As historical records inform, the political or constitutional status of a region is not permanent and can always change depending on how the state is run. Whether as a state or as a Union Territory, autonomy can always be earned if the government of the place performs well. With respect to the two new Union territories, here is hoping that Kashmir and Kargil wake up to a peaceful and happy Eid.