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The great debate

The great debate

The massive deployment of troops over the past few days, evacuation of tourists and pilgrims interrupting the Amarnath pilgrimage and the midnight imposition of Section 144 placing key political figures on house-arrest had placed a cloud of ambiguity over Kashmir on August 4. The only kind of explanation available for such drastic measures taken in the interest of the Valley was the perennial threat of terror. But, yesterday's proceedings stood to justify the security advisory, internet shut down, et al, as the government turned up with its long-planned move to abrogate Article 370 and 35A. A historic day in the Rajya Sabha as many would refer August 6 to be, the intense debate that was sparked as soon as the government presented its proposal to the House was no less. Union Home Minister piloted the government's agenda as the House was greeted to a glaring proposal of repealing Section 370–which grants special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The proposal to bifurcate the state into two parts and turn them into Union Territories came along as the entire House witnessed the conventional pandemonium. The said bifurcation would create two separate Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. Though both the proposed UTs would have a Lt. Governor presiding over its affairs, the UT of Jammu & Kashmir would also have a legislature. In the Statement of Objects and Reasons, the so-called Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019, outrightly pointed out the long-standing demand of the people of Ladakh for a separate UT which would enable them to realise their aspirations. As for J&K, the prevailing internal security situation fuelled by cross-border terrorism stood as a glaring need for the creation of the UT. The reorganisation aspect was not even called into the debate until then since the prospect of abrogation of Article 370 that has stood since 1954 took everyone by surprise. A massive ruckus broke out in the Upper House as opposition members staged their dissent. Initial hours of the debate could not yield anything productive as pandemonium was the most evident feature of the House. And, it had to be for apprehensions built a shroud around opposing members taking the government's stance outrightly offensive and authoritarian. But just as any bill's fate, a debate was inevitable and the sole way to move forward. For the larger part of the session, members expressed their dissent or assent as the day saw several political parties submit their support one by one. Amidst this great debate that caught national attention, the Army and Air Force were placed on high alert following the government plan to abrogate Article 370. Ultimately, it was the Union Home Minister's detailed response to the House on the purpose and envisaged consequences of its proposal that brought the House to the voting moment which went in favour of the government. Before the adjournment of the Upper House, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill was passed with 125 members voting in favour. Apart from the grand debate that was of the essence in yesterday's parliamentary proceedings, it was Home Minister's ardent stance on the Bill and his elaborate description on the need for such a Bill that took the House by a storm.

Union Home Minister was of the firm view that it was solely because of Article 370 that democracy was never fully implemented in J&K and corruption bred barring true development. His words made sense as he iterated how massive money was spent on the state yet there was no concrete development to be found; how anti-corruption agencies could not enter Kashmir to probe and a monopoly in businesses exists because of Article 370. In a nutshell, the Union Home Minister informed the House how progress eluded J&K because of the special status that the state enjoyed which allowed political motives to capitalise on the privilege of no-interference by the Union of India. Amit Shah's argument had both the reason to believe the state's dismal picture and opportunities that exist if India decides otherwise. And, India indeed, did–though the Bill still needs to be passed in the Lok Sabha. It is to understand that the integration of J&K that the government envisages will truly catapult the proposed UTs into a developmental track creating opportunities for Kashmiri youth as well as wholesome development. Being directly under the control of the Centre will indeed aid in rescripting J&K's current situation and the other prospering UTs' stand as a testimony to it. Government's cognisance of a regressive political environment that had curtailed J&K's progress in the garb of Article 370 fuels the drive to bring J&K and Ladakh under its control. Though clarity will come with time, what the government has envisaged for Kashmir now is certainly more dynamic than past decades of stagnation impinged upon the state by the ulterior motives of few who held the mantle in the backdrop of the special status. Taking cognisance of apprehensions garnered by opposing MPs, the government's strides to bring J&K under its arm and nurture it remains a tremendous responsibility for years of bloodshed and terrorism have produced a very sad image of Kashmir; uneducated youth vulnerable to separatist and militant ideology and no employment due to monopolised industry besides a host of several other adversities.

Changing contours

While the abrogation of Article 370 and reorganisation of J&K involved everyone in the grand debate, what could be understood even by the opposition–not ones from Kashmir–was the creation of Ladakh as a Union Territory. Though offering great resistance to Centre's pro-abrogation drive, even the opposing members took cognisance of the fact that Ladakh as a region needed the bifurcation to realise its dream of progress that never came whilst being part of Jammu and Kashmir. The unanimous consideration for Ladakh was on display purely because being a large but sparsely populated cold desert, Ladakh had been at an isolated corner of J&K's developmental agenda–if at all. In the pressing issues of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh has been incessantly ignored when it came to development. Even from the outlook of tourists visiting Leh, besides the conspicuous presence of Army and monasteries, there is nothing to take note of. In fact, all that has kept Ladakh going is tourism–which ceases during the winter months. Ladakh needs government's hand more than any other part for the development that it never got. The youth in the region have been forever deprived of the opportunities that their counterparts in other regions of the country enjoy, solely because of Article 370 and thus it was in the best interest of the government to carve out Ladakh as a separate UT without a legislature so that from resources to businesses, the government can ensure a robust developmental trajectory for the secluded border region that is very much a part of India as any other. Changing prospects for Ladakh upside down through this unprecedented step will yield transformational outcome only because Ladakh will now be open to the Indian government's ambitious plans and schemes that have benefitted the whole of India with time. The argument at this point simply cannot be the question of why such bifurcation but it rather is the question of why not sooner. It is time to liberate Ladakh from the shadows of J&K and bolster its growth so that it blossoms. Repealing Article 370 and turning Ladakh into a UT might be a revolutionary step but it only profits the cold desert that houses one of the toughest terrains and climate in the country.

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