Millennium Post

Paradise regained?

Unless normalcy is genuinely restored, Kashmir triumph will invariably have a hollow ring to it

Paradise regained?

Instead of gently tending to people who are being crushed under the weight of 'modinomics', the Modi-Shah duo went on harping aloud about their audacious work in NRC and Kashmir, when they were campaigning for elections in Maharashtra and Haryana. Voters, in turn, reminded them that their woes are more urgent and important. However, the country at large would be happy if paradise is really regained in Kashmir, as they claim.

Literally everything transpired in a moment. The dream of ending the 'special status', mooted by Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee and nurtured by the RSS-Jan Sangh over decades, has finally been fulfilled. Political leaders were bundled out. Farooq was even seen crying in hiccups. Although it would have happened someday, the BJP decided that the day was to be today and that it was time to finally turn the historical changes upside down.

A separate history for Kashmir began only after the first Muslim rule ushered in by Shamsuddin Shah Mir, a courtier in the court of King Udayanadeva and later continued under the Mughals, Afghans and Sikhs. In mid-19th Century, Gulab Singh, the treacherous Dogra general of Sikhs, colluded with the British to become the first Maharaja of the combined Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir Valley and annexed Ladakh and Baltistan. His son expanded it further with Hunza, Gilgit and Nagar. Later, while Hari Singh was the Maharaja and Mehar Chand Mahajan was his trusted Prime Minister, India was partitioned and Pakistan suddenly occupied some areas alongside Gilgit-Baltistan.

Amid the tensions of Indo-Pak war, Indian leadership also had to decide on the Prime Minister of this predominantly-Muslim Princely State before merging it with India. While Sardar Patel backed Mehar Chand Mahajan, Nehru favoured the popular leader Sheikh Abdullah. Miffed, the Maharaja's men tried to engineer a demographic change. Dogra forces reportedly killed over two lakh Muslims in 1948 for this endeavour. Ultimately, Nehru had his way and the 'Instrument of Accession' alongside Article 370 was negotiated by Sheik Abdullah in 1949. This was precisely the moment when Dr Mookerjee foresaw the nurturing of separatism and his fight began for the abrogation.

It is a matter of history that Sheikh Abdullah was jailed in 1953 and Article 35-A, that grants special rights to permanent residents of Kashmir, was hurriedly inserted through a Presidential order in 1954. Much later, Indira Gandhi signed the Indira-Sheikh Accord in 1975 which brought Sheikh back on the throne. But, the rigging of elections in the Valley in 1987 by their successors, Farooq Abdullah and Rajiv Gandhi was the turning point. It shattered the peace and caused the emergence of separatism, which was bolstered up in the early '90s when Afghani Mujahideen became the mentor of the local outfits. There were havoc and turmoil, followed by the exodus of three lakh Kashmiri Pundits. It gained traction with the aid and abetment of Pakistan. Thousands of civilians and security forces were killed over the period, proving the prophecy of Dr Mookerjee to be right. Although Vajpayee adopted the 'Insaaniyat' policy to deal with it, once in power in 2014, the new leadership resolved to appease their icon's soul and began strategising meticulously.

They began with building on the heavy subsidies being given since 2000, which amounted to 10 per cent of all central funds which were handed to one per cent of the country's population, to improve its indicators – education, health and connectivity. Then, a coalition government and its collapse, the President's rule, surgical strikes, cultivation of allies across the world, activation of NIA for going after financial networks and big fishes, the tapping of local police's special skills of intelligence and outreach into local areas, local body elections, etc., all combined to form the narrative in this direction.

They have several arguments. Article 370 which is only temporary in nature and Article 35-A which is discriminatory, have been the hindrance to integrating Kashmir with India. These Articles have also been stated to be detrimental to the prosperity of the state and major reasons for separatism and subversion by external elements. Vested political interests, who also harboured rabble-rousing NGOs, took advantage of the Articles for their own and their families' prosperity by siphoning off funds given by the Centre. Article 35-A is inherently biased against women and others. If a woman from the state marries outside the state, she would lose her rights as a state subject. Furthermore, when without Permanent Residence Certificate, one is not entitled to property rights, employment in state government, participation in elections, admission to government-run technical educational institution, voting rights and the right to join central services; it was denied to Valmikis (Dalits), – who were brought to J&K in 1957 – West Pakistan Refugees and Gorkhas. Non-Kashmiri IAS and other officers, even after serving in the state for years, cannot buy a house, nor can their children study or work there. Further, since non-Kashmiris cannot invest in land or property, MNCs or manufacturing firms too cannot do it to increase job potential. Professional colleges, etc., cannot fill their vacancies, leading to a serious dearth of qualified experts.

Government, therefore, takes umbrage of Article 14 for providing social and economic justice, for gender equality and for devolution of full benefits of development to the Kashmiri people equally along with other citizens and firmly believes that this policy-driven political decision by a duly-elected government cannot be subject to judicial review. On the other hand, critics and petitioners in the SC view the developments as an assault on the nation's federal structure, a brazen negation of our solemn historical obligation to people of Kashmir codified in the Instrument of Accession and a radical constitutional amendment without any consultation with stakeholders. It is, however, for the SC to finally decide about the constitutional validity of the government's action through the appeals pending, which are being adjourned continually.

In the meanwhile, people are concerned with the collateral damage caused in the process. There are many reports received in hospitals that residents received severe pellet injuries from the shots of patrolling forces, even when they stayed indoors. When a brilliant minor boy, playing cricket since schools are closed, got several pellets embedded in his skull and died, the police declared it was due to stone-pelting. However, a post-mortem showed the pellets and confirmed the claim of parents that there was no stone-pelting. Then, over 140 minors were put behind bars, as per the inquiry report of the High Court. For fear of being picked up arbitrarily, young men avoid going to their apple orchards to tend to the fruit and many have left the valley. With a freehand given, security forces rounded up thousands of people as preventive action.

The adjournments by the SC to hear the petitions are not being questioned since they would otherwise take considerable time to decide; constitutional experts like Harish Salve lament that in case of Habeas Corpus petitions and HR matters the adjournments are not convincing. Until recently, most of the judges followed the philosophy of Krishna Iyer, which was 'bail, not jail' and heard all such matters mostly within hours. The trend is different now. The government gets its way.

After a prolonged blackout of Kashmir news, the government says the state is limping back to normalcy. A Delhi journalist, however, writes, "The first impression you get is that peace is an imposition here". Trickling reports say that there is funeral silence owing to the heavy presence of security forces and the shutting down of the Internet, mobiles and even landlines. A Kashmiri journalist said, "We are back in 1947". A villager there says, "Now we realise that India is not a friend" while a lawyer laments, 'Ghulam Kashmir' (Kashmir enslaved). The otherwise bustling apple 'mandis' in Sopore and Shopian are still deserted with the self-imposed strike, affecting financiers, transporters, loaders, push-cart apple sellers, labourers, and several others.

The militant factor is still there. In order to keep markets shut, an apple trader was killed in Sopore. Then, a transporter from Punjab and a trader from Rajasthan were hit in Shopian and Pulwama respectively. A Kashmiri businessman was shot dead on August 29 because he had opened his shop defying the orders of Jaish-e-Mohammed. In September, a shopkeeper was killed in Srinagar. Now, shops are open only between 7 to 11 am as per the mandate of militants, if at all they are opened. Under such trying circumstances and in the absence of communications, even security forces are suffering from emotional casualties.

The condemnation by Malaysia is expected. But, the reaction of the German Chancellor about human rights is embarrassing. And, what is even more surprising is the reaction of our cultivated ally, America. Their House Foreign Affairs Committee has spoken of the "devastating impact" of the communications blackout on the lives of people, while their Senate has flagged "the current humanitarian crisis" in Kashmir. US Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar snubbed the stout defence of our government nominee, journalist Aarti Tikoo Singh, saying, "The press is at its worst when it is a mouthpiece for a government. If the Indian government's crackdown in Kashmir was good for human rights, it wouldn't be happening in secret." Such flak would have been averted, had the government won the confidence of people instead of bulldozing the state. While the incarnation of new UTs was a muted affair, killings and shutdown of markets are still continuing and normalcy appears to be a distant reality.

As such, BJP has a penchant for rhetoric and creating illusions based on falsities to achieve their ends. With their long-dreamt Kashmir agenda fructified, will they at least now, walk the talk of their promises and win the hearts and minds of its people? 'Paradise regained' should not become another illusion.

Dr N Dilip Kumar is a retired IPS officer and a former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. Views expressed are strictly personal

N Dilip Kumar

N Dilip Kumar

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