A Year Since Scraping of Article 370 - What Has Chaged?


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It has been a year since the Rajya Sabha passed the evocation of the special status for J&K under Article 370, and the bill for reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir. Subsequently, on October 31st, the erstwhile State was bifurcated into two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh.

In the purview of Articles 370 and 35A, J&K had its own constitution, and all laws passed by Parliament were not pertinent to the State unless the State government gave its assent.

The President was empowered to decide what provisions of the Constitution of India that would and wouldn’t apply to the State, but only with the State Government’s simultaneity. This he did, in the backdrop of a Presidential rule, with the consent of the Governor.

5th August 2019, brought to fore a panoply of emotions pan-India. While the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), its allies, and chauvinist-nationalists celebrated in full fervor, the opposition, minorities, left-wingers, and the liberals lamented.

Amidst celebrations and debates in the country, the most directly-affected i.e. the people of the territory were muffled with a horrendous shut-down of all mobile and internet services.

This piece will not go (much) into the historical and legal intricacies and will look at the approach of Centre viz-a-viz J&K. This writer will simply try to look in hindsight, the justifications given for scotching a 70-year-old law – within 2 days – and whether they can be vindicated on a year-on-year basis.


Protecting Democracy


“Because of [Article] 370, Democracy never prevailed in Jammu and Kashmir”. This was the first solid rationale that Home Minister Amit Shah gave during his 46-minute long speech in Rajya Sabha on August 5.

Let’s talk about Democracy then.

For such a tectonic change, the consent of the state’s democratically elected assembly was, using a constitutional loophole, replaced with the consent of the Governor. The Governor himself was elected by the Union Government.

When tensions were mounting on 3rd and 4th August 2019, even he said that he had “no knowledge” of any changes to constitutional provisions. There can only be 2 rationales here – either the Central government had not even informed him about the changes, or he lied.

Indian democracy has always been known for its multi-polar politics and unexpected coalition governments.

In Kashmir however, over 560 politicians and political activists – both pro-India and pro-independence – including former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti were detained on the grounds of Public Safety Act (PSA) on August 4-5.

Although most of these prisoners, after months of detention, house-arrests and humiliation were gradually released, Ms. Mufti is still under detention.

One of them, Senior Congress leader, and former Union Minister Saifuddin Soz was on the last Thursday had to scale a pillar of his house to say that he remained “under house arrest without any formal orders” since August 5 last year.

The apex court, hearing a petition by Mr. Soz’s wife asking for his release from “illegal detention”, had accepted the administration’s statement and closed the case.

“The government lied to the Supreme Court. If I am a free man, then allow me to leave the premises. I am not a free man. These policemen are saying they have orders from the top,” he had screamed from behind the gate.

Since independence, many Union Territories have been granted statehood so as to bring the administration closer to the people and lessen the direct Central hand in day-to-day management. 

J&K was the first state demoted to a Union Territory run by an unelected bureaucrat and is still without an elected assembly for a calendar year.


Freedom Of Speech 



With hundreds of thousands of armed police and military forces standing in every nook and corner in the valley, there is little freedom of opinion and no right to free assembly or protest.

No permission is accorded even to the union’s elected parliamentarians to visit and see things for themselves, even as chosen public representatives from select countries have been taken on guided tours to deliver an endorsement of the ruling dispensation’s actions.

Moreover, our democratic constitution proclaims a Right to Equality. Our Supreme Court has also professed that access to the Internet is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution.

Still, Internet services were kiboshed in Jammu and Kashmir on August 5. Overnight, mobile phones and landlines had stopped working, the internet was frozen, and text messaging stopped. 

A sluggish 2G facility was only restored in the UT in January. Over the months, some call services were also restored, although restrictions on high-speed internet persisted even during a perilous pandemic.

As a Kashmiri wrote for BuzzFeedNews, “So, I went to see what the shutdown has done — the business people begging the police to restore access, the students clandestinely sharing videos, the doctors unable to do their jobs, and everywhere, the men with guns.”

There must be some justification for all this. There is only one, according to the Centre.

“The terror modules operating within the UTs and handlers from across the border aid and incite people by transmission of fake news and targeted messages through the use of internet to propagate terrorism, co-ordinate and plan terror attacks,” an affidavit filed by the UT’s administration in the Supreme Court had said.

In a startling turn of events, the Supreme Court after accepting the scathing nature of internet curbs formed a committee to look into the issue which was constituted and chaired by the same administrators who applied the restrictions in the first place.

This panel has for a couple of months now, has only reiterated similar reasons for the curbs to go unabated.

Surprisingly, there were orders to extend this ban till 19th August even when the J&K Lieutenant Governor G C Murmu himself told the Indian Express that he “feel that [restoring] 4G will not be a problem.”


Media's Role 


While the 3 pillars of the democracy dragging their feet in protecting the flagrant human rights violations in Kashmir, the onus fell on the media to step and be at the vanguard to represent the Kashmiri voices.

In April this year, three Kashmiri journalists were charged with stringent laws like the amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) – designed for terrorists – for their reporting on Kashmir.

As reported by The Quint, at least 20 journalists and media associates were incarcerated immediately after the abrogation of Article 370 in August last year. These were treated as terrorists, kept in solitary confinements away from their families in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

To add insult to injury, there has been a major recent development in the UT in the name of a new 'Media Policy'. The 53-page document empowers the Jammu and Kashmir government officials to decide and omit a piece of news for being “anti-social” or “anti-national”.

Journalists in J&K have chastised this policy as more restrictive than the censorship mechanisms of the colonial era.


Preventing Corruption


The second argument given by Amit Shah was that corruption mushroomed in J&K because of its special status. Kashmir is indeed beset with deep-rooted corruption. It was also manifest in the “fake arms licenses case” that involved almost six States across India.

Although, survey-focussed research by Ayjaz Wani of ORF Mumbai found out that the natives, and especially the farmers among them, were highly skeptical of the government’s remarks. According to them, the local administration has become more corrupt after the abrogation of Article 370.

Early snowfall in 2019 further accentuated these problems. The Centre didn’t act at all while the inspection teams formed by the local administration were inept and favored the rich-farmers. Moreover, the farmers had to be wary of the militants who considered the farmers' persistence with day-to-day activities as accepting the Centre’s decision.

The respondents of the survey said that even after an increase in their salaries, the UT administration remained irresponsible, careless, and high-handed. “The people feel that the bifurcation of the state into UTs will not make a dent in eradicating corruption”, the report added.

To double-check, a recent report by The Wire reported the ground-zero situation of corruption in Kashmir. It says that “several institutions of transparency and probity, such as the State Information Commission (SIC), the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and State Vigilance Commission (SVC) have been shut.”

It goes on to add that corruption is still rampant in “public authorities like the food & civil supplies department, the rural development department, the police, the land revenue department, the various municipalities and so on.”


Precluding Militancy


The standout allegation was that Article 370 fuelled separatism and allowed militant violence to thrive in Kashmir.

The claim that removing the law will end terrorism in the UT was belied when the report about the number of terrorists killed in operations in the first five months of 2019 and 2020 showed only a small dip.

Even though the number of terrorist incidents plummeted, only seventy-eight terrorists were killed in January-May this year as opposed to 101 being killed in the same period in 2019.

Vappala Balachandran, former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, told The Hindu in the same report that

“J&K police is pathetically trying to connect the alarmingly high number of militants killed this year with their elevated operational efficiency to justify Union Home Ministry’s claim that Article 370 abrogation had brought peace.

"However, the serious increase in insurgency despite the heaviest deployment of security forces in recent memory after the August 5, 2019 lockdown would be evident with the killing of 89 militants, mostly local, this year compared to 29 during the second half of 2019”.

Reasons for the new recruitments are being attributed to the increased presence of security forces, the new domicile laws, and the political vacuum created in the valley since August 5 last year – which ostensibly the militants are filling for the restive youth.


Handling Economy and Stimulating Development


The home minister’s other claims said that Article 370 has kept the people of J&K in poverty.

As per the 2011 census, J&K ranked 8th among states in India in terms of the lowest percentage of people (10.31) below the poverty line.

This ranking was better than Gujrat, Home Minister’s (and also the Prime Minister’s) native state, a lot higher than BJP ruled states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh, and also a cut above the other UTs of Chandigarh and Dadra and Nagar Haveli.

It was also claimed that J&K has remained underdeveloped or backward because of Article 370. Even in the Human Development Index for 2018, J&K fared better than Gujarat, U.P, and Bihar.

Coming to post-370, the Kashmir economy suffered a loss to the tune of Rs 17,000 crores in the first four months after August 2019.

Due to the communications blockade, curfews, and militant threats, the economy lost more than 90,000 jobs in the sectors of handicraft, tourism, and information technology.

Since Article 370 was hollowed out, tourist arrivals in the UT fell by 86%. In 2018, Kashmir had received 316,434 tourists between August and December. In 2019, however, this number fell to 43,059 for the same period.

In July 2019, Kashmir received 152,525 tourists but August 2019 saw only 10,130 arrivals and most of them in the first few days of the month. This plummeted to 4,562 in September and grew to only 12,086 in November 2019.

The apple industry in Kashmir, worth Rs 8,000 crores which contributes almost eight percent of J&K’s GDP, was the worst affected. Threats from militants, along with the government’s severe curfews delayed the harvest for over a month, dealing a crippling blow to the industry during the peak harvest season.

By the time the government intervened, hundreds of farmers were forced to either sell their produce at throwaway prices or just watch it rot.

This is probably the first time in the last 7 decades that the valley is facing such an economic slump.

Students in J&K faced the brunt of the clampdown. With stringent internet restrictions in place, school pass-outs weren’t able to fill the forms for colleges. Scholars on the other hand couldn’t apply for scholarship grants and research papers.

Notwithstanding the pandemic, after the restoration of 2G and mobile services, this situation would have gotten better. But for now, one can’t see an economic gain commensurate to the Home Minister’s hysterical speech. Rather the economy, like the rest of India, has taken a downward turn.


Other Claims


Some more arguments supporting the scrapping of J&K’s special status pertained to an inadequate health sector, scantily cheap land, fewer jobs, a need for Right to Education, and reservations for the OBCs, the Dalits, the Tribals, and women.

Taking the pandemic as a case in point, J&K’s positivity rate for COVID-19 (3.2%) is much lesser than Gujarat's (8%) which not only shows adequate testing but also better handling of the malady. Not only this, but J&K is also ranked 3rd out of 22 states in terms of life expectancy and 7th in terms of the number of people served per doctor.

Coming to jobs, as gleaned from The Hindu, no new government jobs have been created in the strife-ridden region while recruitment for ballpark 80,000 jobs has been affected immensely by the pandemic. The report also estimated the overall losses since last year to be around 40,000 crores.

Now, even if the erstwhile state was bereft of the Right to Education and reservations for the marginalized, these alone cannot be the reason for scrapping the special status without any effective consent from the public. These could have been achieved specifically, without the whole gamut of changes.

That the BJP had an eye on the special status was well-established, what came as a surprise was the transformation of a state into a lowly Union Territory.

What wasn’t a surprise though, was the Home Minister’s quip at the opposition for doing “vote-bank politics” on Kashmir. Nevertheless, he soon ridiculed himself by saying that his reorganization bill shouldn’t be astonishing for they had it in their election agendas since 1950.


Conclusion



People of Jammu and Kashmir were (and are) hurt. According to the ORF survey, some even feel that with this move, New Delhi has labeled all common Kashmiris as separatists. They not only find the developments abusive of Kashmir’s but also of India’s constitution.

Moreover, they have lost their trust in pro-establishment politicians and parties. If history is any precedent, this could be dropping the gauntlet for Pakistan – which used a similar atmosphere after the rigged elections of 1987 to foment militancy.

New Delhi should use this opportunity not to make merry but to regain the trust of the natives. The mainstream politicians should go above glib promises and rhetorical quips to actually making lives better. Revoking the PSA will go a long way in this.

Kashmiris should be provided with equal if not more economic benefits like the rest of India, especially in times like these.

Centre will have to assiduously reach out to the natives with interlocutors, something they haven’t done much in the last 7 decades. Kashmiris on their part should take this decision as a fait accompli and reconsider their relationship with India.

So far, taking into consideration almost every part of Mr. Shah’s prolix speech on 5th August 2019, there seems to be no economic, security, or democratic justification behind this decision – at least after the first year.

It is easy to say that it just has been a year. Ask those shouting to an almost unhearing Supreme Court. Those who are without even a rudimentary internet connection, without local politicians they had vested their interests in for so long, without a free media, and without the freedom to freely move in their own land.

It doesn’t matter what were the historical conditions behind J&K’s ceding to India under a semi-autonomy and what wasn’t. It doesn’t matter if Sardar Patel was or wasn’t considering giving up Kashmir to Pakistan.

It doesn’t matter what were or what will be the religious-demography of the erstwhile state. And it doesn’t matter if this move was constitutional or not – for the statehood of Kashmir was changed without the consent of its public, and they are yet to reap the rewards its vindicators promised.


Written By - Rudransh Khurana

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