Kashmir: The Road Ahead

Most political analysts opine that abrogation of Article 370 & 35A of the Constitution of India was merely a BJP election manifesto promise, which it ultimately fulfilled in furtherance of its Hindutva agenda, which otherwise was not desired by the people of former state of Jammu & Kashmir. Things are however complicated.

While most of the people of Kashmir valley can be said to be in favour of the continuation of Article 370, but not all Kashmiris or people living in Kashmir were necessarily in favour of continuation of Article 370. The half a million community of Kashmiri Pundits, Sikhs of Kashmir and nomadic Gujjar & Bakarwals of Kashmir valley have had grievances with Article 370, which were often never discussed. Buddhists of Leh, part of an erstwhile Ladakh were also not in favor of Article 370, which their community leaders had made it clear from time to time. While Shia Ladakhis of Kargil did oppose the abrogation of Article 370, an overwhelming majority of Ladakhis however wanted Article 370 to go.

It was however in Jammu region, where the sentiments against Article 370 were highest because Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution of India had created nearly 1 million stateless Hindus in Jammu region from different Hindu communities, who many felt were being deprived the citizenship of the erstwhile state of J&K only because they were non-Muslims. These include Hindu Punjabi refugees from Western Pakistani Punjab, a large community of Dalit / Scheduled Caste Valmiki Hindus from Punjab, who had settled in Jammu region for work in 1950s but were never granted citizenship rights and also communities of Nepali Hindus living in different parts of Jammu region.

Article 370 along with Article 35A was thus hampering the legal and dignified integration of over 1 million people of Hindu origin, despite their living in the former state for generations. Similarly, these articles were also discriminatory against women state subjects, who married outside the former J&K state. These many such regressive and discriminatory characteristics of Article 370 made it essential for its abrogation not only to provide justice and citizenship to a large number of deprived people but also for a meaningful economic, social, cultural and political integration of J&K with India. In any case the Article 370 or whatever was left of it, was in many ways a water down version of the original law that allowed application of laws regarding to only three subject matters (defense, currency, foreign affairs) to be applicable in J&K state. Over decades, nearly 80% of laws made by the Parliament of India were extended to former J&K state and its presence on the pages of the Constitution of India was largely symbolic only.

The basic problem lied in the fact that the collective aspirations of the people of Kashmir and Jammu (and even Ladakh) were never really understood by the political class of former J&K, which was drawn mainly from upper caste Kashmiri Muslim families, who had little interest in the welfare of the people of Jammu and Ladakh, which were not their major electoral supporting bases. Even within Kashmir valley, these Kashmir centric political class was discriminatory against 2 million strong non-Kashmiri Muslim nomadic community of Gujjar and Bakarwal. Even ordinary people of Kashmir valley never benefitted from this elite political class that was always accused of corruption, malpractice, nepotism and misgovernance, which was enabled by the restrictive constitutional legal provision of Article 370.

There was a major difference in ideological rhetoric verses the reality on ground. The separatist narrative was largely restricted to pockets of Kashmir valley, which was blown out as something that was the collective demand of all people of erstwhile state of J&K. But that was not the case. The people of Jammu region and Ladakh regardless of their religious background never supported any separatist tendences. This included nearly 85% of the landmass and nearly 50% of the population of the erstwhile state of J&K and within Kashmir valley too, a large section of Kashmiri Muslims including secular minded, liberal and progressive Kashmiri Muslims, Kashmiri Shia Muslims and Sikhs along with Gujjar & Bakarwal community was never supportive of separatist ideological rhetoric which was driven by hardcore Islamic and jihadist theology and violence and terrorism of guns provided by neighbouring Pakistan.

My suggestion is the New Delhi should focus more on confidence building measures in the post abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35 A of the constitution of India. Since its abrogation, the people of J&K union territory, especially in Kashmir valley have not exhibited any violent disagreement to the decision and on the contrary, they participated enthusiastically in village level representative elections (called Panchayat elections) in large numbers. There havent even been calls for strike or violent terrorist encounters either at the scale witnessed previously, all of which indicate that people of the Kashmir valley in particular want to move on with their lives. There is a general acknowledgment of the fact that misadventure that the people of Kashmir valley took three decades back has only brought death and destruction to Kashmiri people and the only way forward is to integrate with the economic and political mainstream of rest of the country. Policy makers in Delhi are advised to introduced confidence building measures among cross section of Kashmiri people, with the goal of easing them to integrate with nations mainstream. The people of Jammu and Kashmir including those in Kashmir valley now desire peace, prosperity and progress and it is time that the global community reaches out to the bruised people of Kashmir valley and extend their support to them in rebuilding their new lives of hope and progress.