Kashmir: A year without Article 370/35A and the way forward

NAVEEN ZALPURI

Naveen Zalpuri is an engineer by profession. He is a Kashmir-born California resident, displaced from Kashmir in 1990. The views expressed are his own.

August 5, 2020 marked one year since the landmark bills of Article 370 and 35A dilution were introduced in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of the Indian Parliament, and got overwhelming support in both the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha (Lower House) resulting in nullifying these draconian articles.

The valley remained in physical and virtual lockdown (with internet services stopped) for several months following these historic decisions as the common narrative built from the past seven decades was that hell will break loose if these articles were tinkered with.

However then things started gradually opening up and nothing major or untoward happened. The people in the valley seemed to have reconciled to the new arrangement albeit grudgingly to the changed realities. It is being said that downgrading Jammu and Kashmir from a State to a Union Territory came in as a bigger jolt and a pain point than the abrogation of these articles. Going by various statements made by those in power it appears that sooner or later the UT of Jammu Kashmir may get the statehood back.

One key insight that came out was that even after the lockdown was lifted and mobile internet restored (even though 2G), things returned back to normal and the situation has been no worse than it was before Aug 5, 2019. In fact, today the state of affairs is somewhat better than before,the separatist politics has lost steam so much so that no less than Syed Ali Shah Geelani the architect of the secessionist movement resigned from Hurriyat while expressing strong displeasure with Pakistan-based Kashmiri separatist leadership.

Pakistan continues to send infiltrators to keep the pot boiling and to indoctrinate a section of local youth in Kashmir, but the security forces have been successful in eliminating those insurgents and neo-terrorists without suffering much collateral damage.

The terrorist continue to find soft targets in the form of recent cold-blooded murder of a sarpanch from the Kashimiri Pandit community or killing of a budding BJP Kashmiri Muslim leader along with his father and brother. And then in turn the terrorists are killed by the security forces. In my opinion this pattern shall continue for years to come.

But noteworthy is to see that now one can find a small section of Kashmiri Muslims (including those BJP leaders) starting opening up and displaying pro-India sentiment, whatever their reasons may be. This is a symbolic win to kick start the integration process.

The mainstream political parties such as National Conference and PDP also have been defanged , they can’t any more play two-faced games, one at Delhi and the other in Kashmir that stoked soft separatism.

The Kashmir valley shall continue to remain segregated and separate with conflicting wishes and desires. The separatism, pan-Islamism and anti-Indian sentiment is not going to vanish overnight.The need is to strengthen and empower the pro-India forces so that the population by and large integrates better.

Ever since China has been needling India in Ladakh and various areas along the LAC (Line of Actual Control), if social media sentiment is any indicator some Kashmiri Muslims have been rejoicing thinking of China as a “prince in the shining armor” that is humiliating India and would liberate them.

All those viewpoints and wishes shall carry on for times to come. Neither Pakistan nor China is going to stop being irritants to India vis-a-vis Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh at various forums.

The Indian government, rather than getting distracted with focussing on PoK or Aksai Chin, should have firm plans to better integrate and assimilate its part of the Kashmir valley.

The most important next step for the government of India should be to effect the on-ground changes at a humongous scale for the strategic shift to enable such assimilation and integration with India.

Kashmir has been bereft of any pluralism ever since the minorities were evicted out. The government should give up on small time plans of considering bringing back and settling exiled Hindus in small townships in different districts and should rather execute on something grander and larger that would result in a long-term solution.

The long-term solution is to have Indians (non-security forces) in Kashmir. Founding of a new city in Kashmir under once tabled “smart cities” project must be done at the earliest and at an accelerated pace in the next three years.

This would mean a project cost worth tens of thousands of crores rupees but it would yield long-term strategic gains. The city should be plural and cosmopolitan in character. This would address several issues, it could present itself as a means of Hindu Pandit return and also home for exiled Sikhs, Muslims, newly domiciled people and also pave way for Indians of all denominations who would want to make Kashmir their home and conduct business there.

Equally importantly, the city must be founded with well defined economic goals that will augment, complement and supplement commerce in Kashmir. Large industrial zones should be set up to provide employment and other opportunities to Kashmiris and non Kashmiris Indians alike.

Some demographic reversal is extremely important to restore and rebuild pluralism and diversity in the valley. The diversity and inclusion is a ”must have” for peace and prosperity to return to Kashmir valley. This will also empower all the pro-India elements in the valley and further marginalize the separatist brigade. Gradually everyone else even those with conflicting desires shall follow suit.

For all of this to happen it would not be a seamless exercise, in fact the journey would continue to be painful and with huge roadblocks at every step but the government must be firm and resolute to do so.

If not done, the abrogation of Article 370/35A and making Jammu and Kashmir a Union Territory would merely register in history as an exercise done in futility. The government must start executing immediately. It is necessary for the assimilation, pluralism, long-term stability of the region.

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