The key lies in the past

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By: Jayant Muralidharan

Pursuant to the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019, the bifurcation of the erstwhile state into the two Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir, has come into effect. For the change in governance with a Lieutenant Governor and the legislative assembly of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, it has been expressly stated, “On and from the appointed day, the provisions contained in article 239A, which are applicable to “Union Territory of Puducherry”, shall also apply to the “Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir”. This is an important clarification as the conditions applicable to the Union Territory of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands are different, as are the peculiar specificities of the ‘semi-state’ in the Union Territory of Delhi. The bifurcation was accompanied by the repealing of Article 370 and Article 35A, which has had more resonance and decibel inside and outside of the Kashmir Valley, with contrasting emotions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi linked the serendipitous co-timing of the change in the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir and that of the 144th birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, to hail the moment as, “taking a step towards a new future today.” An important likening of the changed equation between the North-East states vis-à-vis the rest of the country was also invoked by the prime minister, describing the evolution as moving from ‘algaav to lagaav’ (separatism to attachment) – an unequivocal lodestar of the similar aspiration in Jammu and Kashmir, too. The most important component involved in the journey from ‘separatism’ to ‘attachment’ is not in working on the dominant mood of the rest of the country, in as much as it is in winning over the mood in the conflict zone. The end of popular support for the sentiment of ‘separatism’ lies in the deliberate co-opting of the locals in the affected area sensitively, honestly and democratically – this was how the insurgency was overcome in Mizoram and Punjab. The sentiment of ‘separatism’ springs from the fount of historical wounds, socio-economic neglect and the stoking of emotions towards generating a sense of disaffection towards the sovereign.

Jammu and Kashmir has followed a similar pattern and was routinely mismanaged by the political classes of all hues (as were Mizoram and Punjab), who were content to lay the blame on the various ‘others’, but the essential spirit of all dispensations, had been of short-termism. Only when the practical form of healing, reconciliation and recharging of the democratic impulses in the restive lands was effected by way of the Mizo Peace Accord (1986) and the Rajiv-Longowal Accord (1985), did the mainstream tide turn in true earnest. Importantly, both these accords were met with local opposition by some who protested that these were “sell-outs”, but the process and spirit of reconciliation within the liberal contours of the Indian Constitution were set in motion irrevocably. Both these accords were followed by state elections that ushered in political parties that were in the forefront of the protests earlier – a clear case of the invaluable political vent exercised by the local populace.

All through that journey, the tone, phraseology and tenor emanating from Delhi during this tentative phase was consistently inclusive, liberal and restorative to those in the insurgency-affected area. Today, the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir will benefit from the energy of a new team, focus and access to Delhi, and generous amounts of development funds to address the socio-economic needs of the region. However, the lever of recharging the democratic process and framework will be pivotal. The importance of participatory democracy can never be understated in the process of healing in an insurgency-affected area, as the citizens need to feel empowered, involved and responsible for their destiny in equal measure as everyone else in the country. This natural instinct for continuous democratic empowerment is visible in the otherwise peaceful Union Territories of Delhi and Puducherry, too, which are in the throes of demanding ‘full statehood’, as an expression of wanting to maximise their emotive, political and administrative destiny.

Conversely, the absence of a thriving political-democratic culture gives way to extremism, bigotry and even militancy, as expression of the desperation of locals wanting to assert their ‘equality’. Most extremist strains are borne in the suffocating air of political vacuum, illiberality and control. The continuous shaming of the prevailing political options has diminishing returns in the long-term as the administrative efficiencies and largesse from the Centre by itself can never compensate for the overwhelming sense of political irrelevance in the national imagination. The emotional relevance of the wounded Kashmir Valley in the national heartbeat must go beyond what is statistically warranted by hosting three seats out of the 545 in Parliament.

Also, wanting to maintain the security steel is not inversely-linked to the efforts to democratise the environment – both can and should go hand-in-hand, as they did in Mizoram and Punjab. The prime minister has spoken about nearly 40,000 people being killed by terrorists in the last three decades in Jammu and Kashmir, a colossal loss that was perpetuated by not addressing the fundamentals of counter-insurgency in a border state. The constitutional idea of India has always been lofty and generous enough to embrace its temporarily disenchanted, whenever it has persisted and insisted with its constitutional morality in dealing with trying situations – an oft forgotten fact is that the situation in Mizoram had deteriorated so much that it was the only place where the Indian Air Force had bombed its own citizens.

Thankfully, that is a distant memory that has since healed. Beyond a point, the stand across the Line of Control will remain unchanged and the onus of managing our own issues, citizens and fractures will reside, within. India remains a rare nation that has successfully overcome insurgencies, unlike the much-bandied countries like Israel, United States, Russia or China. As a new era starts in Jammu and Kashmir, introspection about not just what went wrong, but also what went right, will hold us in good stead. INAV

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