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Article 370 scrapped: Special privileges and autonomy never touched lives of common people in Jammu and Kashmir

A security person stands guard in Srinagar on Thursday. Photograph:( PTI )

DNA Srinagar Aug 08, 2019, 10.05 AM (IST) Written By: Aasha Khosa

Jawahar Lal Nehru had probably realised his folly of giving a generous gift of ‘autonomy’ and ‘special status’ to Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir. 

Within a few years, he had ordered the arrest of his good friend Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah on charges of conspiracy (hobnobbing with Pakistan) and overseen many privileges of the new state go away or get diluted.

Since 1955, saffron parties under different names kept their focus on this anomaly. To be fair to the BJP, the party had always promised to repeal Article 370 of the Constitution and bring Jammu & Kashmir at par with the rest of the country.

Indian voters seldom give a second look to the election manifestoes of parties, and least believe the promises made therein. Therefore, people were in for a pleasant shock when the Narendra Modi government took the bold step of scrapping state’s special status and divide it into two Union territories.

As a Kashmir-born person, I can say that special privileges and autonomy never touched the lives of common people in the state. It deprived them of job and other economic opportunities as no big businesses were ready to set shop in the state. 

Corruption was rampant as everyone believed the central funds were there for loot. The elite — ruling classes —  formed a close-knit club to milk the autonomy cow. On one hand, they threatened Delhi with dire consequences if any reform or change was proposed or accountability sought, and on the other, they filled the minds of the common man with hate and fear of the Big Brother Delhi. The mistrust kept increasing and turned into a wave of hate and prejudice against Delhi.

No wonder, when Pakistan was ready to implement its Operation TOPAC and launch an insurgency in Kashmir by the end of the eighties, this very anger acted as a catalyst for the ‘Azadi’ movement that swept the Valley. 

With the inevitability of security forces swarming the Valley’s towns and village to hunt down terrorists, this hate had made people desperate. In three decades, the Kashmiri had turned into a potential jihadi outpost for global terror groups — Taliban, ISIS and Al Qaeda all waiting in wings for swooping down in Kashmir.

On the other hand, over the years the so-called autonomy was further diluted with Supreme Court getting jurisdiction over the state and labour laws being implemented there. 

The J&K Assembly has no record of giving a single landmark law to the people that would be worth emulating by the rest of the country. It adopted most of the laws made by Parliament and dragged its feet on some others like Right to Information and Right to Education. 

To top of it, the male-dominated polity kept women subjugated by not banning their right of inheritance in case they married a non-Kashmiri. 

Nehru’s idea of a privileged Muslim-dominant state being the crowning glory of secular India was badly shattered in the early nineties when some 3.5 lakh Kashmiri Hindus had to flee their homes overnight from terrorists and their supporters. 

His dream had turned sour and for the first time, the common man in India felt betrayed. The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits added to the rise of the right-wing politics in India.

On the ground, Ladakh was the first to rise in revolt against the Kashmiri-dominated political leadership. From day one, Ladakhis were clear that Union Territory status for their land would be enough for them.

Jammu may still not be happy at being clubbed with Kashmir in the new arrangement, while Ladakhis are genuinely feeling vindicated in their stand of a peaceful struggle.

The rise of insurgency and terrorism in Kashmir had taken India by surprise. Learning from our experience, one can safely say that the Union Territory status for the state is the best bet for ensuring there is no repeat of terrorism or unrest in Kashmir! 

It could also facilitate the return of normalcy there, including the return of the natives in a routine and gradual way. The leaders in Kashmir have only believed in enjoying privileges and never felt responsible to the people and the nation. 

When insurgency was at its peak in Kashmir and the situation was getting out of control in the early nineties, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah simply resigned and abdicated his responsibilities. It was easy for him to blame Delhi and wash his hands off his regime’s responsibility in letting Kashmiri youth in hordes go to Pakistan for arms and sabotage training. Mehbooba Mufti was no better, as she is often blamed for leading Team B of the separatists.

As a reporter who witnessed the most violent 10 years of terrorism in Kashmir, I can hardly recollect one state leader who spoke for India and countered Pakistan’s narrative. 

Many of them appeared to be apologists for Hurriyat and terrorists. Their stand led to confounding the confusion of the youth, many believing that supporting Pakistan is a way to survive in the tenuous situation. 

Celebrations over, the Modi government will have to face the wrath of Kashmiris as soon as they emerge out of the forced confinement of their homes and the embargo on communication and TV is lifted. The process of confining people to their homes while the Parliament took crucial decisions on their land and lives, has left Kashmiris deeply hurt.

Maybe it was unavoidable for preventing bloodshed, but now onwards, New Delhi has to show its magnanimity and launch all-round developments for creating jobs.

(This article was originally published on The DNA. Read the original article)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.) 

Aasha Khosa

The author has covered Kashmir’s insurgency for a decade in the 1990s. She is a Delhi-based independent journalist and a writer

Story highlights

Special privileges and autonomy deprived the common people of job and other economic opportunities as no big businesses were ready to set shop in Jammu and Kashmir.