A harsh reality about Kashmir came to the fore on the floor of the legislative assembly two years ago. Responding to a People’s Democratic Party memorandum for the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members said: “We are in this House because the army is there to protect us.”
The state’s Constituent Assembly ratified Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India on February 6, 1954. Most of its members were loyal to the then Prime Minister, Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad, and behaved accordingly. The motion encountered little resistance, will all members, except one, voting in its favour. When Abdul Ghani Goni, the lone legislator to oppose it, realized that fellow members were mocking his arguments, he said: “Let us withdraw the Indian army for five days and see whom this House represents.”
So what has changed in Kashmir in the past six decades?
The BJP legislators are not the only ones to admit this harsh reality. Omar Abdullah promised repeal of the AFSPA the day he assumed office as Chief Minister. He also promised a debate on Act in the legislative assembly. But New Delhi told him to ‘behave like a good boy,’ and he obeyed. He shocked people by stating that the AFSPA could not be repealed. “It has to remain there for some time,” he said.
The former Director General of Police (DGP), Gopal Sharma, recently said: “Even as the police are well equipped and trained to take on militants in Jammu and Kashmir, the army should not be withdrawn completely from there. I think the army’s complete withdrawal from Jammu and Kashmir is just not possible, and great caution should be taken while thinking about it.”
So, even today, New Delhi needs a huge army to hold Kashmir. Did New Delhi fail in winning the people of Jammu andKashmir over these years? Or, was the sentiment for Azadi so strong that New Delhi could not uproot it in six decades?
Today, when India observes the 67th anniversary of its `courtship’ with Jammu and Kashmir, the questions above need to be considered seriously. The Indian army landed here to restore peace and protect the lives of the people. But after six decades, locals perceive it as exactly the opposite, and the force that was accorded a warm welcome (by a group of NC workers) on its arrival in Kashmir needs a draconian law like the AFSPA to operate. Something, rather many things, have gone wrong. All is not well.