Republic Years  

Rarely has the reality in Jammu and Kashmir been summed up so succinctly. That the verdict has come from quarters otherwise in perpetual denial ought to convince even the most skeptical. 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 in the Legislative Assembly two years ago: “We are in this House because the army is there to protect us.”

The state’s Constituent Assembly had 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, with 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 have admitted this harsh reality. Omar Abdullah, who, on assuming office as Chief Minister, had promised to get the AFSPA repealed, and also committed himself to a debate on the Act in the legislative assembly, was summarily told by New Delhi  to ‘behave like a good boy,’ and he did. His tribute to reality was a subsequent statement that the AFSPA could not be repealed. “It has to remain there for some time,” he had said, leaving ‘some time’ undefined.

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“Even as the police are well equipped and trained to take on militants in Jammu and Kashmir, the army should not be withdrawn completely from there.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 and Kashmir over these years? Or was the sentiment for Azadi too strong for New Delhi to uproot in six decades?

Today, when India celebrates yet another Republic Day, the questions above need to be considered seriously. The Indian army landed here to restore peace and protect the lives of the people.  But even after six decades, locals continue to accuse it of harassing, torturing and killing them, and the force that was accorded a warm welcome (by a group of NC workers) on its arrival needs a draconian law like the AFSPA to operate.   Something, rather many things, have gone wrong. All is not well.