A conspicuous movement of troops in Kashmir in the past few days has led to widespread rumour mongering. In homes and offices, markets and playgrounds, news media and social networking sites, everywhere discussions are being held and speculations made, not only among the common public but also in high-profile political circles, that something big like 5 August 2019 is going to happen in Kashmir again. This has led to chaos and confusion and a sense of panic in Kashmir. Political analysts say that in a situation when Jammu and Kashmir’s economy is sick due to unprecedented and successive spells of lockdowns enforced since August 5, 2019, it is dangerous to pay any heed to political rumours. It also hardly matters whether J&K remains a UT or is further divided into two UTs. Whatever Kashmiris had to lose, they have lost it on August 5, 2019, which was not a mere administrative measure but had serious ideological goals. There remains nothing at stake for Kashmiris now.
While mainstream regional leaders in Kashmir have always used the spirit of resistance for pelf and power, unfortunately the people also don’t tend to fight for their rights within the purview of the Indian Constitution. As a result, the BJP-led government easily revoked the special constitutional powers granted to Jammu and Kashmir and downgraded it from a state to two centrally administered territories. Now there is no difficulty in further reorganising the region into small administrative fragments. There is a rumour that a new state of Jammu will be formed by merging south Kashmir with Jammu province. But does it really fulfil any political agenda and is it even topographically feasible if south Kashmir is carved out of the valley and joined with Jammu province?
The erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state had three distinct areas, the overwhelmingly Muslim-majority Kashmir (95% Muslim) with a population of nearly 7 million people, a Hindu-majority (65%) Jammu with a population of 5.35 million people and a 35% Muslim population, and Ladakh, which has a sparse population of 287,000 people, a Muslim plurality, or relative majority, at 46%, and Buddhist minority at 40% (with Hindus making up 12%). If south Kashmir is added to Jammu, it will become a Muslim-majority region. Interestingly, south Kashmir is not a separate administrative region, so splitting it from the valley and making it part of a separate administrative structure won’t distance it from other parts of Kashmir. If districts like Anantnag, Shopian and Kulgam are added to Jammu Province, they will be primarily linked to Muslim-majority regions of Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal. Contrary to this, a lot of effort has been put in place over 70 years to create a disconnect between Chenab Valley, Pir Panchal and Kashmir to ensure demographic change to permanently alter the Muslim-majority status of all regions of Jammu and Kashmir. Why would they add a part of Kashmir to these Muslim-majority regions and how will this help the Sangh’s plan for JK?
There is another rumour that the BJP government is about to divide Kashmir once again and restore full statehood to Jammu province while Kashmir valley will remain under the administration of the centre. If Jammu region will be given the status of state, it would automatically undo most of the measures that the Indian government took after August 5, 2019. Why would the BJP government abandon its ideological plan midway, especially when they have already taken such a major decision and started its implementation. When the Indian government decided to reorganise J&K state in 2019, they chose to bifurcate it rather than trifurcate it (which was the initial RSS demand) because of a purpose. Jammu-Sambha-Kathua belt was deliberately kept with Kashmir and Muslim-majority Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal regions so that the entire place continues to be run from Keshav Bhawan Jammu.
The news of delimitation is also making rounds and causing much consternation. Undoubtedly, delimitation is an ongoing process and there will be reorganisation of constituencies to provide more seats to Jammu-Kathua-Samba belt. Seats will be reserved for ST, SC population and KPs to try and alter the balance against the Muslim majority in Jammu and Kashmir. The plan can’t be announced yet, without concluding the process that has already begun.
There is one more rumour that the government is about to declare a separate centre for Kashmiri Pandits to resettle them separately as demanded by the Pandit organisation, Panun Kashmir. Extreme Hindutva groups and Kashmiri Pandit organisations are pushing hard to carve out an exclusive enclosure for KPs with a union territory status inside Kashmir valley, and a bill in this regard is already under consideration with the MHA. The extreme Hindutva groups and KPs are upset as there is no headway in this regard. This measure cannot be taken easily because the government needs to find a big chunk of land for this type of an enclosure, while most of the land is privately owned.
Political analysts believe that there is every possibility of restoration of a truncated statehood on the pattern of Delhi, where the local government has no power. Strategically, this is in consonance with the August 5 reorganisation where a chief minister would be like a mayor with no powers over law and order, revenue and bureaucracy. The introduction of the reorganisation bill on August 5, 2019, was preceded by a Presidential Order under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. The Home Minister had implied that all the measures including the shutdown of communication services and downgrading to the status of Union Territory were temporary measures and would soon be lifted. Once statehood is restored, a Legislative Assembly of 107 to 117 members, with a tenure of five years, can make laws for any of the matters in the State List except “public order” and “police”, which will remain within the law-making powers of the union government. This way there will be no impact on the policy framework and the local political brass would also be accommodated.
There is, however, another aspect which can’t be ignored. This current regime is unpredictable and has a history of making drastic moves based on ideology rather than the ground situation. Internationally, we must not forget that any kind of significant political development taking place in Jammu and Kashmir has some external ramifications and strategic significance as well. Recently, the stalemate on the long-pending Indo-Pak dialogue being broken when the UAE facilitated secret talks between India and Pakistan, has shown some visible results on the ground. Also, the entry of China into the theatre last year and a direct confrontation in Ladakh added a new dimension and changed the conflict to a so-called two-and-a-half front battle. The region also became a live theatre in the larger US versus China tussle for dominance. This new ground reality made the secret talks inevitable and some tangible outcomes, like ceasefire along the Line of Control, and Pak leadership toning down criticism of PM Narendra Modi, have been seen. These measures are a relief for New Delhi but what is the other side of these secret talks isn’t public yet, because it could not have been a one-sided, win-win affair for both New Delhi and Islamabad.
The writer is a senior correspondent. [email protected]