ET Edit: Merit in move, but how the bifurcation decision went about is questionable
Even if technically correct, a decision of such magnitude should have been preceded by debate and discussion.
Provisions that were born out of realpolitik necessities in the early days of J&K’s entry into the Union had for long been (a) denuded of their original meaning by New Delhi’s huge influence on the local administration, and by the fact that every major Indian legislative change has been applied to J&K, (b) abused by local political heavyweights as a free run on spending the Centre’s generous fiscal grants in a manner that did little for locals, and (c) encouraged rent-seeking behaviour by the locally powerful who were helped by various restrictions on asset ownership.
Those arguing that in the redefined relationship, Kashmir’s local politicians may not have much say, should remind themselves of the thoroughly chequered record of these leaders, who conveniently conflated patronage politics with ‘Kashmiri identity’. In that sense, there’s little to mourn in the passing of these two provisions.
As for bifurcating J&K and Ladakh into two separate administrative entities, it should be noted that Ladakh has for long demanded autonomy from Srinagar, and the separation will be seen as a positive in that region. But if the ‘why’ of the decision has much merit, the ‘how’ raises questions. GoI has argued that in terms of legislative requirements, a simple majority in both Houses will be enough to ratify the decisions. Article 370 remains in the Constitution.
What GoI has placed before Parliament is action based on Section 3 of the Article that allows presidential proclamation to decide on the operation of 370, as well as one that reverses the earlier proclamation of Article 35A. There’s the additional argument that the absence of a J&K assembly means Parliament is the only relevant legislative forum.
However, even if technically correct, a decision of such magnitude should have been preceded by debate and discussion. Granted, this may have simply seen every side taking long-held positions. But that doesn’t reduce the importance of such exercises in a democracy.
There’s an argument that in terms of practicality, and given the volatile nature of discourse in J&K, debate and discussion could have led to law and order problems. Granted. But additional security troops that have been moved in could have been mobilised earlier to keep order, and a discussion before the decision could have still been taken.
Related, the house arrest of Valley politicians and the suspension of mobile and data services in J&K are administrative excesses reminiscent of the 1970s. These are profoundly anti-democratic and do nothing else but strengthen those arguing that the J&K decisions are in effect ‘targeted’ at the people of the Valley. Surely, that’s not what GoI wants. These decisions must be withdrawn promptly.
Turning J&K into a Union territory could be informed by the need of a clear line of command on law and order management in a situation that’s likely to be even more volatile than normal. There’s merit in this. But, equally, there’s merit in making J&K a full state again, sooner rather than later. And, in the same spirit, there’s merit in holding polls in the J&K Union territory as soon as possible.
What next for J&K? GoI has claimed that J&K’s redefined relationship with the Union will foster normalcy and greater economic development. The first burden of proof will fall on the Centre. Tough security response to any violence will have to go hand-in-hand with far better economic administration. Then, and only then, will J&K look like an investible opportunity. Like in so many other cases, economics may be the ultimate test of this politics.