The meeting called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of 14 political parties of Jammu and Kashmir was seen as an unusual step. After August 5, 2019 when the Modi government summarily nullified the special status of J&K under Article 370 of the Constitution and dismantled the state into two Union territories, a relentless effort was made to discredit the region’s main political parties by detaining their leaders and branding them as corrupt and anti-national. Every effort was made to hamper their political activities.
Despite all this, the parties of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), known as the Gupkar Alliance, which includes the two main parties, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, decided to participate in the meeting. They did not want the Prime Minister and the Home Minister to get any pretext to accuse them of refusing to respond to an indeterminate initiative regarding the political process in J&K.
The June 24 meeting, which had no outcome, has raised all sorts of speculation as to the nature and purpose of such an engagement.
Some commentators have suggested that Narendra Modi has been forced to reverse his government’s course of action in J&K as it has reached a dead-end; he has thus been compelled to back-track and revive the political process with the very leaders whom the BJP had denounced and repressed. Such a line of argument can be dismissed without much ado.
The other line of thought refers to the geo-political considerations behind this move. The developments in Afghanistan where the Taliban is ascendant and Pakistan’s key role in the unfolding scenario are supposed to have been a major factor. It is presumed that the United States, which will complete the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan in September, is also acting to see that the simmering dispute in Kashmir does not roil the already complicated situation.
The developments in the Afghanistan-Pakistan situation is definitely of concern to India, but such external factors cannot be the reason for Modi’s current outreach in J&K.
The meeting with the political parties of J&K stemmed from a much narrower agenda of the Modi government and the BJP. This relates to the ongoing concern to consolidate its ideological and political project to reshape the identity and obliterate any vestiges of autonomy of J&K.
Simply put, the Modi-Shah duo are determined to fulfil their quest to change the essential character of J&K based on their Hindutva convictions.
The brutal make-over of J&K into the two Union territories of J&K and Ladakh respectively was a calculated and deliberate step.
With the annulment of Article 370 not subject to judicial scrutiny so far, the Modi government has been working on the ground to change the demographic pattern in the region by introducing new domicile laws and open access to land and other resources to outsiders.
On the political front, a Delimitation Commission has been set up for fresh delimitation of constituencies for the assembly under the Union territory. In the old J&K assembly, there were a total of 87 seats, with the Valley having 46, Jammu 37 and Ladakh 4. Twenty seats were kept for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Now the new assembly will have 94 seats, seven more than the previous assembly. The delimitation is expected to increase the number of seats in the Jammu region and also provide for SC and ST reserved seats. The aim is to reduce the weightage of the Valley in the assembly. The “gerrymandering” involved would be so as to ensure that with BJP’s dominance in Jammu, no future government set-up can exist without the BJP’s role and participation.
The BJP wishes to heighten the communal divide between Jammu and the Valley through the delimitation exercise. At the same time, the Centre and the BJP have been busy in trying to disrupt the main regional parties in the Valley and create new collaborationist forces.
In the June 24 meeting, the direction was clear. Delimitation first, for which all parties should cooperate and legitimise it. After that, elections and then statehood at an “appropriate time”. The Prime Minister tweeted after the meeting: “Delimitation has to happen at a quick pace so that polls can happen and J&K gets an elected government that gives strength to J&K’s development trajectory.” An elected government like the one in Delhi or Puducherry?
The “chronology” was repeated by Amit Shah who tweeted: “The delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood as promised in Parliament”.
What sort of statehood was not clarified either in the meeting or outside. Is it a full statehood of unified J&K with Ladakh included? Or a state of J&K like Delhi state which is truncated and the writ of the Lt. Governor runs?
The meeting in Delhi and its outcome has been understood by the people of Kashmir valley for what it is worth. It has only widened the gulf between Delhi and the Kashmiri people who are feeling demoralised and frustrated.
Ultimately, as it stands, the Centre can rule over Kashmir only through coercion and by suppressing the democratic rights of the people.
Courtesy: National Herald India