Jammu & Kashmir now officially loses its special status. Along with that, it also lost its statehood status. The geographical and political entity it was till some days ago is now erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir (notwithstanding a previous erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir as it stood in August 1947). The previous division and change came as a quirk of history in the aftermath of the upheavals of Partition, the present one by stealth and deceit garbed as a constitutional and democratic exercise.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s brute show of strength in Parliament, and the misleading manner in which the power of the legislative assembly was arrogated to the Parliament to decide on the special status of the state, ensured the final passage of the Bill in two days, followed by the quick assent of the President of India. Unless challenged and overturned in the court of law, this monumental blunder is a reality.
India has lost its only Muslim majority state—an ugly sore in the conception of the idea of New India. And primarily for this reason, there are jubilations across a country that once took pride in being a liberal, democratic and secular republic.
What does the new reorientation mean for people of Jammu & Kashmir? It will virtually alter their lives in multiple ways.
A separate Ladakh territory has been carved out and given Union Territory status under direct central rule. Jammu & Kashmir regions have been so far retained as a single entity, perhaps to be sliced further into two or Balkanised n number of times for a later pursuit, and given Union Territory status under the Centre but with limited Assembly powers. The reckless division is a reminder of the hastily drawn boundaries between India and Pakistan by the British which was in a teeming hurry to exit from India in 1947. But unlike the inclusion of the representatives of the Indian public in the negotiations of the fate of South Asia in 1947 by a colonial power, the largest democracy in the world chose to withdraw that right from the people of Jammu & Kashmir. The state is now converted into two distinct geographical and political entities, both demoted to the status of Union Territory.
The decision will have a huge impact on the social fabric of Jammu & Kashmir as people will be vertically divided on the issue, taking two very strident positions, guided by, among other factors, religious identity. While some will overlook all its ugly manifestations and implications to celebrate the success of ultra-nationalist Hindu assertion, for the others, a new chapter of brutality and suffering will unfold.
What is likely to happen in Kashmir in years to come depends on what actions the Centre is presently taking in ghost-like Kashmir right now, hidden from everybody’s gaze behind a film of curfew, barricades and unprecedented militarisation. Reckless killing fields followed by some years of fatigue? The usual fare of arrests, pellets and bullets leading to more venomous and radicalised insurgency inspired by ISIS-like ideology? Whatever it is, the survivors will live to see the horrors of a deepening conflict that resembles Palestine’s Gaza strip.
Political and economic motives will bring an influx of settlers and investors to many parts of the erstwhile state. Some may look forward to the promised development. Perhaps this may yield some jobs to youth bogged by massive unemployment issues and yet, it may not. The state’s original residents will have to compete with more qualified and experienced candidates for many posts. The disparities between the developed, underdeveloped and ultra-backward regions of the state will consequently increase, giving rise to new social conflicts.
Investments and business enterprises need lands. In a state with difficult topography and terrain, and military barracks and camps occupying vast tracts of land, usable land is already in dearth. To pave way for development, agricultural and forest lands will be cleared and further squeezed.
As corporate houses and businessmen with deep pockets make their way to Jammu & Kashmir, economic upheavals may be a natural fallout. The creation of more powerful monopolies and hegemonistic economic practices will defy the principle of equitable development and keep the majority out of the loop, perhaps also decreasing the affluence of the existing affluent residents. For the economically weaker sections, there may be no booty to share other than the government doling out houses, toilets, cooking gas stoves and electric bulbs through social welfare schemes.
Politically, with the now granted Union Territory status, citizens will henceforth lose all rights to voting and participatory democracy. Though the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir will have some sort of a legislature with limited rights, this is hardly reassuring. The previous state has had a history of puppet governments being imposed on it. The level of sham will only further be enhanced. Local bodies and panchayats will become redundant and the Union Territory of Ladakh will lose its hill development councils. Other UTs like Puducherry, Lakshwadeep and many others will manage with a similar arrangement. But the unusually large size of the newly carved out UTs, built on the debris of a now-dead state, will make governance ineffective, particularly in Jammu & Kashmir with its burgeoning population which will further see an increase.
Article 370 was already reduced to a hollow shell before it was finally laid to rest. In its original form, the Centre had jurisdiction in erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir only on three issues—defence, communication and foreign affairs. Now the Centre has a monopoly over everything as any sham local government would be reduced to a simple municipality. From puppet regimes, there would be a transition to residents “being treated like vassals”.
What is shocking is not only the action taken but also how it was done covertly. The last vestiges of democracy in Jammu & Kashmir, whatever it will now be called, have been completely destroyed with curfewed and humiliated (even though some may see in their humiliation a reason to rejoice and celebrate) population.
This is not the end. It is the beginning of an end.