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With a new Lieutenant General being appointed to the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory, it is time to restart the political process. It could start by releasing all the political leaders who have been arrested under the Public Safety Act (PSA).

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IPRI # 89, 7 August 2020

Friday Backgrounder
J&K: One year later, is it time to change gears?

  D Suba Chandran

The following backgrounder is an expanded version of a short note on J&K, published as a part of Conflict Weekly on 5 August 2020.

I
Facts on the ground

Six developments took place in J&K this week.

The major development was on 5 August 2020. It is one year since the federal government removed the special status provided by the Indian constitution to J&K. On 5 August 2019, New Delhi removed two important Constitutional provisions – Article 370 and Article 35-A, that provided special status to J&K.

Besides the removal of the above Constitutional provisions that provided a "special status" to the State, the federal government also made a crucial administrative change to the State – by dividing into two – the Union Territory of Ladakh, and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The above administrative change created a new UT of Ladakh, which has been the long-standing demand of the Ladakhis (especially the Buddhists). The administrative change also means, the erstwhile "State" of J&K has lost its statehood, as J&K is now a Union Territory (minus Ladakh).

Second, the administration, during this week, imposed a strict security lockdown withing Kashmir Valley. According to the government order, published in the Hindu, (3 August 2020) "a series of inputs have been received suggesting that separatists and Pakistan-sponsored groups are planning to observe 5 August as Black Day', therein apprehensions of protests are not ruled out. There are specific inputs about violent protests endangering public life and property."

As a result, according to the Hindu, (4 August 2020) "Yellow plastic barricades and coils of concertina wires were spread on all major streets and roads in the city. Security forces used mobile bunkers to block streets in volatile localities. Even the ambulances had to wait at the checkpoints before the security forces removed the concertina wires." Main markets and highways were closed ahead of 5 August 2020 not only in Srinagar, but also in other towns in the Valley – Baramulla in the north, and Shopian, Anantnag and Pulwama in the south.

Third, the continuing restrictions on political meetings. On 5 August, Farooq Abdullah, the President of the National Conference and a former Chief Minister of J&K had called for a meeting of the regional political parties, to prepare a political strategy for the future. According to Peerzada Ashiq of the Hindu, the idea of the meeting "was to carry forward the Gupkar Declaration signed on 4 August 2019, by the regional parties, which called for a joint front to defend J&K's special status."

Fourth, the militant activities during the week. There have been two primary targets for the militants – the security forces and the panchayat raj leaders at the local level. A soldier who was on leave, and heading home for Eid was reported to have been kidnapped by the militants in Kulgam in south Kashmir. In Shopian, again in south Kashmir, there was a grenade attack by the militants on the security forces. On 6 August, a BJP sarpanch was shot dead by the militants in the Kulgam district. Earlier, on 4 August, there was another attack on a panch in the same district; he is critically wounded in remains hospitalized.

Fifth, the Union Territory of J&K would have a new Lieutenant Governor. Manoj Sinha, a former Minister of State for Railways and Minister for Communications is replacing GC Murumu. The latter is now appointed as the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. With Manoj Sinha, political leaders as the Lieutenant Governor, instead of someone with a military/intelligence background, it is expected that the federal government would initiate a political process in J&K, as the new UT moves into the second year.

Sixth, the celebrations of 5 August, as the first anniversary. Ladakh celebrated the first year of being a Union Territory. This has been a long-standing demand of the Ladakhis, especially the Buddhists. Outside Ladakh, there were celebrations in the Jammu region as well, especially by two communities – the Valmikis and the erstwhile West Pakistani refugees. The Valimikis are a marginalized community brought in by the former J&K State in 1957 from Punjab, to work as karamcharis. They were promised of domicile; but under the State constitution, they were refused. As a result, the Valmikis could not enjoy equal rights within the State. Same is the case with the West Pakistan refugees, who had migrated into J&K after partition. While the government of India accommodated the refugees from Pakistan, the erstwhile State government of J&K kept them as stateless persons. These two communities have been now given domicile certificates by the new administration. (See Dinesh Manhotra, "After 63 yrs, Jammu Valmikis' liberated from slavery'," The Tribune, 27 June 2020)

II
Focus Questions in the background

Was the last one year "too much" or "too little"?
The answer to the above question would depend on whom one is talking to, and in which region of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh the question is asked.

The supporters of the 5 August 2019 decision within the erstwhile J&K and outside it consider one year as too little to analyze the impact. There is a widespread expectation in the Jammu region of the J&K Union Territory, and in the Ladakh Union Territory, that more needs to be done. The above point needs a caveat; Jammu region is not monolithic. The main Jammu region – from Udhampur to Akhnoor have the above perspective on the above. However, for those in Rajouri-Poonch districts along the LoC, and the Chenab Valley (Doda-Kishtwar-Bhaderwah), the position on the above is nuanced, with a few buts.

The opponents – within and outside the former J&K State consider the last one year as too much in terms of political and security restrictions. Especially the Kashmiris and the Kashmir Valley want the developments during the last one year to come to an end. Both the people and the regional political parties within Kashmir Valley would want to reverse the decisions made on 5 August 2019. For them, the last one year is too much.

While the first section is expecting more needs to be done, the second section finds it suffocating, and wants to return to 4 August 2019.

Who is opposing and who is supporting the 5 August 2019 decision?
Within Kashmir Valley, there has been no credible support to the federal government's decision, and the follow up administrative actions since then – that includes the detention of political leaders, restrictions on free movement and the right to assemble, limited internet and related actions.

On the other hand, there is widespread support to the decision in Ladakh and the Jammu region. Outside J&K, there is widespread support to the decision in the rest of India; though, a section within the civil society and political parties call for an open debate on the 5 August decision, and the future of J&K.

What about the detentions, restrictions on movement and the internet?
The issue of detention, restriction of physical movement within the Valley and access to the internet, are three most crucial issues today within J&K. While the State has been insisting that the political leaders who were detained in August 2019 have been released, the opposition in Kashmir Valley and outside still consider that a large number of political leaders, especially belonging to the PDP including the former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is still under detention.

According to Times of India, referring another report, 6,600 have been arrested during the last one year, that includes 400 plus are political leaders (of which 300 have been released). Another major concern is the absence of internet connectivity; while the State believes the restriction is important to maintain the security situation, the opposition considers it as against the fundamental rights. Though the State argues that there has been a restoration, the opposition considers it as a farce and says the internet is intermittent and the speed is too less, with 2G.

Is the security situation better, or improving?
The State in the last one year is looking at maintaining the security situation in the Valley; hence, the success is counted by the number of militants neutralized and the absence of protests. More military and para-military troops have been deployed in the Valley to prevent any assembly of people coming together in the streets. Jammu region remains relatively free from the above restrictions, while Ladakh is largely free.

Violence has been continuing, and the security forces are yet to neutralize the militants and prevent any further attacks on the security forces and civilians. During the last year, there has been increased violence, especially in Kashmir Valley, led by the militants. They have targeted the security forces, political leaders, civilians and local leaders. The number of militants killed in 2020 has also been high. According to the Director-General of Police, during January-June 2020, 128 terrorists were killed, of which "70 belonged to the Hizbul Mujahideen, 20 each were from the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the rest were from other terrorist outfits." (Quoted in The Tribune, 30 June 2020)

Targeting panchayat leaders by the militants is becoming a trend. According to data in the Tribune, since 2011, militants have killed 20 Panchayat members in J&K. Targetting the panchayat leaders have been a militant strategy in J&K. For the militants, the panchayat leaders are a soft target; and by neutralizing them, the militants also aim at undermining the local government led by local leadership.

One year later, is it time change gears in J&K?
As one year gets completed, the State has to look towards an exit strategy.

The status quo – in terms of security restrictions, detentions and limited connectivity have to lead to a larger stable politics, with regular politicking. There has to be a larger debate at three levels – within J&K, in the Parliament, and between the two.

With a new Lieutenant General being appointed to the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory, it is time to restart the political process. It could start by releasing all the political leaders who have been arrested under the Public Safety Act (PSA).

 


Also in the series (Friday Backgrounder)

IPRI # 89, 7 August 2020
J&K: One year later, is it time to change gears?

IPRI # 86, 31 July 2020
J&K: Omar Abdullah complains, there is no space for mainstream leaders. Should there be one?

IPRI # 83, 24 July 2020
J&K: After the Hurriyat, is the PDP relevant in Kashmir politics today?

IPRI # 79, 10 July 2020
J&K: Four years after Burhan Wani

IPRI # 77, 3 July 2020
The Rise, Fall and Irrelevance of Geelani. And the Hurriyat

 

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