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Perspective: Kashmir: A Report Card

By Neera Kuckreja Sohoni Email By Neera Kuckreja Sohoni
February 2024
Perspective: Kashmir: A Report Card

How has the region fared more than four years after the revocation of Article 370?

Even before the birth of Independent India, when Kashmir opted to join the newly-created Indian nation, it had been deemed an inseparable part of India by most Indians. Questioning Kashmir’s Indian entity is mainly a cause that has been carried forward by Pakistan and its allies as well as disaffected elements within and outside the region with a vested interest in turning Kashmir into a burning issue and keeping it ignited.

[Left] A bustling flea market in Srinagar. (Photo: Social News XYZ)

As a result, since India’s Independence, Kashmir’s roots and genetics have been continually questioned, claimed, and counterclaimed by multiple stakeholders. This has undermined the state’s progress and stability and prevented democracy from taking root. Worse, the quagmire of competing factions has stoked terrorism, unleashed endless border skirmishes, and caused two disastrous wars.

The enactment of Article 370 in October 1949—which granted the state of Jammu and Kashmir autonomy over internal administration and permitted it to make its own laws in all matters except finance, defense, foreign affairs, and communications—added to this confusion and alienation. Additionally, Article 35A of the constitution disallowed property ownership and other rights and benefits to all but the state’s permanent residents. These special considerations were likely granted to gain the trust and support of its people and to allay their fears of exploitation, religious and cultural intimidation, and demographic appropriation by non-Kashmiri Indians.

However, for the next several decades, Kashmir’s special status continued making it difficult for the state and central governments to work together for the state’s progress. Rival political parties and leaders, both at the state and the central levels, did their bit to damage the state’s progress by playing dirty disruptive politics, pitting the state against national interests and people of one faith and persuasion against another.

The Modi government, which came into power with popular support and a mandate to resolve the Kashmir issue, moved, on August 5, 2019, to end the state’s special status by revoking Article 370 and dividing the region into two federal territories—Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir—to be ruled directly by the central government, with no representative legislating body of their own.

Welcomed by its supporters, the Article’s abrogation caused considerable heartburn among opponents, public protests and petitions, and a lawsuit questioning its legality. A five-judge constitutional bench, that included the Supreme Court's Chief Justice, was authorized to hear the case. In its judgment, delivered on December 11, 2023, the Bench unanimously upheld the Indian Government's decision to abrogate Article 370, contending that the said Article was a “temporary provision,” and that the President of India had the power to revoke it.

As expected, skeptics and opponents immediately decried the Court’s ruling as nothing more than court-packing and intimidation. Others blamed the Modi government and its followers for promoting Hindutva and compromising the autonomy of states by adopting undemocratic tactics. Pakistan, China, and other external entities kept up with their harangues.

Caught between hostile crosscurrents of vested interests, national and international politics, and religious and ideological forces directed at influencing people’s thinking, it is easy to appreciate the plight of Kashmiris and their hope for peace and belonging on their own land.

But there is hope that uniformity in treatment under the law and the Constitution will foster greater understanding, peace, and harmony. To prosper, people require stability. Insecure conditions stretching over decades kept Kashmir and its people economically bogged down, socially disoriented, and emotionally unhinged.

Since becoming a Union Territory, the prospects of stability and peace are showing dividends. The focus on physical and digital infrastructure and investments in education, technology, and job creation offer a promising future. According to the State’s Economic Survey 2022-23, the state’s gross domestic product (SGDP) is expected to grow at 8 percent as against 7 percent at the national level. Its economy from 2014-15 to 2021-22 grew faster than the national average, with the service sector being the major contributor. More emphasis on industry, agriculture, horticulture, and tourism is expected to enable the state’s economy to double. Improved health and education indicators, better job opportunities and training for youth, empowerment of women and vulnerable sections, and greater transparency and accountability in government programs are all part of the government’s vision to improve people’s lives.

On the negative side, human rights violations are still occurring. Terrorists and Jihadis are still lurking. Innocents are being killed. There is use of objectionable suppressive measures to tackle differences and dissent--including cutting off internet access during or in anticipation of disturbances; putting dissenters, critics, and journalists in jail; and indulging in politics of corruption.

Progress on the democratic front, admittedly, has also been slow. For four years after taking over the administration of Kashmir, the Government of India failed to convene elections, compelling the Court, in its ruling, to instruct the Government to convene state legislative elections by September 30, 2024. This order is the best assurance of the election’s occurring, but it cannot guarantee that elections will be free from ballot and voter manipulation.

While much remains to be seen regarding the realization of the promised progress, it is good to see an acknowledgment of change for the better in credible print and social media. News articles (such as from Deccan Herald) are reporting the return of tourism and the revival of businesses. The title of a YouTube video by WION declares, “Four years after the abrogation of Article 370, JK witnesses immense growth.” A video from India Today suggests the same. Cinemas are reopening and movies are being shot again. People feel more comfortable about social and religious participation. A Muharram procession with hundreds of thousands of participants was carried out after a lull of 35 years. Hindu temples and yatras to Vaishnodevi and Amarnath are being reopened and resumed. A global G-20 meeting on tourism was successfully held. Heavy security ensures events happen safely. The security may not be ideal, but is necessary.

Overall, the destructive forces seem to prevail less. With record dips in terrorism and its related death toll, and improvement in employment and income prospects, emotional well-being is more likely than before. Employment, empowerment, and equality are expected, as the anchor of the India Today video asserts, to help overcome disaffection and revive hope.

As we await the new dawn, what we can sense, and definitely applaud, is India’s commitment to take Kashmir forward and, equally significantly, to keep the Kashmir issue off the internal and external burners. Stressing Kashmir as integral to and inseparable from India, the Indian Government is committed to brook no international interference or internal challenge that seeks to undermine the immutability of Kashmir’s union with India or to snip the umbilical cord that unites the two.

Neera Kuckreja Sohoni holds a master’s degree in history and a Ph.D. in economics. Her articles have been published in leading newspapers in the U.S. and India.

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