Insights into Editorial: Across the aisle: Defend the land, win over the people
23 July 2016
With curfew continued in many parts of the Valley, life in Kashmir has come to standstill. Fresh incidents occur in the Valley every day. It is now widely acknowledged that Kashmir is more than land, it is people. With the violence erupted in Kashmir over the killing of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani, many fear the valley is going back a couple of decades when Pakistan sponsored militancy and separatist movement gained traction there.
The State of Jammu & Kashmir acceded to India in 1947 under a ‘grand bargain’. The fundamental premise of the Instrument of Accession dated October 26, 1947, was that J&K will accede to the Dominion of India (and later the Union of India under a new Constitution) on the basis of a special dispensation regarding distribution of powers between the Union and the State of J&K. Article 370 of the Constitution, adopted in 1950, embodied that grand bargain.
What’s the main concern now?
The overwhelming opinion now in Kashmir valley is that Article 370 was honoured in the breach and that the autonomy promised to J&K has been chipped away from time to time. The cry of azaadi is a response to this perception. Militancy is another.
Advocating a rollback to 1947 is not good idea now. Not all events and changes of the last 65 years need to be reversed. Not all the laws that were extended to J&K need to be withdrawn. Many of the changes will be acceptable to the people of J&K as beneficial to them. Many of the laws will be acceptable to them because they are based on universal principles and the replacement laws will not be different.
Besides, the technology-driven changes are irreversible and no one in his right mind will demand a reversal. Take telecommunications. The people of J&K will welcome the fact that they are connected to the rest of India and the world. Other examples are the Railways, aviation, power grid, tertiary healthcare, the immunisation programme and skill development, and the laws applicable to the implementation of these schemes and programmes.
What needs to be done now?
Following are the things that the government may consider:
- Withdraw the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from a number of areas immediately.
- Amend AFSPA in the current session of Parliament. A draft Bill is ready. Start work on repealing AFSPA and replacing it with a reasonable law that will give limited immunity to the Armed Forces.
- Send an all-parties delegation to J&K to meet with all sections of the people and listen to their views. Keep the ‘majoritarians’ out of the delegation.
- Direct the Ministry of Defence to draw up a plan (within 15 days) to withdraw as many troops as possible from civilian areas and redeploy the troops closer to the border. Direct them to draw up another plan (within 30 days) for gradually thinning the presence of the Army in the interior (inhabited) areas of J&K.
- Hand over primary responsibility for maintaining law and order to the state government and the J&K police.
- Revisit the Standard Operating Procedures for deployment of the security forces, correct the deviations and plug all loopholes.
There is a long road ahead and journey must begin as early as possible. As long as J&K remains an integral part of the Union of India, there is ample political and legal space to try out new ideas that will reassure the people of J&K that the Government of India will honour the grand bargain of the accession.