Explained: Why must Kashmir be converted into two Chandigarh-type UTs

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Prof Hari Om

On June 18, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh suggested that the first-ever elections to the 90-member J&K UT assembly could be held by the end of this year, leading to the end of over 4-year-old central rule. He made this statement in Jammu itself while speaking at a function organised to mark 200 years of the coronation of Maharaja Gulab Singh, who founded State of J&K in March 1846. What exactly did the Defence Minister say? He, inter-alia, said: “Mujhe Lagta Hai Ki Is Saal Ke Ant Tak Ho Sakta Hai Ki Chunavi Prakriya Bhi Prarambh Ho. Iski Prabal Sambhavna Hai (I think the electoral exercise may also commence by the end of this year. There is a strong possibility)”.
The Kashmiri parties, including National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), took cognisance of the Defence Minister’s statement and gave their constituencies in Kashmir and parts of Jammu province, particularly Ramban, Kishtwar, Doda, Poonch and Rajouri districts, to understand that the proposed elections were very vital for Kashmir and that they would jointly contest elections not on the planks of development- Bijli, Sadak and Paani – but on the sentiments plank.
“It (People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration) jointly contesting the election) is more or less a done deal,” a senior NC leader was quoted as saying. “This election is not about development, it is not about Bijli, Sadak, and Paani (bread-and-butter issues). It is to send a message that we are united. It is the fight for identity, a fight for existence. It will be an election fought on sentiments,” he reportedly said. He also reportedly said that “a joint front of the PAGD and the Congress was unlikely and any alliance with the grand old party would only be tactical”. PDP also made an almost identical statement. “There is a realisation among the (Kashmiri) political parties that this election is not for power,” it reportedly said.
PAGD consists of NC, PDP, CPI-M, CPI and ANC and it was formed in 2020. Congress was also present when PAGD was formed at the Gupkar residence of NC president Farooq Abdullah with Farooq Abdullah as chairman of the conglomerate and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti as its vice-chairperson.
It would be only in order to point out that other Kashmiri parties, GA Mir-led Congress, JK Apni Party of Altaf Bukhari and People’s Conference of Sajjad Lone, too, have umpteen times indicated that their immediate objective was to restore the pre-2019 position in J&K. Even former J&K CM Ghulam Nabi Azad, who currently is not in the good books of AICC acting chief Sonia Gandhi, has on occasions more than once reiterated that he would feel contented only after the Union Government restored Article 35A and Article 370, re-united Ladakh with J&K and the whole state as it existed on August 15, 1947 granted full state status. Sonia Gandhi’s right hand man and former Union Minister and JKPCC chief Saif-ud-Din Soz, too, has been reiterating day in and day out what the PAGD leaders have been saying since two years.
Should the Narendra Modi Government hold elections in J&K UT? Or, should it segregate Jammu province from Kashmir, bifurcate Kashmir to set up a separate homeland for the internally-displace Kashmiri Hindus invested with the Chandigarh-type UT to enable them to lead a peaceful and secure life and help the nation protect and promote further the paramount national interests in this strategically crucial region and grant similar status to the remaining Kashmir?
India is a democratic nation and democracy sans elections is a sham democracy. Indeed, it would be an evil day if the people of any part of the country are denied the right to elect representatives through whom they want themselves to be represented in the assembly. Unfortunately, however, things in Kashmir are not inspiring. This is evident from the statements emanating regularly from the Gupkar Road and elsewhere in Srinagar and statements being made by the Gupkar and other Kashmiri leaders in the Jammu province’s mountainous areas where the Hindu-Muslim population is almost evenly balanced or where the Hindus and Sikhs constitute a microscopic minority. Take, for example, Poonch district and parts of Ramban district. What the NC and PDP said in the wake of the Defence Minister’s election-related statement should clinch the whole issue and establish that the idea of elections in the whole J&K UT is fraught with dangerous ramifications.
That the nation just can’t afford elections in the whole J&K UT and that the retransfer of the state power to Kashmir, especially retransfer of departments of home, revenue, finance, law and forest, would undo in no time what the Modi Government did on August 5-6, 2019 to break the backbone of terrorists, separatists and pro-Pakistan elements in and out of the administrative set-up and only help them further aggravate the situation in Kashmir and parts of Jammu province.
It’s not a secret that the vested interests in Kashmir misused the finance department to fleece Indian exchequer and enrich themselves and also help many undesirables; exploited the home department to the hilt to help subversives, secessionists and terrorists; used the revenue and forest departments to change demography of Kashmir and parts of Jammu province and cold-desert Ladakh and help certain elements to loot, plunder and occupy over 24 Lakh Kanal state land and lakhs of Kanal of forest land, especially in Jammu province; and exploited the department of law to help secessionists, terrorists and pro-Pakistan elements in Kashmir and elsewhere escape legal action or action under sedition laws. Suffice it to say that the vested interests in Kashmir used these five departments to further their nefarious agenda, grievously hurt the paramount national interest and make the lives of the minorities a veritable hell.
This is the whole situation. Statesmanship requires the Modi Government to take a serious cognisance of what the Kashmiri parties said about the poll planks they would use to arouse passions in Kashmir and parts of Jammu province to achieve their short and long-term objectives.
Clearly, the Modi Government has to abandon the idea of polls in the whole J&K UT and exercise the second option: segregation of Jammu province from Kashmir and conversion of Kashmir into two Chandigarh-type UTs, one each for the minority internally-displaced Kashmiri Hindus and the majority community.
It’s hoped the Modi Government would appreciate the ground realities as they exist in Jammu province and Kashmir Valley and render the dangerous tools in Kashmir ineffective by retaining control over the state power. The situation in Kashmir is extraordinary and only an extraordinary approach can tackle the extraordinary situation.