The Centre seems unclear about the political process needed for normalcy in J&K
Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s first visit to Jammu & Kashmir after August 5, 2019 when Parliament diluted Article 370 of the Constitution that granted it a “special status” and downgraded and bifurcated the State into two Union Territories, took place against the grim background of the killings of 11 civilians by terrorists in one month. J&K has been under central rule since June 2018 and the political and parliamentary subterfuge in reorganising the erstwhile State still rankles as a discordant chapter of India’s experiments in federalism. Mr. Shah used the three-day visit to underscore the progress J&K has made since its reorganisation — the uptick in tourist inflow and the string of development and welfare projects.
As for the stringent curbs that the people have had to endure meanwhile, Mr. Shah said those were bitter pills that helped save lives. Through a series of public engagements and official functions in Jammu and the Valley, the Home Minister’s single-minded focus was on reiterating the Bharatiya Janata Party’s political narrative on Kashmir. He said “three families” had held J&K to ransom until the party came to its rescue. Whether or not politics in J&K has been any more or less corrupt than other parts of the country is anyone’s guess, but it is a matter of fact that the former State had a poverty rate of 10.35% against the national average of of 21.92%.
The Centre has been successful in removing the question of independence or even autonomy from the conversation on Kashmir. But to pretend that there is no political question in Kashmir to be discussed or resolved is reckless. Besides trying to systematically delegitimise the mainstream parties, the BJP policy also sought to build an entirely new political apparatus in the Union Territory. Mr. Shah ruled out any talks with Pakistan, but said he was willing to talk to the youth of Kashmir. That promise can be meaningful only with immediate action.
Now that the Centre has made the restoration of statehood as the endgame of an unclear political process, it must establish a mechanism for dialogue with the people. In June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met political leaders from J&K in Delhi but there has been no follow up to that since then. On the contrary, Mr. Shah’s messaging over three days emphasised the divisions between the people of the Valley and Jammu, and berated political leaders. True, he made the right gestures in terms of visiting victims of recent violence and interactions with locals but that is far from enough.
More than 700 people had to be detained ahead of his visit, which is instructive of the continuing volatility in the Valley. Mr. Shah’s trip is the latest in a series of visits by Union Ministers in recent weeks. While the Centre’s outreach is indeed a welcome step, it needs to be more honest and open to be effective.