One of the arguments put forth for scrapping Articles 35-A and 370 was that these provisions had acted as stumbling blocks in the development of the erstwhile state. The abrogation of Article 370 was hailed as the beginning of a new era of development and better governance in Jammu and Kashmir.
As the parliament unilaterally abrogated the articles, home minister Amit Shah had stated in the Rajya Sabha: “I want to tell the people of J-K what damage 370 and 35A did to the state. It’s because of these sections that democracy was never fully implemented, corruption increased in the state, that no development could take place.”
The often-used development and underdevelopment argument is made at two levels: one that J-K has remained underdeveloped as compared to other regions of India and secondly, that there is regional discrimination with the Kashmir region being more developed than Jammu and even Ladakh. However, the facts and statistics do not support either the development/under-development or the regional disparity arguments.
Undeveloped as a state?
Contrary to hampering the development of J-K, the special status has been the embodiment of a massive structural transformation of its economy. The extensive “land to the tiller” process initiated by Sheikh Abdullah in 1950 would not have been possible under the Constitution of India.
The land reforms in Kashmir—the most extensive outside Soviet Russia—carried out in 1950 to 1973 transformed the rural lives. In 2017 the HDI ratio of J-K was 0.68, which is far better than the states like Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat. Despite all odds and difficult circumstances especially since 1989, the poverty ratio in J-K is 10.35%, less than half the all India level, which is 21.92%.
Similarly, income distribution is equally spread across the population of J-K. According to the state-wise JustJobs Index – created by the Azim Premji University and the JustJobs Network – to study the quantity and quality jobs created by different states of India, J-K stood at 11 among 21 states studied. It did much better than many other states like Gujarat (18) and Uttar Pradesh (21).
While unemployment in J-K was at 5.3 percent against the national average of 6.1 percent, the erstwhile state’s per capita GSDP for 2016-17 was Rupees 1.02 lakh, while the national average was Rupees 1.17 lakh. On indicators like infant mortality rate, J-K recorded 24 deaths per thousand against the national average of 34 in the year 2016, the life expectancy in the troubled region was 73.5 against the national average of 68.7.
Is Jammu less developed than Kashmir?
“I have worked for my organisation for many years in Jammu and Kashmir,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the 2014 assembly election rally in Jammu, the BJP stronghold. “Whenever I would come to Jammu, I was told the region has been discriminated against and deprived of its rightful share in development. Today, I have realised there is a substance in this feeling.”
Taking it from there, the J-K BJP spokesperson Arun Kumar Gupta had alleged that “as per records while 70 per cent of the budget is spent in Kashmir region only 30 per cent is for the other regions of the state. The same policy is followed with regard to funds granted by the central government.”
This discourse of regional discrimination is as old as state’s transition from autocratic rule to “democratic” politics. While much has been written about the myth surrounding the state’s poor development indicators, little has been written about the myth of regional disparity in development allocation—alleging that Kashmir received the lion’s share—was, among other factors, instrumental in manufacturing consent in the Jammu and Ladakh region’s for the abrogation of the special status. The hegemonic politics of Kashmir centric parties only added fuel to the fire.
While there is no denying the fact that development has not been equal but this disparity is more about core and periphery within the Jammu and Kashmir divisions rather than between two divisions. Jammu and Ladakh were and are not only getting their due, but their position is far better than Kashmir Valley which has suffered immensely because of conflict.
This is evident from a comparison of funds received by the two capitals of J-K. At the peak of the militancy, in 1997-98, Srinagar received Rupees 33.46 crore under the district development fund, while Jammu got Rupees 49.26 crore. The following year, Srinagar received Rupees 39.22 crore while Jammu got 54.50 crore. In 2002-03 Srinagar got Rupees 46. 57 crore while Jammu got Rupees 61.76 crore. In 2006 Jammu was allocated Rupees 94. 45 crore with an additional 11 crore announced by the then chief minister, making it 23 crore more than what Srinagar received. (Source: Nisar Bhat, “Badhal Kashmir, Khushal Jammu”, Greater Kashmir, 18 June 2006.)
The Jammu district is consistently receiving almost double the funds than Srinagar district. Also one can see the inter-district variations with some districts in each division are receiving more funds than others. Anantnag, Baramullah, Budgam districts are consistently receiving more funds than say Kulgam or Pulwama. Similarly in Jammu districts like Jammu, Kathua , Udhampur receive much more funding than districts like Kishtiwar, Doda or Reasi. This leads to inter district imbalances. Overall, the Jammu division has consistently received larger chunk of funds than Kashmir, which also included the Ladakh region.
According to the data compiled by the State Finance Commission Report in 2010, Jammu region was doing better than Kashmir on most development indicators. Out of the ten development indexes, Kashmir was doing better than Jammu on just three indicators of road connectivity, drinking water access and economic welfare. However, one needs to look at the recent data to see if this might have also changed as post 2014 BJP continued to be in power at the centre as well as in J-K directly or indirectly.
As per the State Finance Commission Report of 2010, which studied period from 1980 to 2006, while the Kashmir region made progress from 0.3481 (index value) in 1980-81 to 0.4349 in 2006-07, that is by 24.94 percent (based on index value), the Jammu region demonstrated a progress from 0.3039 index value to 0.4333, a growth of 42.58 percent. As per the report during the period under study, there has been considerable improvement in the Jammu region in the share of development while the improvement share of Kashmir has declined.
From the eighth central Five Year Plan (1992-97) to the tenth plan beginning 2002, the Jammu region has taken a share of 42.69 per cent of the total district plan expenditure, the share of the Kashmir region is 43.49 per cent, indicating that district plan resource distribution has been equitable, according to the commission report. The data compiled by the State Finance Commission from various sources for the period 1977-78 to 2006-07 with regard to district plan expenditure shown that while it has mostly remained balanced for few year expenditure is higher for Jammu district. It is in this regard that the SFC report states, “having regard to diversity in the State, both the state sector/schemes and district sector funds do not seem to be unequally distributed between Jammu and Kashmir regions to the extent that disparity or discrimination can be claimed and hence the claim of discrimination meted out to either region in the process of development does not appear to be valid”. Yes of course there are sectoral variations.
Since 2002 the number of registered factories in Jammu were 675 and in Kashmir it was 3044. The Economic Survey 2017 revealed that the major part of investments by manufacturing houses under central comprehensive industrial specific package went to Jammu, Samba and Kuthua
While there is little truth in development narrative, the fact remains, as noted by Balraj Puri in one of his writings in the Economic and Political Weekly, “there were certain psychological factors that created anxiety in Jammu about the shift of power from its base in Jammu to that of Kashmir. Such anxiety was enhanced due to the advantage that Kashmir had in the post-accession period ‘its numerical superiority, internal homogeneity, established leadership, and international importance’. As it acquired the dominant position within the state, it generated resentment in other regions.
The Jammu based Praja Parishad Party founded by Balraj Madhok and patronized by the erstwhile Bhartiya Jana Sangh, the precursor to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), vehemently opposed granting any special position to J-K and demanded its full integration with the Indian Union. The party commenced its campaign in 1954 with the slogan “ek Vidhan, ek Nishan, ek Pradhan”—one constitution, one flag, one president. Although the Praja Parishad agitation petered out after the removal of Sheikh Abdullah, the discourse it generated had an enduring impact on Jammu politics.
Though the demand of abolishing the special position of Kashmir was largely fulfilled by the Central government, by hollowing Article 370 with the active support of the installed governments in Kashmir the Hindu nationalist forces of Jammu continued their agitational politics against supposed regional imbalances and Article 370. The struggle against “Kashmiri domination” received momentum after the outbreak of militancy in the Valley.
The BJP continued to push its political agenda and included the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A in its election manifestos. Finally on 5 August 2019 it fulfilled its long-cherished goal or what they termed as the “dream of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee”.
While the political agenda has been achieved, how much development will happen needs to be seen. As of now, after the initial euphoria evaporated, people of Jammu are frequently demanding protection of land and jobs, while Ladakh observed completed shut down on 24 July 2020 to push their demand for domicile law as well as to express their anger and apprehension against official policies, particularly those related to employment.
As is clear from the above facts the argument that J-K remained underdeveloped and there is regional discrimination in terms of development due to special status is far from truth. In any case “development” as a means to bring about “normalcy” in Kashmir is not new and has been tried by successive governments since 1947.
However, in the absence of any genuine political initiatives and generating public consensus to address the aspiration of the people this model has thus far failed to address the political crisis. But this narrative did help BJP to accomplish its long-standing political agenda as it generated support for them not only in rest of India but more crucially in Jammu and Ladakh. The ideological and political fault lines were successfully used to divide the opinion and the development/underdevelopment/regional discrimination discourse proved most suitable narrative.
Aijaz Ashraf Wani is author of What Happened to Governance in Kashmir? Oxford University Press, 2019.
A slightly different version appeared in our 3-9 August 2020 print edition.