‘Distance widens, disheartening deepens’: Two years in Kashmir since Aug 2019

It was a week of unprecedented uncertainty in Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) and the local unionist leaders had rushed to New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who assured them that everything is fine, and will be fine. The leaders returned “satisfied”.

Four days later, on 5 August 2019, New Delhi clamped indefinite curfews, put a blanket ban on communications, and detained thousands, including even those unionist leaders while the limited-autonomy of the region was revoked. The erstwhile state was ripped into two federally-governed territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

Twenty-two months on, the leaders again expressed the mistrust as New Delhi invited them for the first time after the detentions, in a show of willingness to break the political coldness.

Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, later in an interview told The Kashmir Walla that in the meeting, Modi “was quite open in admitting that [J-K] is very far from an ideal relationship with the rest of India”.

Two years since the revocation, the relation between New Delhi and the unionists has not only soured, but Kashmir Valley remains in a state of perpetual uncertainty. From land laws to the status of a domicile, J-K has changed at a fast pace. But did it move ahead on the path? 

Enveloped under heavy military and paramilitary presence, where checkpoints dot roadways, the Kashmir observers believe that New Delhi’s ironfist approach has further deepened the sense of near-constant siege.

Rhetorics

Two years on and Noor A. Baba, a political scientist and former Dean of Social Sciences at the University of Kashmir, still cannot comprehend anything “positive” about the unilateral decision of New Delhi. 

It is only uncertainty,” he told The Kashmir Walla. Unlike the claims that were made by Modi in a televised speech, on 8 August 2019, Baba said “there is stagnation, no political development, no development in a technical sense and the disappointment among people is deepening with every passing day”. 

“Joblessness is one of the crises in Kashmir and [despite] the absence of job avenues for the youth, nothing is being addressed,” he added. “No hope is being generated and no positive atmosphere is being created.”

Two months after the revocation of the Article 370, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) had said that the business sector lost over 10,000 crore rupees. 

“More than 50,000 jobs have been lost in the carpet industry alone,” Sheikh Ashiq, president of the KCCI, had told BBC. 

Instead, the clampdown, followed by the year-long Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, has collapsed the economy.

New Delhi had boasted that the removal of the Article 370 – which had given job and land protections to natives of Jammu and Kashmir – was “the biggest hurdle to normalcy”. The Government of India also gave its word to return the statehood to J-K when the normalcy returns. Amit Shah, the Home Minister, had said that the limited-autonomy was “of no use” and the economic progress and development in the state will start henceforth.

Sushobha Barve, the executive secretary of Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, Delhi, who has regularly visited Kashmir during the past two years as member of Concerned Citizens Group, said that rather New Delhi has turned “Kashmiris against India”. 

“The mistrust has increased between Delhi and Kashmir. Even the people who were pro-India have turned against [her],” she said. Barve added that New Delhi even after promising economic prosperity has not been able to fulfill it. “Nobody has come to invest in anything. It is clearly the opposite of what they had promised.”

Militancy

New Delhi’s rhetorics had also claimed that the Article 370 was the “the root of terrorism” in J-K. But “the security has not changed much on the ground,” said H. S. Panag, a retired Lieutenant General of the army. “Even before the abrogation, the insurgency was at the same level.” 

Despite major offensives against the militants and their support networks, the recruitment to the militant cause has continued in the region. In the past two years, nearly 350 militants have been killed and despite that their numbers remain around 200, the police say. As of now, official figures reveal that around 220 militants are still active in Kashmir, which includes around 70 to 80 foreign militants.

“The number of militants for the last three years remains the same and the government forces have failed to prevent young people from joining the militant ranks,” said Panag, an avid commentator on strategic affairs. He further commented that militancy will keep building up as long as there is support from the locals and it has access to Pakistan.

An unrelenting multi-agency offensive against the militants and their support structure has been a permanent feature during the last three decades. Since 5 August 2019, the offensive has remained unchanged, going through pauses and then picking pace before heading for another pause. In between, there are no signs that the insurgency is facing any imminent end. 

“Talk to everyone, including the militants,” Panag suggested. “But everyone needs to understand that Kashmir cannot be separated from India.”

Politics

The unprecedented coalition of all major regional parties in Kashmir, which initially came together on 4 August 2019 to safeguard the rights protected under article 370 and 35-A, have largely been successful in keeping the alliance intact.

Even as the Sajad Lone-led People’s Conference made a departure from the alliance and it remained silent – even invisible – for a lengthy timeline, the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) has been able to freeze New Delhi’s ambitious plan to raise alternative loyalists.

The alliance has described the events of 5 August 2019 as “the unprecedented assault on the constitution of India” that “[damaged] the very bond of our relationship with (the) union of India”.

“The hoax of BJP’s Naya Kashmir is a joke now,” the PAGD said, in a joint statement yesterday, to mark the second anniversary of snatching the region’s limited-autonomy. 

However, Nirmal Kumar Singh, former deputy chief minister of J-K and a senior leader of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Jammu, said that the biggest development in the region is the peace and prosperity that is in the valley. 

“People are happy now,” he said. There would be a lot of violence and stone-throwing incidents, he said, and there would be no tourism. “Kashmiris would think that they are not Indians, they are special. But now they know that they are like other Indians,” he further added. 

With the passing of two years since New Delhi changed course for Jammu and Kashmir’s decades long political instability, undercurrents only point to further destability. Experts from across the sections of the society believe only consistent and sincere engagement with all sections of the region could build a consensus for a stable future.  


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Shefali Rafiq
Shefali Rafiq is a Trainee Reporter at The Kashmir Walla.