Jammu and Kashmir
District Development Council elections were held in a staggered eight-phase process from November 28 through December 19, 2020. Over 51% of nearly 6 million eligible voters across the region's 20 districts cast their ballots. The People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an amalgam of seven political parties that is pro-India but favors self-governance in Kashmir, won 112 out of a total of 280 seats. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government labeled the PAGD alliance a "gang" and its leaders "anti-nationals" and "looters." Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 74 seats. Independent candidates won 49 seats. The BJP has a very small base in the Kashmir Valley, the heart of the decades-old anti-India insurgency, where it got only three seats. Most of the other BJP seats come from four Hindu-majority districts in the Jammu area where it has significant support.
This election was dominated by an ideological battle rather than local issues. It was a rejection of all that New Delhi had purportedly done in Jammu and Kashmir this time. Many of the BJP opponents in the alliance accused the government of preventing them from campaigning and detaining some of them. Officials have denied the allegations.
Newly re-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi fulfilled a longstanding campaign promise by ending a constitutional provision that gave Jammu and Kashmir extra autonomy from the federal government. People celebrated the Narendra Modi government's decision by distributing sweets, bursting crackers and dancing to the beat of drums in several parts of the country when the news of scrapping of Article 370 flashed on TV screens.
Jammu and Kashmir had been an integral part of India since the acceptance or accession. The Indian Constitution incorporated a provision under Article 370 according to special status to the State and that it was intended to be a transitory provision from the beginning. The special provisions and their consequences have been reviewed time and again over the last few decades and the Indian Parliament had debated the issue several times. India now officially had one state less and two Union Territories more - J&K and Ladakh, i.e. India now has 28 states and nine union territories.
Since 1947 the people of Jammu and Kashmir ( Ladakh, Jammu and the Valley) have participated in elections and till 1987 there was no talk of their aspirations not having been met. The only change that has taken place is that a group of people from the Valley, unable to come to power over the decades through the ballot box have decided to use violence to impose their will. In this they have been aided by jehadi elements from Pakistan. If indeed they are confident that they represent the wishes of the people of the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, they should be ready to participate in elections as other Muslim Kashmiris from the Valley and other parts of Jammu and Kashmir have done. Instead this group has been engaged in calling for a boycott of the democratic electoral process and countenanced the destruction of the social, cultural and economic fabric of Jammu and Kashmir.
On 05 August 2019, the Narendra Modi government made the monumental decision to change the status of Jammu and Kashmir. Through a Presidential Order, the government declared that Article 370 would cease to be operative, and specifically overrode a previous order that made Article 35A a part of the Constitution of India, thereby ending the special status accorded to the region.
Incidentally, the new UTs will be born on the National Unity Day, marked as the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first home minister and freedom fighter. The government was looking to take this opportunity to ramp up infrastructure, investment and tourism opportunities in the region, as well as integrating it in essence with the rest of India, as J&K has long been marked with separatist fires.
The abrogation of the Article 370 led to the complete integration of Jammu & Kashmir with the rest of the country. Shri Narendra Modi described Jammu and Kashmir as the Crown of India and that the real identity of J&K is its Egalitarian attitude towards all faiths and its Sufi Tradition. Prime Minister said that the region cannot be left behind and only referred to as one that it is ridden with Guns, Bombs, Terror and Separatism. The proposition was put to vote in the Parliament on 5th and 6th August 2019 and it received Parliament’s unequivocal mandate. The Lower House voted 80% in favor and in the Upper House, nearly 66% supported the Bill.
It was widely felt that having an enclave within the country was not desirable and was seen as antithetical to an inclusive growth strategy where the country aims to bridge development gaps between states and achieve an equitable growth leaving no state behind. The state was beset with a host of formidable impeding challenges like corruption, lack of accountability and most disturbing of all, growing threat of militancy and cross-border terrorism along with slow development. The situation in the state after 70 years of Indian independence convinced the policymakers that they could not allow the rapid downslide to continue.
The Union Territory of Ladakh would not have a legislative assembly and would be directly governed by the Home Ministry at the Centre via an appointed Lieutenant-Governor, like Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Jammu and Kashmir will have its own elected legislature and government, presided over by the appointed Lieutenant-Governor, more or less like the Delhi and Puducherry models.
People from all over the country were now closer to having the right to buy and own property in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Till now, only permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir had the right to own property in the state. And the power to decide who would qualify as a permanent resident was left in the hands of the Jammu and Kashmir government. This power was granted to the J&K government by Article 35A, which was repealed by Monday's Presidential Order. The right of all Indians to own property in Jammu and Kashmir required further official work, which would have to be operationalised once the Home Ministry took charge of the Union Territory.
Ladakh would no longer have Assembly elections. The only elections people of the region would vote in will be Lok Sabha elections. Ladakh would now be able to seek specific attention from the Centre, now that its fate is no longer tied to Jammu and Kashmir. The two districts of the Ladakh Division - Leh and Kargil - already enjoyed some level of autonomy and were partially governed by Autonomous Hill Development Councils, which were likely to be allowed to continue their functioning.
Raksha Mantri Shri Rajnath Singh said the decision taken by the Government in nullifying Article 370 and creating two Union Territories in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh has ended the discrimination faced by the people during the last 70 years. Addressing the annual general body meeting of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in New Delhi on August 8, 2019, Shri Rajnath Singh said, the groundwork towards a permanent solution for this issue has been laid during the first term of Government led by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. The decision will have some effects, he added saying that the neighbouring country is not happy and it will try to disturb peace. Our Armed Forces have accepted the security challenge and are fully prepared to meet any threats.
India's Hindu nationalist government in August 2019 sent in tens of thousands of extra troops, arrested dozens of political leaders, and imposed a crippling military and communications clampdown. Soon after the Article 370 abrogation, several regional political leaders were put under detention by the Jammu and Kashmir administration and restrictions imposed on the movement of people, vehicles, telephone, mobile phones and internet. Thousands of people have been arrested, including pro-India and separatist politicians, as part of the massive crackdown that has been criticised by the UN human rights body.
Indian authorities ordered the restoration of low-speed mobile internet in Indian-administered Kashmir, but allowed access to just 300 "whitelisted" websites. The order to restore second-generation (2G) mobile internet and data services, issued late on 25 January 2020, ended the longest such outage in any democracy. It was imposed nearly six months earlier following the abrogation of the disputed region's autonomy. Social media applications that allow peer to peer communications and Virtual Private Networks [VPN] applications remained banned.
Strict measures were taken against the mainstream politicians were taken after they strongly opposed the government's move to abrogate the special law that had provided the region with a separate constitution. Two former chief ministers of Indian-administered Kashmir were charged under strict Public Safety Act (PSA) six months after they were detained. Authorities on 07 February 2020 charged Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti under PSA - a law that allows detention without trial for up to two years - as part of a crackdown to prevent protests against New Delhi's decision to strip the Muslim-majority region's autonomy. Farooq Abdullah, a three-time chief minister and a sitting parliamentarian, was also detained under the same law. Members of the Abdullah family had ruled the Muslim-majority region for most of the last 70 years.
Indian authorities continued to impose harsh and discriminatory restrictions on Muslim-majority areas in Jammu and Kashmir, one year after the revocation of the state’s constitutional status on August 5, 2019, Human Rights Watch said 05 august 2020. The government’s unwarranted restraints on the rights to free speech, access to information, health care, and education have been intensified by the Covid-19 pandemic. On August 3, 2020, the authorities issued an order restricting movement for two days to prevent “violent protests” against last year’s decision to revoke constitutional autonomy.
Anticipating unrest after the government revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomous constitutional status and split it into two federally governed territories, the Indian authorities imposed broad restrictions on freedom of movement, banned public meetings, shut down telecommunication services and educational institutions, and detained thousands of people. While in the months that followed the government eased some restrictions, hundreds of people remain detained without charge, critics are threatened with arrest, and access to the internet is limited.
Prominent political leaders, including three former chief ministers, were among the thousands detained to prevent protests. Police told the courts that 144 children had also been taken into custody. While most of those held have since been released, according to the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, based on habeas corpus petitions over 400 people remain in custody under the draconian Public Safety Act, which permits detention without trial for up to two years. There also have been several allegations of new arrests, torture, and ill-treatment by security forces. The government has also used harsh counterterrorism and sedition laws to clamp down on peaceful critics.
From demographic change and unemployment to disenfranchisement and violence, things have gone from bad to worse one year after India's annexation of Jammu and Kashmir. Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir —"Naya Kashmir" - the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Indian government’s promise of a ‘New Kashmir’ to its countrymen, has suddenly once again caused a clamour on social media. The Naya Kashmir envisaged by the millions of Indians on the behest of the Indian government, while Kashmiris were put under a stringent lockdown and completely detached from the world, has taken a shape that might not fit the imagination of your average Indian. Naya Kashmir was to be a ‘prosperous, developed and terror-free’ Kashmir, in the words of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A year after the promise was made, the words have rung hollow, and where they have grown teeth, sting only Kashmiris.
Kashmir Valley is described as the paradise on earth. Chashmashahi springs, Shalimar Bagh, Dal Lake, Dachigam, Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg and Amarnath shrine in the Valley, Vaishnodevi shrine and Patnitop near Jammu and Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh are important tourist destinations. Ladakh festival on 15 September and Sindhu Darshan in June are popular events.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|