J & K A Year After 370, Belie The Euphoric Pronouncements

After one year of the shredding of Article 370, it is pertinent to examine what has transpired with respect to the local bodies in J & K and Ladakh.

Disempowered Local Governance in J & K even after one year of Abrogation of 370


The euphoric reverberations sounded by the BJP and its cohorts immediately after the shredding of Article 370 of the Constitution of India did not last long. August 5, 2020 will mark one year of the dismantling of the state into two union territories, Ladhak and Jammu & Kashmir. Jubilation was in the BJP’s camp and its leaders explicitly made statements that next is the turn of POK(Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) and Aksai Chin to be fully integrated with India; to them Article 370 was a hurdle in the integration of J & K to Indian State.

The strategy that the government had adopted was: to muzzle the voices of the people and put the leadership of major political parties in detention. Primarily, these were the leaders who have stood with the J& K’s integration to Indian State. Former chief ministers, ministers, sitting MPs, former MLAs of the J & K legislative assembly were arrested or put under house arrest. Prominent among them include: Mehbooba Mufti, Farooq Abdulla and his son Omar Abdulla, Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, Saifuddin Soz. Mehbooba Mufti continues to be in detention. Along with them there were thousands of people including lawyers, civil group activists and journalists etc., who were kept under detention for a long time.

The second part of the strategy was to win over a section of the people especially those who were elected in local bodies and juxtapose them on to the erstwhile mainstream political leaders and project them as true representatives of the people. The mainstream political parties and their leadership were discredited through an incessant campaign unleashed by the BJP and its social media cell. One of the salvos was that the few ruling party families have usurped all the benefit of special status to Kashmir and they have amassed phenomenal wealth and all most of the grants aided from the centre is absorbed by them.

In this regard, a delegation of the elected local bodies was mobilized and they met the home minister before the pandemic began. The home minister had emphatically stated that the dividends of democratic governance were missing in Kashmir as the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments were not implemented in the state. Amit Shah was panegyric in his words and said that now with the nullification of the J & K’s constitution; the local bodies will get strengthened and will be democratically able to govern themselves. This is nothing but an absurd argument as I have in these columns during the time this delegation met Amit Shah, written extensively how the erstwhile state of J & K had imbibed the 73rd and 74th amendments and had incorporated in their local bodies acts.

After one year of the shredding of the Article 370 it is pertinent as to what has transpired to the local bodies in J & K and even in Ladhak. Let us examine it.

“Nothing has happened”, these are the affirmative words of Talib Hussain, one of the delegates who had come to meet the home minister in that delegation. Talib is the president of the block development council of Shangas in Anantnag. He said no efforts were made to rejuvenate the local body’s governance and this government is more of a tamasha(pageant), which is being run by the bureaucrats. He said they are being treated as praja and the raja(treating as subjects of the ruler), sitting in Delhi who is making the sermons. “We have lost the sense of citizenry as the year passed by,” he stated. Despite the fact that Talib is the president of the block council all the decisions are taken by the bureaucracy, he said. There is no devolution of power. Talib pointed out that handpicked people who have no credibility are being promoted by the BJP. Castigating at the development situation he said for 6,000 group IV posts nearly 5 lakh forms were submitted. This shows the signs of unemployment in the state. Whatever they had in terms of resources, Talib pointed out, is also fizzling out from their hands. The people of Jammu who initially welcomed the change in the status are now repenting for their mistake in taking such a stance. The new domicile law he said is badly affecting the people of Jammu region.

The most scathing indictment of the one year rule came from Khursheed Malik a former panchayat chairperson, who unsuccessfully contested for MLA from the BJP party in the Kashmir valley. Khursheed said the last one year has been a sham for the local body governance, even if that is what the BJP wanted to promote to counter the mainstream parties. The BJP is in a virtual rule of J & K since the last two years; the first one under governor and the last year under the LG rule. The abysmal participation of the local body representatives in electing the council recently shows that the BJP has messed up badly with J & K. There is no moral authority that prevails in the valley.

While pointing out what moral authority means, Khursheed said during Omar’s period from 2011-17 there was 85 per cent participation in the local bodies polls. A change was quite imminently smelled in the region with such a large participation in the political process. Sharing an anecdote about moral authority, he said during that period the separatists had pasted firmans(an edict ) at the doors of elected representatives of the local bodies to quit. Khursheed said a large number of elected representatives under the banner of J & K local bodies association resisted such diktats and even protested in Srinagar against such despotic orders of the separatists and openly said “who the hell is someone to ask them to step down”? This was a direct attack on the Hurriyat and others; the representatives continued to serve the people. The people also endorsed their own will and supported the local representatives as they were elected by them with a huge mandate. Khursheed said all that has been nullified by the BJP.

After the change in status and nullification of the J & K constitution there is no status to the local bodies in the region. While pointing out the change in the situation which is alarming, he said that lies are being spread in the country and even those who stood by the Indian nation have been badly ridiculed. Speaking about the fear environment which the BJP has created, Khursheed pointed out that even with previous regimes they had problems but at least they could raise their voices fearlessly. Narrating one of the incidents when he was elected panchayat chairperson he said that in a meeting he openly criticized Rahul Gandhi for his politics in Kashmir, after that criticism he was offered a space for hearing, whereas in the present rule such a criticism would mean slapping of sedition charges against any such voice. He termed the present rule as a change from insaan to rakshas(humans to demon). The BJP is treating the state of J & K as a colony and those who have even an iota of faith, that the local bodies would be empowered, is sheer foolishness, he pointed out.

“The situation has gone from bad to worse,” said Narender Singh Raju, former Mayor of Jammu . He said the people of Jammu region and city had high expectations that the BJP will help them and will create employment avenues. However, the last one year had completely belied their expectations. From Lakhanpur to Badhal in Jammu there are 4 toll plazas and 3 more are to be installed, which will further rob the people to commute in the Jammu region itself. Pointing out the high level of corruption in the city and the district administration, Raju said the last one year has become an epitome of bureaucratic corruption with no transparency and check. Sharing the example of one, Naveen Chaudhary, an IAS who was indicted for swindling Rs 40 lakhs, Raju said, he was let free on the condition that he deposit that amount back to the government. This is obnoxious, he said, such bureaucrats are ruling the roost. It is even more shocking that the aforesaid officer is the first one to get a domicile certificate in the state. Such criminals are being promoted to become domicile residents of J & K, he commented.

Even the British bureaucrats during the colonial era would dwarf before the present bureaucracy in the region. The present ones have usurped unlimited powers, Narender pointed out. Citing another major scandal in the region emanating from the health mission he said not a single person has been arrested till date. One of the reasons for not pursuing the health scandal is that the Reliance company was involved in providing the insurance cover in the aforesaid health mission.

The former mayor warned that before the Kashmir valley, it will be the Jammu region that will witness a demographic change. Nearly 4 lakh domicile certificates have been issued by the BJP led government in the region and this will put a serious implication on the native and traditional communities residing in Jammu. He said the people of Jammu were not against providing domicile to the outsiders but the Himachal model should have been adopted, instead the BJP followed a policy of appeasement, he described.

Doctor Ishey Namgyal , president of Leh Municipal Council said that initially there was jubilation in Ladhak region after getting the status of union territory but after a year there are more fears than cheers. He said there is no clarity as to what will happen to the domicile issue and to the land protection laws that they have enjoyed since long in the plateau region. Speaking about the 15th Finance Commission recommendations, Namgyal said no money has been awarded as yet to the local body. The decisions are taken at the behest of the bureaucracy and the elected bodies are not even engaged in the process. He warned that the changes brought in land and domicile issues will flare up a movement akin to the north eastern part of India, towards alienation, as people have started to lose faith in the BJP rule.

The BJP may be celebrating this one year and showcasing it as its pro-nationalist agenda but on the ground, the reality is that the party and the government have miserably failed even to gain a single supporter to its credit. The strategy to juxtapose another set of leaders through intimidation, bribe and even through structural changes, which have not taken place in the local bodies, the BJP is bound to lose ground. But more than that, the people of the region have lost both in resources and in the form of their right to be a citizen of this country.