Unlock the Valley

Paran Balakrishnan | Updated on August 06, 2020

Economy, services need a boost in Kashmir

“Can you lock up a State for one year? Could you do it in Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh?” asks AS Dulat, former R&AW chief and Kashmir expert. Dulat’s talking, of course, about Kashmir. One full year later, the region is still under a stifling security blanket and the government’s unwilling to restore 4G services. Late Monday, two days before the one-year anniversary, curfew was reimposed across large swathes of the Valley. On August 5, a political meeting at Farooq Abdullah’s home couldn’t take place.

What’s the Valley mood like after one year? Says Dulat: “Sullen and angry. There’s disappointment and hopelessness.” But it’s tough to judge the mood because the press hasn’t been allowed to function normally. In fact, under a June policy document, the government empowered itself to decide on “anti-social and anti-national” news. Any lawyer understands those imprecise terms could mean just about anything. And the document doesn’t conceal its key aim: to ensure the press doesn’t criticise the government. Or, to use bureaucratese, it’s looking at: “creating a sustained narrative on the functioning of the government in the media.”

At a standstill

Economically, the Valley’s at a standstill. Tourism’s stopped and one year’s apple crop couldn’t be exported from the region. Any possibility of economic recovery has vanished due to Covid-19.

The government argues its policies have been successful because there’s been only a handful of terrorist incidents. But that’s mainly thanks to the huge security presence which isn’t sustainable or desirable in the long run.

The key question is where do we go from here? Has the government committed the cardinal error of marching in without checking the exit locations? One year down the road, the State’s lieutenant governor has just resigned. The reasons for his abrupt departure aren’t clear but he’s said more than once he’s okay about restoring 4G services.

One imperative for Kashmiris is restoring statehood. Omar Abdullah hinted the National Conference may accept Article 370 and Article 35A are buried. But no State’s been demoted overnight from State to Union Territory and Kashmir’s politicians are unlikely to embrace a situation where they’re under the Home Ministry’s thumb. Mehbooba Mufti is still under house arrest. Government efforts to introduce a new layer of politicians failed when panchayati elections flopped. Now it knows it can’t allow the mainstream National Conference and PDP to wither away.

There are other complications. Article 35A lets the state decide who’s a state citizen. That clause is now abolished and that can also affect the Dogras in Jammu and the Ladakhis.

In India, the courts have always been defenders of the rule of law and citizens’ rights. But they’ve been slow to act on Kashmir. The government insisted before the Supreme Court 2G services are sufficient to allow “education, commerce and Covid-19 control” measures. Experts agree theoretically it might be possible via 2G but say it’s near impossible in practice. Also, the government said Saifuddin Soz wasn’t under house arrest but it doesn’t appear easy for him to leave his house. Both the J&K High Court and the Supreme Court have also been slow taking up habeas corpus petitions, perhaps partly due to Covid-19.

In the end, we must look at Kashmir’s youth and their anger over the situation. The government knows it cannot afford to alienate them indefinitely and it must act accordingly.

Published on August 06, 2020

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