Across the Aisle: Neither victory nor justice, writes P Chidambaram

By: |
October 31, 2021 6:30 AM

Surprisingly, the Home Minister did not visit the erstwhile state for over two years after August 2019. Meanwhile, a number of ministers visited the UTs but they were totally boycotted by the people.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah greeted by supporters in Srinagar (PTI Image)Union Home Minister Amit Shah greeted by supporters in Srinagar (PTI Image)

The Home Minister visited the ‘Union Territory’ of Jammu & Kashmir last week. It was his first visit after the Central government’s provocative and controversial acts on August 5 and 6, 2019, of abrogating Article 370, splitting the state of Jammu & Kashmir (that included Ladakh) and reducing its status to two Union Territories (UT), namely, Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. (Parliament passed a law endorsing the decisions of the government.)

Surprisingly, the Home Minister did not visit the erstwhile state for over two years after August 2019. Meanwhile, a number of ministers visited the UTs but they were totally boycotted by the people. The Defence Minister confined his visits to the stations and posts occupied by the defence forces.

The Central government had, by and large, left the two Union Territories to be administered by Lieutenant Governors (LG) and officers. The then Governor

(Mr Satya Pal Malik) continued to be in charge until October 31, 2019, when the J & K Reorganization Act, 2019, came into effect. The first LG, Mr G C Murmu, held office for about nine months until August 7, 2020. The current LG (Mr Manoj Sinha) has been in office for a little over a year. I am sure the Home Minister would have found that there has been hardly any leadership in the administration of J&K.

The New Normalcy

The Home Minister’s visit was preceded by numerous claims of ‘normalcy’ including his own. How ‘normal’ is J&K?

  • On the eve of the Home Minister’s visit, 700 persons were detained including a few under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA);
    Some detainees were moved to jails outside J&K;
  • The National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested eight more persons suspected of a conspiracy to carry out terrorist activities (taking the number arrested to 13);
  • Snipers were posted along the roads travelled by the Home Minister;
  • Traffic restrictions were imposed in Srinagar, with those riding two-wheelers subjected to intensive security check (one report said two-wheelers had been ‘banned’).
  • The Home Minister justified the curfew and Internet restrictions imposed in J&K as “a bitter pill that saved many lives”;
  • On the state of J&K’s economy, the Home Minister said though J&K received the highest per capita grant, “poverty never reduced here” (contradicting government data that, in 2019, J&K’s poverty ratio was 10.35 per cent — eighth among the best states — while the national average was 21.92 per cent);
  • The Home Minister asked, rhetorically, “before August 5, 2019, could the youth of J&K dream of becoming the Finance or Home Minister of this country?” (It must have slipped his mind that Mufti Mohamed Sayeed was Home Minister of India in 1989-90);
  • He concluded with a flourish: “Terrorism has ended and stone pelting has disappeared”. (The most reliable data base, South Asia Terrorism Portal, has given the following numbers of deaths between 2014 and 2021: civilians — 306, security forces — 523, and terrorists/militants — 1,428. In fact, October 2021 was the worst month in the last two years.)

On the last date of his visit, the Home Minister declared the policy of his government: “Dr Farooq Sahib has suggested that I talk to Pakistan. If I will talk, I will talk only to the people of J&K and its youth, no one else.”

Victor’s Justice

The Home Minister did not meet the leaders of any political party; further, he demonized “three families” which had “brought ruin” to J&K. There is no elected legislature, so he did not meet any legislators. No civil society organisation volunteered to meet him. If the Home Minister was not willing to talk to any one, it was not surprising that no one was willing to talk to him either. The only conversation was between the Home Minister and the fawning bureaucrats at the durbar.

It is painfully clear that the J&K policy of the Modi government is based on Victor’s Justice: (1) a secretly-hatched, rushed and unconstitutional law; (2) a bureaucracy of which it can be said that the “wood has entered (its) soul”; (3) draconian laws such as the PSA; (4) restrictions that curb the fundamental rights of speech, expression, movement, privacy, liberty, life and the rule of law; (5) a gerrymandered delimitation exercise before the elections to the State Assembly; and (6) no talks with Pakistan under any circumstances.

Steeling the Resistance

Is this the normalcy and governance that the Modi government is offering the people of Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh? It appears so, but one thing is clear: such ‘normalcy’ and ‘governance’ will not lead to a political solution in J&K. It is obvious that the Modi government believes that there is no ‘political’ issue in J&K and, even if there had been one, it was ‘resolved’ by abrogating Article 370!

There can be no meaningful conversation if the Modi government brushes aside history, historical facts, the wars that were fought between India and Pakistan, promises, outcomes of past conversations (including round-table discussions and reports), political aspirations, excesses of the past, repressive government actions, the overwhelming presence of security forces, and continued distortion of the rule of law. The Home Minister did not succeed in stealing any hearts; unwittingly, he may have put steel in the hearts and minds of the people to resist peacefully the defilement of the Constitution and the denial of democratic rights.

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