May 01, 2022

J&K: PM’s Visit a Damp Squib

Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami

LAST week, prime minister, Narendra Modi visited the Jammu and Kashmir for the first time since his government demolished the special status of the region and split it into two union territories —Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladhak—in a brazen unconstitutional manner. 

Modi chose April 24, the Panchayat Raj Day, to visit the battered region in an attempt to send out a message that people in Jammu and Kashmir have been empowered at the grassroots level. The prime minister's tom-tomming about democracy and decentralisation of powers was to digress the attention from a flurry of undemocratic and highly authoritarian actions which his government initiated after the summer of 2019. 

The BJP government upended the constitution by effecting disastrous changes in the erstwhile historic state of Jammu and Kashmir.  It did not only strip the region of its constitutional autonomy but also assaulted and undermined the bond of relationship between the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union. 

The former princely state had acceded to India only under certain conditions, while the secular democratic principles of the constitution formed the bedrock of this relationship. However, the BJP government pulled all the stops to bulldoze this relationship built up through hard efforts. 

The prime minister, using high-flown language, spun false narratives about democracy, normalcy and development in the region. However, the fact of the matter remains that Jammu and Kashmir had enacted the Panchayat Raj Act in 1935 and through a long people’s struggles, a unique manifesto known as Naya Kashmir was adopted in 1944 by the then National Conference session (in which progressive sections and the Left groups played a significant role), which empowered the people at the grass-root level through decentralisation and also by advocating self-rule at the grass-root level. Besides, it was in 1989 that provisions of the 73rd constitutional amendment were incorporated in J&K Panchayati Raj Act. The gradual erosion of the autonomy and denial of democracy has remained mostly the crux of the policies pursued by the successive union governments. However, the BJP government not only crossed the earlier record of denying the basic rights to the people but also created new heights of suppressing the elementary rights of the citizens by brutal force.

The government held panchayat elections in  December 2018, a month after it dissolved the state assembly depriving over 13 million people of representative government. 

In the autumn of 2020, the direct elections for the District Development Councils(DDCs) were conducted, which are in deep contrast to the 73rd Constitution Amendment. Even some Block Development Councils, the second tier in Panchayati Raj System are without chairpersons, as the administration is not sure about manipulating the results in favour of the ruling party. 

Mostly elected DDC members and sarpanchs in the valley are unable to venture out as they are denied permission to visit their respective areas as they are working in a very uncertain situation. Often, they are denied the required security.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir has been reeling under the centre's rule since mid-2018 and there was hardly any mention of restoring the political process or statehood in the prime minister's speech. Even those sections who have been camp followers of the ruling party feel disappointed.

The prime minister visited Jammu and Kashmir at a time when communal passions and polarisation is being whipped up in the country and the properties of the minority community are being torn down using bulldozers. He, however, went mute on this issue during his 40-minute- long speech.

Modi tried to reach out to the youth of Jammu and Kashmir by saying that they won't suffer like their parents and grandparents. The fact remains that ahead of his visit, scores of young men in the Valley were detained without any rhyme or reason. The prime minister's assurances failed to strike a chord with the youth in the region. It did not either help assuage the pain of humiliation they endure almost on a daily basis. 

The unemployment rate in the region has climbed up to a staggering 46 per cent, which is the second highest in the country. There were no assurances from the prime minister to create employment opportunities for the jobless youth. The real estate investment, which both Modi and his government are boasting about, would only promote the interest of corporate houses. 

The BJP government spread a false narrative that the special constitutional position of Jammu and Kashmir had stymied its progress as it did not allow outside investment into the region. However, many industries and hotels had been established by the non-state subjects decades ago in both Jammu and Kashmir regions by acquiring the land lease.

As Modi addressed a gathering in Jammu's Palli village, the sweltering heat was sapping the energy of people due to an erratic power supply. The power scenario in the Valley is no way different. The people are facing the prolonged and unannounced outrages. This is despite the fact that the region has copious water resources to generate electricity. Jammu and Kashmir has the potential to produce over 20,000 megawatts of hydel power but currently generate around 2,439 megawatts as many resources remain untapped. At least seven hydel projects are run by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), which transmits most of the electricity outside Jammu and Kashmir.

The prime minister laid the foundation of two power projects Rattle and Kewar during his visit. However, the foundation of Rattle was already laid by the UPA government in 2013. Similarly, many institutions including AIIMS, which this government takes credit for, had already been established by the previous governments without making a song and dance.  

The prime minister’s visit turned out to be a damp squib as there was nothing new in his announcements.