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On 5 August 2019, the nation witnessed what can perhaps best be described as the passing of the most transformative piece of legislation since Independence by India’s law makers, in both the Houses of Parliament. This historic legislation pertained to the abrogation of Article 35A and of the provisions of Article 370 of India’s Constitution—which paved the way for normalcy to return to J&K after decades of terrorism, death, destruction and fear. Today, 5 August 2022 marks the completion of three years into this transformative journey; a journey on a road not hitherto traversed, a tryst once again with freedom, but this time within the ambit and protection of the Indian Constitution, signifying freedom in its truest sense.
It was Article 370 which stultified the growth of J&K and prevented its emotional integration with the rest of the country. Why Article 370 was introduced into the Constitution, albeit as a temporary provision, is itself a matter of debate, but the more insidious legislation was the introduction of Article 35A into the Constitution in 1954, which empowered the J&K state’s legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state and provide special rights and privileges to those permanent residents. This piece of legislation was added to the Constitution through a Presidential Order in 1954, with the concurrence of the Government of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Introduced through the back door, bypassing India’s Parliament, it was in that sense, a fraud committed on the Constitution.
But not everyone was happy with the events that transpired on 5 August 2019. Pakistan was taken by surprise and is still reeling from the legislative shock, which was a body-blow delivered to its efforts to keep the region in an ever-increasing spiral of violence. But within India too, there were nay sayers, especially from amongst the radicalised segments of society. In an article published in Dawn, a Pakistani daily, in January this year, Mr AG Nororani, a Bombay-based lawyer who has for long written on Constitutional issues, showed his bias and proclivity for partisan reporting when he opined that Kashmir is in flames and that the entire exercise of repealing the provisions of Article 370 was to give to J&K, a Hindu Chief Minister. Nothing could be more preposterous, but the bias is inherent in Noorani’s belief that J&K can only have a Chief Minister from the Islamic faith. What happens then to India’s secular Constitution? Has Noorani forgotten that India has had Muslim Chief Ministers in Maharashtra, Assam, Rajasthan, Bihar, Kerala and Manipur? This is what gives vibrancy to India’s democracy and secular mindset. Noorani was also concerned with the removal of Urdu as the official language of J&K. But why should Urdu have been the official language of the state, when the people in the Valley spoke Kashmiri and the Jammu Division spoke Dogri and Hindi? That Noorani had a Muslim-centric world view is apparent. As a lawyer, he held the view that Article 370 had acquired the status of a permanent fixture in India’s Constitution and could not be modified or withdrawn! Really!
People like Noorani, since independence, have attempted to distort narratives to suit a particular ideology, propagating the worldview of the Left-Islamist combine. But Kashmir, after decades of violence is finally on the mend. This year has already seen a footfall of 1.06 crore tourists, with 55 to 60 flights into Srinagar each day. The hotels in the Valley are full to the brim, and getting a room requires booking months in advance. The inflow of tourists has been the highest ever, which is but one indicator of the rejection of violence by the local population and the return of normalcy. The Tricolour can be seen fluttering proudly from all government buildings, which was not the case earlier. In Srinagar itself, over 80 government departments have installed permanent Tricolour, which also flutters on 100 feet masts in Hari Parbat, Shopiyan, Gulmarg and Kupwara. The National Anthem is sung proudly now, and a visit today to Ghanta Ghar and Lal Chowk in Srinagar is a visible symbol of Naya Kashmir.
The success achieved in development initiatives has also been amazing. The performance of Panchayats, District Development Council and Municipal Corporations has been good resulting in better administration. There is a distinct improvement in the performance of youth in sports (Rowing, Taekwondo, Cricket, etc) at National and International levels and campaigns to clean the Jhelum River as well as the Dal, Wular and Manasbal lakes are proceeding apace.
On the security front, there is a strong synergy between UT Administration, Security Forces and the Centre. There is a distinct public push back against the Gupkar group, JeI, APHC and against Pakistan-supported terror groups, which has resulted in near zero incidences of stone pelting and bandh calls. Attempts by Pakistan and their backers in the Valley to engineer the seventh exodus of Kashmiri Hindus has been thwarted, which speaks well for the security situation in the Union Territory.
It is true that J&K is yet not fully terror-free, but great strides have been made over the last three years to achieve that goal. It is understandable that decades of violence would require greater time for complete healing to take place, and cannot be achieved in a short period of time, but the task would have been impossible to achieve had Article 370 still been in force. Terror-related incidents have dipped by half over the last three years, and with the support of the local population, we can expect a return to total normalcy in the not too distant future.
In his iconic poem, The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost ends with these stirring lines:
Two roads converged in a wood and I,
I took the one less travelled by
And that has made all the difference.
On 5 August 2019, the Indian Nation embarked on a journey in Jammu and Kashmir, on a road that had not been travelled in. And yes, that has made all the difference, because we are now witnessing, despite the many challenges still remaining, the dawn of a happier and brighter future for the people of India, and more so for the residents of Jammu and Kashmir.