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Article 370 and Jammu and Kashmir- two of those topics no matter how intensely discussed always leave us with new insights and which continue to be important to understand. This was evident at the 10th edition of Young Thinkers Meet (YTM) 2021 organised by India Foundation recently at Pahalgam & Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. YTM is an annual get-together organized by the New Delhi based think tank, India Foundation, for individuals (mostly under 35 years) who are driven by the idea of a New India. Here amidst an immersive discussion with socio-political activists, corporate professionals, journalists, students and scientists from across the country – I gained new and diverse insights into how we can look at Kashmir post Article 370.
While we discussed Jammu and Kashmir- a recurring theme was that there was a need to understand the history and background of Kashmir. The idea of ‘Kashmiriyat’ is both cultural and political and goes far back from the time of Indian independence. Kashmir has been the hotspot of Buddhism, Shaivism and Sufism which form an integral part of its cultural influences even today. The Gilgit Buddha, Shardha Peeth- the important seat of learning, Abhinavagupta- the philosopher and mystic were all examples of Kashmir’s stellar cultural identity as much as the present.
The other aspect of Kashmiriyat is the political identity which has been in flux since independence but which has its roots in the cultural identity as well. This began with the tussle between India and Pakistan over the state. These factors coupled with the series of assertions for freedom and insurgencies, led to J&K being unable to be successfully integrated into the country.
Article 370 may have been initially brought into place in order to protect as well as enhance the cultural and political identity of the people. However, over the years it’s erosion, many amendments and preferential implementation has led to it doing more harm than good to the state’s integration and development. Kashmiris have been marred by the instability, the dynastic controlled governance which has prevented democracy in spreading its roots as well as a general isolation from the rest of India. Now with the abrogation of Article 370, it is time to look beyond. Despite the initial shock and uproar, there is a general understanding in the public in the Valley that Article 370 may not come back into place and we need to look to build a J&K post this scenario.
At the YTM, I could grasp several key ideas that were presented as the required focus going forward.
Employment, development and people’s participation in governance were the three key points raised as requiring focus to fulfil the aspirations of Kashmiris. There is a need to approach the developmental needs of the part of Jammu and the part of Kashmir differently rather than with one single lens. The suggested themes for development included the need for building connectivity from different parts of J&K to the rest of India. Further it was highlighted that new urban conglomerates need to be developed. Srinagar and Jammu are currently bursting at its seams and cannot alone signify development for the state. Tourism too needs to go beyond Srinagar valley and we need to tap into other places of potential. Urgent steps for employment creation remain key and we need to identify sectors to tap into. The IT sector is one industry that has scope since J&K’s cool dust free climate makes it ideal for the housing of IT servers (Data-Centers). Also, the promise to strengthen local bodies of governance in the state must be actualized.
Another suggestion that came up was to concentrate on ending regional disparities in development. This would mean even concentrating on Gilgit Baltistan, which is an integral part of India though under illegal occupation of Pakistan at present. Could we not try to undertake voting for the people there, especially those migrated outside Gilgit Baltistan? Could we not provide a parliamentary seat or reservation in education institutions for the people of Gilgit Baltistan?
There is thus a sense of hope and forward-looking aspirations in the state now. Democracy has now been given an opportunity. In the last two years, there has been much more progress than the past 70 years. There is more dialogue within the state and with the rest of the country. It is essential now to bring all stakeholders together to push the state’s development. The all party meet organized by the Union government is a great start. The local body elections held was also another step in the right direction. Now what the people of J&K look towards is their statehood. All steps we take need to be in a direction which leads it closer to statehood.
Change is always difficult, but often when change takes its course, new solutions to the problem come up and leaves open new avenues. Let us hope that the present changes in the lives of Kashmiris, is for the best and brings opportunities and peace in their lives.