An era of socio-economic development is going to define the political slogan of ‘Naya Kashmir’
By: Danish Iqbal
The one thing everybody appears to agree about is that the abrogation of Article 370 closed a door of history in Jammu and Kashmir, although there can be disagreement over the belief held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre that the move has pushed the trouble-torn region into an era of socio-economic development. That said, the slogan of “Naya Kashmir” continues to remain an idea, and hasn’t got further than that. But there’s an explanation for that. Half a year went by with the civil and police administration handling the post-August situation and another year went by with the administration tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s enough reason to understand that government needs to be cut some slack. And now, hopefully, this summer the developmental activities in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir will pick up pace in the coming months and a democratically elected government would be in place as soon as possible.
In this column, I will try to explore the political slogan of “Naya Kashmir” — introduced by BJP-led NDA after the abrogation of Article 370 — in the context of past changes, present challenges and future opportunities.
I don’t view history as a pontificating spectator as I believe that it can’t be viewed retrospectively and at the same time judged from a contemporary context. We have a habit of deciding what needed to be decided seven decades ago and deny the objectivity that a sincere analysis deserves. I have been a little dissenter about the general notion around the whole question of accession and I have always believed that there was actually no accession to a country called India as I think there was no India before 1947. It has always baffled me when historians imagine India as vividly as a geographic and political entity and attribute independence to it from British rule. The truth is there was no India — not at all — not at least as it is today as a political entity with sacred borders. Before British rule, India was an amalgam of various small kingdoms scattered around a massive piece of land what is called in Hindu political lexicon, ‘Akhand Bharat’. What I think about what might have happened, when India and Pakistan were born from the cleavage of a continental sized colony, is that Jammu and Kashmir might not have acceded but joined a just born nation that seemingly would have seemed history’s biggest experiment on earth. Jammu and Kashmir didn’t go on the wrong side of history, it just embraced a future in limbo, of course, the decision was hastened by the war Pakistan inflicted on Kashmir and denied it its first free choice. Undoubtedly, after India was born as a nation, Jammu and Kashmir could not champion its place in the national mainstream due to the complexity that it had with itself in the backdrop of partition. The political terrain got rough and a path traversed laden with the tragedy of errors. Rest is history!
The challenges with regard to Jammu and Kashmir for the Modi government are not over yet. However, it is the start of a new beginning. Where we will go from here remains to be seen but it would not be honest if one doesn’t acknowledge that the start has been very different this time around. Building “Naya Kashmir” entails opening new vistas of economic opportunities by allowing investment flow into J&K. It also means to create a robust security system both internally and at the border. The age-old tradition of overstretching the government sector by creating jobs, thereby overburdening the state’s exchequer, has to be stopped. This shoddy tradition was encouraged by the politicians irrespective of the impact it would leave on the government’s public expenditure in the long run. The new economic vision for J&K has been in consonance with the global realities. And lastly, the contours of “Naya Kashmir” depend on what the rest of the country wants for J&K. The government in league with national media, civil society and other institutions will have to act wisely and tactfully.
As disastrous as the 5th August decision seemed, one thing one can safely say is that the people of Jammu and Kashmir have moved on and accepted the new reality. Not because we couldn’t defend Article 35A, Article 370, but because we realized that in a country like India nothing is permanent and realities change with time, as happens in the greatest democracies in the world. To me, India will never be what one community wishes it to make – rather it would be a continuously changing phenomenon like a stream flowing, striking against rocks, some small some big, but perpetually in a state of continuity. This concept of continuity gives hope to every Indian including me who imagine their future as a continuous battle, in the larger din of perspectives, with all the constitutional institutions at his disposal.
We have of course seen some of the biggest political developments happening in the last few months. One such development was the introduction and implementation of Three-Tier System of Panchayati Raj being in J&K. The elected persons from a Sarpanch and Panch to District Development Council Chairpersons are the ones who truly have people’s mandate. This will ultimately give rise to the new political leadership and end the monopoly of a few politicians.
Finding someone who has clarity with regard to the future is really one of the toughest things to do in Kashmir today. A thick layer of fog seems to have descended over the minds of people, feeling too tired to engage, and a sort of psychological fatigue has set in. While the winter’s freeze starts to whittle away with the onset of sunny days, the developmental deep freeze is here to stay, until and unless the New Delhi tries to addresses it.