What is the way forward in Jammu and Kashmir? What is the trajectory the Union Territory (UT) most likely to follow in the year 2021?
The year has begun with shivering. Some parts of the famed Dal lake in Srinagar have frozen and there is heavy snow in most of Kashmir. Not that vast areas of the Jammu region are doing much better in terms of snowfall, disruption of road traffic and the like. Jammu-Srinagar national highway is closed as are several other main and arterial roads. Flights too have remained suspended, or get repeatedly disrupted, rescheduled during these days.
The questions about J&K’s future assume significance as we have just seen a humongous electoral exercise of District Development Councils (DDC) being concluded, peacefully. The roster for giving reservations to various categories, including women, is yet to be made public. Out of 20 districts, we can expect seven to have women leading the DDCs. That leaves 13 districts behind and under the existing laws, reservations to Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) is not mandated. As such, we are not even sure about reservation for other categories.
Be that as it may but the issue will have to be resolved, sooner rather than later. After all, the next stage after polls that has to logically follow is the constitution of empowered DDCs. How much empowered? The mandate and jurisdiction of the DDCs, with their financial powers, is not yet clear, nor officially disclosed.
Where do constitutional changes initiated on August 5, 2019, fit in all these discussions?The stance of various political parties like the National Conference (NC), the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the People’s Conference (PC), the CPM, the Congress, Apni Party and the BJP et al. It seems the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) has reconciled itself to the changes for now. Despite claims to the contrary that PAGD parties will work for restoration of status quo ante.
Right now, all parties are waiting for the constitution of the DDCs, with the NC seemingly way ahead of all other PAGD parties. A delegation of NC, led by Jammu province president D S Rana, met Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha on Tuesday to discuss these polls. The delegation requested the LG to ensure there was no horse trading to win support of the newly elected DDC members.
Paying lip service to the J&K Constitution, dead and buried now by the BJP at the Centre, by all PAGD parties is something we can expect to continue in 2021. Other than addressing their own supporters, can these parties do anything for restoration of Article 35 A? The answer to that is a clear NO, repeat NO, as these changes were introduced in Delhi by Parliament.
Ordinary people can easily be forgiven for thinking that Sinha has been around for a long time. The fact is he had hit the ground running on August 7, 2020, when he was sworn in as LG. In just five months of his tenure, a lot has happened for him to develop a better understanding of the local politics of J&K. In a recent interview, Sinha said that all-round development of the UT is something all can look forward to.
An investment of Rs 35,000 in power sector alone, to make this power deficit entity a UT a power surplus one is just one of many things planned. Firm steps by way of signing MoUs with NHPC for additional generation and setting up new projects were taken some days ago.
Ironical as it may seem, the fact is that a harsh winter, with heavy to very heavy snowfall, usually translates into bountiful summer months. May be the turbulent times witnessed in the past 18 months in Kashmir will also be behind us as winter leads to gentle spring and a warmer summer. Sinha sure believes that the DDCs will be the game changers.
Sant Kumar Sharma, a seasoned journalist, is an authority on Jammu and Kashmir. Two of his books on Article 370 and Delimitation are already out. The third one on Indus Waters Treaty is now out and could be bought here.
Sant began as a teacher but after six years, joined the Indian Express, Chandigarh in 1990, the year when terrorism was taking its first step in J & K and soon there would be exodus of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. He subsequently worked for The Statesman, The Times of India and Star News among others. He is based in Jammu since May 2000.