As Jammu & Kashmir begins its new journey, transitioning from being a State to two truncated Union Territories, a mix of fear, hope and uncertainty grips the border region that has endured violence and bloodshed in the last three decades. The real test begins now for the NDA government’s tectonic policy shift unveiled on August 5 by scrapping Article 370 and bifurcating the State into two Union Territories — Jammu & Kashmir with Assembly and Ladakh without Assembly. While the move was largely seen as historic and bold for shedding the baggage of the turbulent past and demonstrating a clear intent to fully integrate the strife-torn State with the rest of the country, the success of the gambit will largely depend on how well the Centre will revive the political process to heal the wounds of the Valley. Corruption-free, responsive and transparent governance in the new set-up, promoting grassroots democracy and new leadership and a sustained focus on development and job creation could go a long way in ushering in a new era of prosperity and harmony in the region. The first step should be to lift the clampdown, remove restrictions on the movement of people and restore mainstream political activity by releasing the arrested leaders. It needs to be followed up with a blueprint for genuine change. A silver lining in an otherwise grim situation is that there has been no large-scale mob violence on roads.
Soon after the special status was withdrawn, there were fears that it may trigger a major resistance that would be difficult to counter. So far, such fears have remained unfounded and an uneasy calm has prevailed. Public protests against the government’s move have been limited to a few localities in Srinagar. On the diplomatic front, India has been able to neutralise a vicious propaganda of Pakistan and its desperate attempts to internationalise the Kashmir issue. The international community has, by and large, backed India’s position on Kashmir. However, the recent killing of five Bengali labourers by terrorists comes as a grim reminder of the lurking danger of Pakistani-sponsored terrorism in the Valley. The sense of alienation among the youth due to lack of opportunities for upward mobility had earlier served as fuel for the Hurriyat parties to keep the azadi pot burning. With all Central laws being made applicable now in J&K and Ladakh, just like the rest of the country, there is hope for economic, emotional and constitutional integration and building a strong link of trust. A total of 106 Central laws will come into force in the two UTs while 153 State laws will be repealed. With the downgrading of J&K, there are now 28 States in the country with Telangana being the youngest.