Never before had the Amarnath Yatra been called off and that too when pilgrims were in the midst of undertaking the revered trip, which this year started on July 1.
“Keeping in view the latest intelligence inputs of terror threats, with specific targeting of the Amarnath Yatra, and given the prevailing security situation in the Kashmir Valley, in the interest of safety and security of the tourists and yatris, it is advised that they may curtail their stay in the Valley immediately and take necessary measures to return as soon as possible,” stated the advisory from the Jammu & Kashmir government, issued on August 2.
The advisory, coming after a massive build-up of security forces in the State, ratcheted up tension. First came in 10,000 troops, which was followed by another 28,000. This was an addition to the already deployed 65 battalions of CRPF and 20 other battalions of soldiers for the smooth conduct of the Amarnath Yatra. This thick security cover came after the three-day visit of National Security Adviser Ajit Doval to the Valley from July 24 to 26.
Multiple reasons were given for this security build-up. While many sources said that the government had received intelligence inputs of a terror attack, some others said it was all about ensuring fool-proof security for the Independence Day celebrations. Since the BJP’s J&K core group met in Delhi, many also assumed that it was about preparing ground for early Assembly elections in the State. Jammu & Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik also addressed concerns about the State’s special status by saying “there is no plan to scrap Article 35A”. The Article defines permanent residents of the State and bars outsiders from buying immovable property.
National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, along with his son and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, met Prime Minister Modi to share their concerns and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti warned that “touching Article 35A will be like touching a dynamite, it will burn not just the hand but also the entire body will turn to ashes.”
Meanwhile, thousands of pilgrims, tourists, and students scrambled to leave Kashmir at the earliest as the government instructed airlines to be ready for the ‘national’ duty of flying out tourists. Many countries advised their citizens to avoid travelling to Jammu & Kashmir.
The big decision came after the Cabinet meeting on August 5. Home Minister Amit Shah announced in the Rajya Sabha that the government had decided to scrap Article 35A of the Constitution, which empowered the J&K Assembly to decide the State’s “permanent residents” and their special privileges.
This was done by utilising Article 370 and not scrapping it. The government used Article 370 to apply all provisions of the Constitution to J&K by scrapping the Presidential order of 1954, which had brought in Article 35A. But President Ram Nath Kovind’s order issued under Clause 1 of Article 370 effectively made Article 370 redundant. Article 370 was a temporary provision included in the Constitution based on the negotiations between J&K’s
Sheikh Abdullah and then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1949.
The State till this decision defined “all persons born or settled within the State before 1911 or after having lawfully acquired immovable property and residence in the State for not less than 10 years or prior to that date”, as permanent residents. Non-permanent residents were not allowed to buy immovable property, take up State government jobs or reside permanently in the State.
Simultaneously, the government announced the decision to bifurcate the State of Jammu & Kashmir into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir, which will have a legislature, and Ladakh, which will be without a legislature.
The two Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh will come into existence on October 31 – the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. With this, India would have 28 States and nine Union Territories.
“For years, vested interest groups who believed in emotional blackmail never cared for people’s empowernment. J&K is now free from their shackles. A new dawn, better tomorrow awaits!” Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared on Twitter.
Removing the Special Status of Kashmir formed one of the core promises of the BJP along with building the Ram Mandir and bringing in Uniform Civil Code. With the party winning a bigger majority on the back of Hindu consolidation in the recent general elections, expectations were high that it would deliver on its core agenda.
Syama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, which later became the BJP, had been opposing Article 370 since the Jan Sangh days. “Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur do nishan nahi chalega,” went the refrain. During the run-up to the general elections too, BJP president Amit Shah repeatedly stressed that Article 370 had to go for the State’s full integration with India and to improve the lives of the local people as well.
Post the repeal of Article 370, Shah said, “the doors to private investment in J&K would be opened, which would in turn increase the potential for development. Increased investments would lead to increased job creation and further betterment of socio-economic infrastructure in the State. Opening of buying of lands would bring in investments from private individuals and multinational companies and give a boost to the local economy, as opposed to the apprehensions raised by those opposing this historic step.”
Article 35A was also not fair to the J&K women for it divested them from their State rights if they married non-permanent residents. Though the J&K High Court held that women married to non-permanent residents will not lose their rights in a judgment in October 2002, the children of such women didn’t have succession rights. So, Article 35A was being challenged by the Kashmiri women as well.
Kashmiri Pandits, displaced from the Valley in the 1990s, hailed the decision as a “historic event” and hoped it would pave the way for return to their homeland with honour and dignity.
Valley Yet to Speak
While the Centre’s decision was welcomed in Ladakh and Jammu, Kashmir Valley is yet to speak firmly. Farooq Abdullah called the government’s move “your body was being carved” and stated that “he won’t give in.” Omar Abdullah termed the decision a “total betrayal of the trust that the people of J&K had reposed in India when the State acceded to it in 1947.”
Another former Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said, “August 5 is a black day for democracy when like thieves, Parliament took away what it had given to the people of Kashmir.”
Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have been under arrest since last Sunday night. Restrictions have been imposed across the Valley under Section 144 CrPC.
You Are Us
In his address to the nation last Thursday, Prime Minister Modi assured the people that these decisions were taken to combat terrorism and corruption. Hinting that Jammu & Kashmir could get its statehood back, he assured that restrictions in Jammu & Kashmir would be relaxed soon.
“The rights of all denizens of India are equal, and their responsibilities are equal too. The harm Article 370 did to the people of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh was never discussed. Article 370 and Article 35A gave only separatism, nepotism and corruption to the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” said the PM.
Kashmir has seen unprecedented violence and alienation. Winning their hearts and making them proud to be Indians is a task that should not wait for a distant tomorrow.