Only five newspapers of the 174 dailies in Kashmir are now publishing because of lack of news sources, restrictions on movement and staff’s inability to reach the newsroom, though a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said there was no restriction on the press in the Valley.
The narrative that the people of Kashmir are happy and celebrating the Centre’s so-called integration exercise by repealing Articles 370 and 35 (A) is difficult to digest as most of the areas of the Valley is still under curfew — even Jammu is under 144 CrPC — and all means of communication, including basic telephone services, internet and radio, are completely cut off.
The logic behind doing away with the special status of J&K, as explained by Home Minister Amit Shah, is to address the prevailing internal security situation fueled by cross-border terrorism. BJP leaders also said that the repealed Articles were impediments to the development of the State.
By converting J&K into a Union Territory, corporate and big business houses will be able to purchase land and invest in J&K which will bring development and create jobs there, they claim. BJP leaders allege that the special status benefited only a few families of the State. The other logic for repealing Article 370 is that it was a temporary provision, though the Supreme Court has said that it was very much of a permanent nature.
If we go by this logic, then the Centre should also scrap Article 37(1A), 371(B), 371(C), 371(D), 371(E), 371(F), 371(G), 371(H), 371(J). All these articles provide special status to six States of the Northeast and to some regions of five other States. The Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution also define some special powers in four States of Northeast and in some regions of other States of the country.
The Sixth schedule makes special provisions for the administration of the tribal-dominated areas in four States viz. Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. The Sixth Schedule deals with the constitution, powers and functions of District and Regional Councils in autonomous districts of these four States. The primary objective behind the provisions of the Sixth Schedule, when it was drafted, was to ensure that the aspirations of the people of the area are met and simultaneously these areas get assimilated in the mainstream of the country.
A Sub-Committee was created on February 27, 1947, to report on the North East Frontier (Assam) Tribal and Excluded Areas. Its chairman was Gopinath Bordoloi, then premier of Assam. Bordoloi mentioned that these areas had remained isolated and the tribal people had great mistrust on the people from the plains. He said that in recent years, the administrators had created a sense of separation and isolation among the people. They were also given assurances that they would have their independent States when the British were gone. Thus, the people of the region were already living with the mindset of separation.
The Bordoloi Committee, in a bid to find the best way to integrate them with the Indian State, came to the conclusion that rather than “use of force” it would be better to win over their trust and cooperation by allowing a suitable self-administration, which respected their local traditions and addressed the fears of non-tribals. Some members of the committee opposed the idea of separate self-administrative areas for the ethnic groups of these regions saying that such an exercise would create a tribistan and make them more isolated from non-tribal populations.
Drafting Committee Chairman Dr BR Ambedkar supported Bordoloi’s view stating that the tribals in the frontier region were still deeply rooted in their traditional culture compared with the tribals in the rest of India, who lived in somewhat closer contact with the majority non-tribal population. The observation of Bordoloi and Ambedkar is true for the people of Kashmir as well. The BJP, instead of winning the trust and cooperation of the Kashmiris, is now using force to integrate them with the rest of the country.
If we closely observe the areas under Fifth and Sixth Schedules, we will see that they still remained backward and underdeveloped notwithstanding direct funding from the Centre to these scheduled areas. In Dima Hasao autonomous district of Assam, separatist extremists groups siphoned off Rs 1,000 crore meant for the development of the area.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is still investigating the case. It was revealed during the investigation that crores of rupees were diverted to the coffers of the now-disbanded militant group Dima Halam Daogah (DHD-J) for procurement of arms and ammunition to wage war against India.
The accused included Jewel Garlosa and Niranjan Hojai, who were leaders of the DHD-J, Mohit Hojai, former chief executive member of North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC), and a social welfare department officer RH Khan. They were granted interim bail in 2011 by the Gauhati High Court on the condition that they would take part in peace talks with the government.
The successful talks led to the disbanding of DHD-J in 2013. Both the leaders later joined the BJP and successfully contested the Dima Hasao District Autonomous Council (erstwhile NCHAC). In 2015, when the BJP wrested power from the Congress in the Council, Niranjan Hojai was elected as its chief executive member.
Why does the Centre by the same logic not exclude the Dima Hasao Autonomous Council from the Sixth Schedule for waging a war against the country and integrate it with the rest of Assam?
Instead, the NDA government in order to woo the tribal population in the Northeast ahead of the last Lok Sabha polls decided to grant more power and funds to the ten autonomous councils in the Sixth Schedule areas of the Northeast in January. The government has not explained the reason for augmenting special powers to these Sixth Schedule councils.
There seems to be two scales of integration, one for the J&K and other for the rest of the country. Unless the NDA government explains this dichotomy, its action on J&K will stand on thin ice.
(The author is a senior journalist from Assam)