Jammu and Kashmir

The Concerned Citizens’ Group’s ninth report on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir paints a grim picture

Print edition : August 27, 2021

Flea markets in Srinagar, popularly known as “Sunday Markets”, attract customers from across the Valley. They opened on August 1 after several weeks of closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

On October 28, 2017, in Srinagar, porters carrying official files of the Civil Secretariat of Jammu and Kashmir in preparation for the biannual “Darbar Move” from the then State’s summer capital, Srinagar, to its winter capital, Jammu. Kashmir’s ruler Maharaja Ranbir Singh began this tradition in 1872. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

The Concerned Citizens’ Group’s ninth report on the Union Territory finds that there is increasing centralisation of power and a general mood of despondency, particularly amongst young people. It also mentions a palpable ‘anti-India’ sentiment, with the populace having little faith in its political leadership.

EVEN as the Narendra Modi government continues to make tall claims about economic development in Jammu and Kashmir and cites the November 2020 District Development Council elections as the re-initiation of the political process, a recent report on the Union Territory has found that there is more and more centralisation of power and that there is a general mood of despondency, particularly amongst the youths. “Under President’s Rule in the Union Territory, politics has been pushed to the background. The administration is run by a Cabinet of advisers of the Lieutenant Governor and the permanent state bureaucracy whose accountability is only to their superior officers and not to the people,” stated the ninth report of the Concerned Citizens’ Group (CCG) on Jammu and Kashmir.

The five-member group, which is self-described as non-official and voluntary, comprises Yashwant Sinha, former External Affairs Minister; Sushobha Barve, executive secretary, Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, Delhi; Wajahat Habibullah, former Chairman of the Minorities Commission and India’s first Chief Information Officer; Air Vice Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak; and Bharat Bhushan, a former editor and independent journalist. This report was the outcome of a visit four of the group’s members made to the region on July 5-7.

The report said that people had little faith in mainstream politicians and that there was growing concern about the high-handed bureaucratic control of society at large where any expression of dissent attracted stringent action. This was a reference to Sajad Rashid Sofi, who was recently arrested under Section 153 of the Indian Penal Code for voicing his disapproval of the new culture of outsourcing bureaucrats for Kashmir. Sofi, a social activist from Ganderbal, told Baseer Khan, the Lt Governor’s Adviser, during an outreach programme on June 10 that the people had more expectations from local bureaucrats than from officers who were from outside the region. He was booked on charges of promoting enmity between groups of people on the same day.

The CCG report indicated that the business community was at the mercy of the bureaucracy even as the government claimed to be fostering a conducive environment for trade. It cited people from the business community. One businessman the report cited said: “We have ‘Baburaj’ here; bureaucrats are kings and the common people suffer. They avoid going to government offices as there is opaqueness in decision-making and a lack of accountability.” It quoted a business community leader as saying: “This is happening because the bureaucrats in mass contact positions are all outsiders. Today the situation is that we have no contact with the leaders of the mainstream political parties and we have no contact with the bureaucrats in positions of public interface.”

The report pointed out that no one in the Kashmir Valley, which is reeling under corruption, bought into the Centre’s claim that after August 5, 2019, Jammu and Kashmir would see unprecedented development. “All that we have got is corruption. Earlier politicians indulged in moneymaking and now after August 5, 2019, it is corruption by the ‘babus’. It is jungle raj in J&K today,” a journalist is quoted as saying in the report.

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The CCG met members of the Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA) and other trading bodies and horticulturists to assess how the local economy had changed since August 2019. The report stated: “According to the KEA, from August 2019 up to now, business was closed for 11 months out of total of 23 months—four months because of the protests against abrogation of the special status of J&K and another seven months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The estimated loss to business, the KEA claimed, was approximately Rs.70,000 crore—of this Rs.50,000 crore was due to closures and another Rs.20,000 crore due to falling sales as demand contraction due to falling purchasing power.”

It went on to say: “The Group was told that when J&K was a state, there used to be a purchase preference in government acquisitions for Kashmiri businessmen. However, after August 5, 2019, Kashmiri businesses are considered on a par with others in the rest of India. ‘We cannot compete with them and therefore we do not have the market we had earlier,’ they explained.”

The report said: “What upset the businessmen most was that some of them were arrested and jailed after the Centre’s policy change in J&K in 2019.” During an interaction with members of the CCG, a business leader complained: “Political leaders were arrested but why us? Why were businessmen taken into custody? I am very angry with India. You say there are only about 200 militants in Kashmir and yet you punish all of us for that.... He felt that instead of calling political parties from J&K to Delhi, ‘the government ought to invite businessmen, traders and horticulturists to discuss our issues directly with us’,” the report stated.

Delimitation exercise

The CCG report also talked of the widespread apprehensions regarding the ongoing delimitation exercise. “Though population forms the foundation of delimitation of constituencies, the Delimitation Commission announced it shall ‘take into account constituencies’ practicality, geographical compatibility, topography, physical features, means of communities and conveniences available’. It is worth underscoring that the 2011 Census recorded the population of the Kashmir Valley as 69 lakh (area about 15,000 sq. km) and of the Jammu province as 54 lakh (area 26,000 sq. km). The Valley’s fears lie in possible manipulation of the area dimension and other non-population factors. The Commission will also stipulate the number of seats to be reserved for S.Cs [Scheduled Castes] and S.Ts [Scheduled Tribes] in the Legislative Assembly. Although J&K already has seven seats reserved for the S.Cs primarily in the Jammu region, it would be a first for the S.Ts, including Gujars and Bakarwals, mainly living in Poonch and Rajauri districts of Jammu region, to get reservation in the legislature.”

The report pointed out that although the Bharatiya Janata Party “conveyed to the Commission that using the 2011 Census alone for delimiting constituencies was flawed, alleging that it had been deliberately skewed in favour of Kashmir”, “the ruling dispensation at the Centre singled out J&K UT for delimitation on the basis of the 2011 Census”.

Militancy and youth

Even as the government claims to have brought militancy down to an all-time low, the CCG report cautioned against reading too much into that claim and pointed out that the ‘anti-India’ sentiment was palpable. “A community leader claimed that the tendency in Kashmiri youth towards militancy had become more intense—similar to what it was in the 1990s. The only difference he suggested was that ‘Pakistan is not investing in militancy for now’. However, he predicted that the ‘new militancy will also be anti-Pakistan and there would be no one who would be able to assert any influence over the militants’,” the report said.

It further said: “A social worker from Pulwama claimed that youth was being pushed towards militancy because of the harassment faced by people at the hands of the army personnel. ‘There are no jobs for the young. There are only two options—militancy or committing suicide,’ he said pointing to a spate of suicides by youngsters in the Valley.”

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According to the report, there was an absolute disconnect between the people and the political representatives, with the Prime Minister’s June 24 meeting with leaders from Jammu and Kashmir failing to inspire any confidence. “It is a measure of their disdain for the mainstream political parties that the people show no interest in the political process which was ostensibly sought to be restarted with the Prime Minister inviting the political parties from J&K to Delhi on June 24. They seemed indifferent to the development, having concluded that nothing would come out of it,” the report observed.

Draconian laws

The report made clear the wide-ranging consequences of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which is being used randomly: “A lawyer from Shopian claimed that because of draconian laws like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) being used even against juveniles and the courts ‘acting as rubber-stamp for the police’, there was anger amongst the youth. ‘So now you have a wide network of over-ground workers (i.e. those who work for militant organisations without wielding a gun). They would be militants if there were enough guns and ammunition available,’ the lawyer claimed. He also claimed that the new militants do not announce themselves on social media as they used to earlier.”

The report highlighted the general resentment against the administration’s cancelling of the traditional “Darbar Move” in the erstwhile State. “On June 30, 2021, the J&K administration cancelled the allotment of residential accommodation for officers who were from Srinagar but had to reside in Jammu and vice versa because of the 149-year tradition of the biennial shifting of capital between... Jammu and Srinagar. This was part of shifting of officials and files between the summer capital (Srinagar) and the winter capital (Jammu).” Whereas the government maintains that the decision was made to cut down on costs and that e-governance had made the moving of staff and files unnecessary, the local people are unhappy at the imposition of another unilateral decision on them.

The report stated: “This order is being seen as cancellation of the traditional ‘Darbar Move’ which locals believed provided a strong bond between two regions—Jammu and the Kashmir Valley. This has upset many even though political leaders claim that Darbar Move had not been fully cancelled as Lieutenant Governor and senior officials will still move between the two cities….

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“The local anger centres on not being consulted and not recognising the importance of the Darbar Move in holding the erstwhile state, and now Union Territory, together. ‘This government in Delhi believes in divide-and-rule and cancellation of the Darbar Move is a part of that strategy. Now voices of resistance are coming from Jammu as well,’ said a retired banker.” The report quoted a journalist as saying: “They say that the Darbar Move costs about Rs.200 crore every year. That is nothing if it fosters a close relationship between Jammu and the Kashmir Valley. The real reason for the decision is that they (the Centre) think that the people who used to go to Jammu as part of the shifting of capital bought properties there and that this could change the demographical profile of Jammu. So they ended the move.”

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