Event ReportsPublished on Oct 05, 2019
“Kashmir: The Way Ahead” | A Talk by Ashok Malik
The abrogation of Article 370 is arguably among the most consequential efforts undertaken by the current political dispensation in India. The Kashmir issue has remained a major hurdle for decades which reserved the population in a near perpetual state of uncertainty. The abrogation will revoke the special status which restricted the people of Jammu and Kashmir from exercising their rights as citizens of India. In the aftermath of the decision taken by the government, it is imperative to understand what has for a long time been perceived as a complex issue and which now, more than ever, needs an evenhanded assessment. With this in mind, ORF Kolkata organized a talk by Ashok Malik, Distinguished Fellow, ORF and formerly, Press Secretary to the President of India titled “ Kashmir: The Way Ahead” on 30 September 2019. Ashok Malik opened by stating that issues in Kashmir and views regarding them are the legacy of the past seventy years and views on the future of Kashmir are generally passionate but contradictory. The debate will continue. The key questions informing the debate include: what exactly happened on 5th August 2019; what was the motivation behind this happening; and what were the responses at the regional, national and international levels. Article 370, which gave Kashmir a special status was repealed on 5August 2019. While it had already become a hollowed out skeleton of what it stood for, it did have symbolic significance. Nevertheless, undeniably, it had the power to fuel separatist emotions without contributing to any positive impact for the region. Also, for Jammu and Ladakh Article 370 did not have any political significance as there was support for integration with India, especially in the Buddhist minority Leh region. These regions felt that the politics of Jammu and Kashmir were being dominated by the issues of the valley while their plights went unnoticed. The government felt that removing Article 370 and promoting greater devolution if powers would create room for the expression of local demands observed Malik. This also draws attention to the identity politics of caste, gender and local backwardness. The focus on local issues and local self governance will help in bringing out new local leaders and loosen the grip of a few elite leaders on the valley. Additionally, the special status helped bring in a lot of money which up until now has been restricted to the possession of a few elites. The decision of 5th creates a whole new horizon for the residents of the region with the expansion of economic opportunities. Amidst the fatigue of the past several years, the time was ripe to do something to break the state of affairs. While the effect of the change remains to be seen over the coming years, it will create room for change in an otherwise stagnant and suffering region. Diplomatically, India has faced the biggest test since Pokhran simply because it decided to overturn a 70 year old status quo. At the international level, apart from some nations, most countries have tried to give India space in this situation as it rightly should be entitled to as a sovereign nation. Especially the threat of terrorism looming over the Kashmir valley has given India a window to control the situation for now on. But, that window will not last forever and the government must realize that over the next few months normalcy must be returned gradually to the valley. The government’s actions towards the insurgents along with the establishment of peace and stability in the state have to be absolute. With time, the restrictions should ease out with the government ensuring that land and property rights are strengthened for the local people of the valley, especially when the local government comes to power. The vitality of the ‘Kashmiri identity’ and the religious factors associated with it must be handled assiduously. India must defend its pluralism. The idea that people of diverse religions cannot co-exist in Kashmir must be eradicated with time and effort. The impact of the Kashmir conflict is multilayered in nature. Today it is a pan Indian issue that has the capacity of generating much more political pressure than other issues of the country. There is a sense of hope about the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A. Nevertheless, the process of being aligned to this circumstance shall be time consuming. It is at this juncture that the role of local representatives and civil servants would be of importance. They would have to play an active role in making the citizens of India and the state aware of the benefits of this new structure along with the identification of the several opportunities that have been made possible but are not stressed upon enough, concluded Malik.
The report has been compiled by Pratnashree Basu, Associate Fellow, with inputs from Jaya Thakur, Junior Fellow and Sohini Nayak, Junior Fellow, ORF Kolkata.
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