Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (AP)
The optics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first visit to Kashmir after August 5, 2019, may have been impressive, particularly since the major event was held at Palli, a village near the Pakistan border, on National Panchayati Raj Day. It was meant to convey the message that democracy had reached the nooks and corners, encompassing 30,000 villages in the Valley. But what the Prime Minister did not commit to was a timeline as to when the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir will regain statehood.
The fanfare of the visit notwithstanding, the Prime Minister may have missed an opportunity in not offering a glimpse of the political future of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh when a concrete road map was expected to be laid out. In nearly three years since its abrogation, the debate surrounding Article 370 may have faded, but anticipation of the return of democracy remains as keen as ever, certainly in the Valley.
A greater reassurance on the timeframe for Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir would have been welcome. In fact, India, with its commitment to the world’s largest electoral democracy, in which all people make their choice of leaders and governments, should also commit itself to creating an Assembly for the Union Territory of Ladakh.
The Union Territory may lie in a sensitive border area where the focus is on India-China tensions, especially post-2020 skirmishes in the Galwan valley. But it’s up to India to expand on its commitment to democracy by showing that it can have a responsible elected government even in such a forward area and setting. The Ladakhis would also love their share of democracy, which may have reached the grassroots in Kashmir but is yet to get to Ladakh.
The increased connectivity that the Prime Minister promised in signalling the start of Rs 20,000 crore schemes to enhance connectivity and electricity generation through traditional and renewable sources comes at a time when the footfall of international tourists increased manifold in the Kashmir Valley last winter, the harsh security environment notwithstanding and with even the separatist sections calling for free access for tourists.
Funds for development, electricity, water and toilets would always be welcomed in a region that suffered through decades of violence and mayhem and from which there is a promise of a liberated future and jobs for the youth of today, as the Prime Minister assured. But only an end to the political uncertainty can lead to a better future and it is in this regard that the call for a return to elections should be paid heed to.
The politics of delimitation, etc., will run its course given the historical differences between Jammu and Kashmir. One of the main objectives of the abrogation of Article 370 may have fructified as about 175 central laws have become applicable in the Valley, as the PM took pride in pointing out. It is, however, truly democratic only if the people can have their say, even in the Valley where the Gupkar Alliance members are major players.
No one believes the security risks will go away with the return of democracy as militancy in the Valley also has a history to it now. Statehood for J&K and democracy for Ladakh may not end the problems but, historically, democracy has been the Indian way. To set a timeframe now for statehood would be forward-looking and more fruitful than delving into the historicity of the agreement that brought Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian fold and the subsequent change to the status of J&K and Ladakh.