Delimitation next stop in Modi government\'s Kashmir project

There is no plan underway to talk to Pakistan or to the dissenting political and militant groups in J&K to arrive at a solution

Ever since Narendra Modi government stripped J&K of its semi-autonomous status in August last, the decision has invariably been explained as the outcome of the BJP’s push to fulfil its longstanding ideological agenda and electoral promise. It was certainly about that but only in a rhetorical sense.

In its implementation on the ground since then, the decision has come across as an elaborate and minutely-thought-through plan of action that seeks to fundamentally alter the facts on the ground to end the lingering conflict on this side of the Line of Control. And in that sense the withdrawal of the former state’s special status and the actions undertaken over the past year form an ambitiously envisioned alternative settlement formula for Kashmir.

This formula is not about resolving the Kashmir issue as we know it: a dispute between India and Pakistan going back to Partition and the one arising from a decades-long separatist struggle in the region.

There is no plan underway to talk to Pakistan or to the dissenting political and militant groups in J&K to arrive at a solution. On the contrary, the effort is to enforce a unilateral solution — a merger of J&K into India — without taking Kashmiris or Pakistanis on board.

And this solution, if we go by the constitutional and legal changes ushered in over the last year, operates along two axes: one, a demographic shift being brought about by throwing J&K open to settlement by outsiders and another by altering the nature of the political representation through the delimitation of the constituencies that has already been initiated.

According to new domicile law, issued on April 1, anyone who has been a resident of Kashmir for 15 years will get the residency rights. The law applies retrospectively. For central government officials, the period is 10 years and for students it is only seven years.

According to 2011 census there are 28 lakh migrant labourers in J&K other than lakhs of security personnel and thousands of central government employees, a significant number of whom have become eligible for residency rights should they wish to settle down in the former state.

As for the delimitation, the BJP has made no secret of its desire to enhance the number of Assembly seats to Jammu region.

Before J&K’s bifurcation into two Union territories — J&K and Ladakh — its Assembly had 87 seats of which predominantly Muslim majority Kashmir Valley had 47 seats, Hindu majority Jammu 37 and the now separated Ladakh with a slim Muslim majority four seats.

Now according to the delimitation, that in normal course was due to be held in 2026, seven new seats are being added to the Assembly, most of which, if not all, are expected to go to Jammu.

This has the potential to shift the region’s political centre away from Kashmir Valley to Jammu, turning in the words of J&K’s former finance minister Haseeb Drabu “a demographic majority into a political minority”.

Of the 13.6 million living in J&K, according to Census 2011, 68.3 per cent are Muslim and Hindus are 30 per cent. While Kashmir is 97 per cent Muslim, Jammu is 65 per cent Hindu and 31 per cent Muslim.

The simultaneously applied twin policies of the progressive dilution of the existing demographic composition and the shift in political representation away from Kashmir Valley to Jammu is geared to contain and eventually stamp out the separatism in Kashmir.

First, a demographically altered J&K evenly split between Muslims and Hindus and slowly on way to becoming a Hindu majority is deemed to commensurately reduce the footprint of separatist resistance, marginalising it to a point of little more than a pinprick.

Second, a J&K government where Hindu majority Jammu is an equal stakeholder and later probably a majority partner will be decisively aligned against separatism, unlike the existing Kashmir-dominated political structure that is largely perceived to be playing to separatist sentiment in the Valley and parts of Muslim dominated areas of Jammu.

Other than the main aim of eradication of separatist struggle, the withdrawal of J&K autonomy and the legislative changes introduced since then are understood to have a larger civilisational objective: to reclaim, what some observers in the Valley contend, Kashmir from Islam. In RSS imaginary, the seven centuries of Muslim history are an aberration and it is time the region returned to its civilisational mothership.

These are ambitious aims and the BJP knows it. That is why it revoked the Article 370 within the first three months of its second term so that it gets the sufficient time to implement the plan. Over the past year, Modi government has been in a tearing hurry to bring one after another legislative and administrative measure to cast Kashmir in a premeditated image, the PM Modi has called Naya Kashmir.

In its way, however, will be the anticipated lingering resistance in the Valley, Pakistan’s recurrent roadblocks and many a geopolitical complication. But after going the whole hog with erasing the former state’s autonomy and bifurcating it into federally administered areas — J&K and Ladakh — there will possibly be no looking back for New Delhi under Modi.

Its goal will be to lead its Kashmir project to its logical conclusion in the remaining period of its term. So, contrary to expectations among some sections of people in Kashmir, the statehood for J&K may not be restored anytime soon.

The reason is this gives central government a direct control over the region and, in turn, freedom to make any administrative or legislative changes to accomplish its goal within the timeframe of its ongoing tenure.

On July 20 last year, just a fortnight before the withdrawal of Article 370 that granted J&K its semi-autonomous within India, defence minister Rajnath Singh on his visit to Kargil War Memorial in Drass sector declared that the resolution of Kashmir issue was on the cards and that “no power on the earth can stop it”.

At the time Singh shared no details about this solution. But the situation since has made it amply clear what he meant. The BJP is out to execute its own extreme version of Kashmir solution in the teeth of Pakistan and resistance in Kashmir.

And if its actions over the past year are anything to go by, it seems to have already covered a lot of ground.

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