JAMMU AND KASHMIR
Aditya Raj Kaul (ARK): It’s been a year since the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A from Jammu & Kashmir. Has the landmark decision really brought in any change for the common masses on ground?
Ram Madhav (RM): Yes. A lot of changes. The common masses of J&K are no longer at the mercy of the self-centred and corrupt leadership of the Valley-based parties. The UT administration, which doesn’t have any interest other than working for the welfare of the people in the region, has done tremendous good work in the last 15 months. Governance has been decentralised by conducting village panchayat elections and subsequently providing financial grants directly to the elected village leadership. Job market has opened up with government itself announcing recruitment for thousands of vacant positions. Infrastructure projects have picked up momentum. Sports like football and cricket have returned to the Valley. Dal Lake is witnessing water sports while football leagues and cricket tournaments are taking place elsewhere in the state.
While terrorism, aided and abetted by Pakistan, is continuing, ordinary Kashmiris are no longer supporting it. They are going about their daily chores like any other citizen of India. There is absolute civic peace in the region. The new LG is constantly engaging with different stakeholders and that is giving them a lot of hope and encouragement.
Had the pandemic not come in the way, the state would have witnessed investment inflows by now. Also, the annual Amarnath Yatra, a major source of income for ordinary Kashmiris, would have seen a massive rise in numbers and massive additional income to the people in the Valley. Jammu too, which always received step-motherly treatment in the past from the Valley-based leaders, is reaping the benefits of the new administration. Overall, the singular focus of the UT administration over development and welfare is improving the living standards of the ordinary people of the state. It has introduced e-governance in a big way, leading to decrease in corruption in the state.
ARK: Government had announced that abrogation of 370/35A will end discrimination against Valmiki community, women from the Union Territory and West Pakistan refugees. Has this really been witnessed on ground in the last 14 months?
RM: The annulment of Article 35A has helped in ending discriminatory citizenship laws like ‘state subject’. After the promulgation of the new domicile laws by the Union Home Ministry, which did away with the discriminatory mess created by the earlier state subject regime, the state administration has started actively enrolling the left-out sections of the population including the Valmikis and West Pakistan refugees as domiciles, thus paving the way for equal treatment of all in the state. The new domicile law allows for anyone staying in the state for more than 15 years to claim domicile in the UT. The discrimination against women, built into the state subject law, is now history. New domicile laws give full freedom to women with respect to marriage. The administration has authorised tehsildars to process domicile requests and the e-portal too is attending to citizenship requests. So far, several lakhs of people have been granted domicile certificates.
ARK: For several months, three former Chief Ministers were under detention, a move that was criticised globally. Do you think this was really necessary?
RM: The move was based, I believe, on certain security assessments. It was absolutely necessary to ensure peace in the state so that the ordinary Kashmiris were not put to any risk or difficulty. You may recall that the top national conference (NC) leaders nowadays claim that they are not calling for any protests because that could endanger the lives of the people. That means they also agree that the security assessment was right in putting the leaders behind bars temporarily to ensure the safety of the people. The leaders could have been under pressure to resort to agitations after August 5, 2019, had they remained outside, which according to them, would have been against the interest of the people. Interestingly though, the people of the region seem least worried about the incarceration of the leaders. They were heard saying that these leaders should remain behind bars for a longer duration, although that was never the intention of the administration. People refused to come on to the streets seeking the release of these leaders even when their near and dear ones attempted one or two protests. It was the government again, which after assessing the security situation, decided to set everyone free. In fact, releasing of the detained leaders began three months after their arrest last year.
In political life, detention of politicians on preventive grounds, is a routine thing. We ourselves have seen many such preventive detentions of our leaders under different circumstances. Trying to project it as an atrocity or a violation is wrong.
ARK: Major regional political parties of Jammu & Kashmir including National Conference, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and People’s Conference have come out with a People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, pledging to fight for restoration of Article 370/35A and also statehood of J&K. How will the Government deal with these demands?
RM: Gupkar Declaration is a façade. Leaders, who are unpopular with the masses, are trying to reinvent themselves through this political gymnastics. They know well that the content of Article 370 is not going to be restored. But they continue to deceive the people of the Valley. In the 1950s and 1960s, they deceived people talking about pre-1947 status. They subsequently started talking about pre-1953 status until recently. Now the goal post has again been shifted. It is pre-2019 status. In a way, it is a victory to PM Modi and HM Amit Shah that the Valley leaders now agree for pre-2019.
It is of course true that Mehbooba Mufti, the leader of the PDP has once again raised the autonomy demand in a recent press conference. She also displayed the now-decommissioned J&K state flag prominently at that press conference to buttress her commitment to the separatist vision. But the question of the return of Article 370 doesn’t arise because the people of Kashmir Valley, who had lived under Article 370 regime for seventy years and failed to see any benefits, are now happy with the new status. As far as the demand for statehood is concerned, the Gupkar leaders are welcome to agitate for that. The Union Home Minister had himself said that the statehood would be restored at an appropriate time.
ARK: Delimitation has been a long-pending exercise in Jammu & Kashmir. BJP has said it is committed to the delimitation before the next elections in Jammu & Kashmir. Do you think delimitation will help various districts within J&K or only certain political parties in the elections?
The last delimitation exercise undertaken in J&K was in 1995. When the entire country underwent delimitation in 2008, J&K refused to join and using the powers under now defunct Article 370, declared in the Assembly that the next delimitation would be done only in 2026. But now, under the new UT Act gazetted in October 2019, the UT has to undergo delimitation before it can have elections to the UT Legislature. The Union Home Ministry has already appointed a Delimitation Commission headed by retired Supreme Court judge, Justice. Ranjana Desai. The Valley parties have refused to nominate members to the Commission. The Covid pandemic has delayed the commencement of the exercise. But it will soon be undertaken, paving the way for holding elections. The number of seats in the UT legislature has gone up from 83 to 90, excluding 24 seats reserved for Pakistan Occupied Jammu Kashmir (PoJK). The increase in seats necessitates delimitation before polls can be held.
ARK: Several social as well as political groups have campaigned for restoration of statehood. Do you think this is a legitimate demand?
RM: I do think that the demand for restoration of statehood is of political nature and hence the political parties and other social groups are well within their right to demand for it. It may rather be called ‘granting of statehood’ as the J&K UT is not the same as the earlier J&K state. Demanding full statehood is in that sense an accepted political issue. I don’t think even Modi government has any other idea than granting it to the UT. Question is about timing. The central government is the best judge of that.
ARK: If NC and PDP boycott polls, will the BJP be ready to contest elections in the Union Territory?
RM: I am not sure if the NC and the PDP would really go with the boycott of polls whenever they are held because they learnt from the local body elections’ experience that boycotts wouldn’t have any effect and Modi government would still go ahead. Even in the local bodies, they had their proxy candidates in most of the places while officially boycotting the elections. In any case, before these parties take any such decision with regards to their MLA aspirants, the leaders, who are sitting in both the Houses of the Parliament should first quit. I cannot speak for BJP, but I am sure that the party would actively participate, whenever elections are held for the UT Legislature.
ARK: J&K Official Languages Bill has been passed recently which for the first time introduced Kashmiri as an official language of J&K apart from four other languages. How do you see this preserving Kashmiri language and what about those who say Punjabi, Pahari and other languages should have been recognised as well?
Kashmiri is the lingua franca of the Kashmiri people. It got systematically side-lined in the past. Restoring Kashmiri a place of pride is one of the significant decisions taken by the government. Demand for such status to a couple of other languages can always be made and the government would take an appropriate view on that.
ARK: Security apparatus claims that terrorism and violence in the last one year has drastically reduced in comparison to the years before. Do you think this reduction in violence and terror is here to stay?
There is marked decrease in terrorism related violence in the UT in the last one year. Nobody can claim that terrorism has fully ended in the Valley as long as Pakistan continues with its nefarious designs. But the appetite for terror and violence is no longer there among the ordinary Kashmiris. That is why there is hardly any local support for terrorists during counter-terror operations. The recruitments in to terror ranks have gone down considerably. If the administration continues its focus on employment, engagement and entertainment, the need for enforcement of stricter regimes would not come back.
In the last one year, the people of the Valley have shown great openness to momentous changes brought about by Delhi. It is time now for Delhi to reward people back. I believe that freeing of all the political prisoners and restoration of 4G services would have a positive impact. The first has been accomplished more or less fully and the second partially. We must remember that the ultimate guarantee for peace in the region is not the security forces, but the people. Our slogan for many decades was ‘Kashmir Hamara Hai’ – Kashmir is ours. Time has come for us to declare – ‘Har Kashmiri Hamara Hai’ – Every Kashmiri is ours. That emotional integration is the need of the hour in which both sides have to make efforts.
ARK: What about the killing of political activists in Kashmir? Many BJP activists and even Panches have been killed by terrorists recently. How can you instil confidence in political activists when BJP activists themselves are not safe?
RM: Not just the BJP activists, but every political activist and every Kashmiri should be safe. That is the mission of the administration and the security apparatus. A few unfortunate incidents have happened in which some political leaders, several from BJP, have lost their lives to terrorist bullets. But those acts have exposed the cowardly side of the terrorists to the people of Kashmir Valley. However, it is not true to say that political activists are not safe. The terrorists are targeting some leaders of the BJP because the leaders of other parties are shying away from political activity. If all the parties decide to resume activity on the ground, the terrorists can no longer carry on with their murder campaign. Sadly, we see a lack of will in the Valley parties to stand up for the people. As far as the BJP cadres are concerned, their morale has not been affected in any manner and they are continuing to work for the party and region, irrespective of the risks involved in doing so.
ARK: Separatist groups like Hurriyat and JKLF have disappeared over the last one year in Kashmir from any anti-national activities. Is this because of stringent steps taken by the security agencies? In their absence, do you think Pakistan could activate other groups and leaders including mainstream politicians?
What essentially changed in Kashmir in the last one year was that the people no longer support these outfits. That is also a reason why separatist leaders like Geelani withdrew from those bodies. These bodies are quickly becoming irrelevant to the people of the Valley because of their duplicity, double-tongue and dual standards. Stern actions taken by the security and intelligence establishment too are responsible for the paralysis that has crept into these separatist bodies. The security agencies have not only targeted the terrorists, but also their overground sponsors in the Hurriyat and JKLF, their financiers and other white colour supporters. Many of them are still facing trial and languishing in jails. This sternness too is responsible for the erosion of influence of these groups. More importantly, there appears to be a fear about Modi government’s determination among the separatist groups.
As for Pakistan, it will not leave any opportunity to harass and humiliate India if not bleed it. But still, it is not going to be easy for that country anymore as the people of Kashmir seem determined to pursue a peaceful democratic path.
ARK: A lot was said about tackling political and bureaucratic corruption and bringing in development to Jammu & Kashmir. We haven’t seen any big political names being charged for corruption. On the other hand, the Business Summit to revive the economy that was planned a year ago has also not seen the light of the day. Why is it so?
RM: The UT administration is relentlessly pursuing campaign against the corrupt. Nobody will be spared. The UT administration came into effective functioning only from November last year after the gazette notification of the Union Government. In just a few months after that, the Covid crisis struck the world including India. Kashmir Valley too was affected by the pandemic in a big way. The administration is working overtime to tide over this healthcare challenge. That is the reason why the proposed Business Summit, I believe, could not take place. Anyway, the region is firmly on the track of development.
ARK: On the external front, India did receive a significant diplomatic support on Article 370 abrogation. But the US has often suggested that it can mediate between India and Pakistan. How do you see such an offer for mediation?
RM: ‘Thank you but no, thank you’ should be our response. Right from the time of the Shimla Agreement in 1972, India and Pakistan have decided to handle issues between them bilaterally only, and there is no scope for third party intervention. As far as I know, there is no change in India’s position on that, although Pakistan violates this sacred principle all the time and reaches out to the UN and its friends like China to intervene against India.
ARK: Do you think India’s policy and approach towards Pakistan has drastically changed after Pulwama terror attack last year which resulted in Balakot airstrikes? Will this change in how India deals with Pakistan continue, both diplomatically and militarily?
RM: I see what Modi government has done in the last six years with respect to Pakistan as a clear doctrinal shift. Israel has a policy of disproportional offensive. I am not saying we are adopting that policy. But clearly, India has conveyed point blank to Pakistan that every misadventure would be met with sound and suffocating response. Pakistan has now realised that terrorism against Modi’s India is a costly affair. In counter-terrorism framework, making terrorism a costly adventure is one of the important deterrents. India is now using retaliatory action as the deterrent.
ARK: Pakistan NSA Moez Yousuf recently claimed in an interview to an Indian media group that India has sent Islamabad a message to hold talks. Do you think it’s a move to divert attention from terrorism, economic instability and global condemnation of human rights abuses of their own ethnic and religious minorities?
RM: I do not have any knowledge of or access to such information. I never believe in what Pakistan says about our leaders and the government. Every Indian should do the same. Pakistan is entangled in severe internal problems. Imran Khan’s government is facing a strong and united political opposition. The Pashtuns, the Baloch, the Shias of Gilgit Baltistan and of late the Sindhis in Sindh are all revolting against the Pakistani Army and political leadership. The chickens have come home to roost. Pakistan is facing worst ever existential crisis once again after the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Arab world has largely deserted it. International sanctions like the FATF are staring at its face. For all practical purposes it has become a vassal state of China, which is the only factor that keeps the country going. In order to hide its failures all around, the Pakistani leadership would certainly indulge in dirty tricks. Let the country have faith in our leadership.
ARK: The Chinese PLA aggression in Eastern Ladakh this year has brought a paradigm shift in India’s policy towards Beijing. Do you think India has realised that the Chinese are not friends in the long run and have a long-term expansionist objective in mind?
RM: There is no doubt that India has two difficult neighbours—China and Pakistan. We share close to 4000 kms of territorial boundary with China, which is not the official border, but regarded as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). While India and Pakistan succeeded in clearly demarcating the Line of Control between the two countries in J&K and international border from Gujarat to Jammu, such agreement eludes India and China even to this day. As a result, China repeatedly violates our LAC, claiming that they have a different perception about the same. It happened in the past, most recent being in 2013, and it happened again this year. India understands China’s expansionist machinations well. ‘What I occupy is mine; and what I claim is disputed’ is the untenable policy of China.
But for a change, this time, it is China which was forced to understand that it is no longer facing the old reticent Indian leadership that turned a blind eye to border violations and let it get away with impunity. China has border disputes with many countries, most of them maritime neighbours. China bulldozes their claims in various maritime sectors. For the first time, China faced stiff opposition at Doklam in 2017, to its policy of border nibbling from an assertive India. The same situation prevails in Ladakh today. Indian forces are stiffly resisting China’s territory grabbing and challenging its doctrinal aggression. The Chinese leadership is forced to sit back and rethink. We should compliment the Modi government for this new doctrinal approach with respect to China along the LAC.
ARK: India did give a long rope to China over the last few years from Wuhan spirit to Chennai connect to even hosting Xi Jinping in Ahmedabad. Will this remain a forgotten chapter in diplomatic relations? Do you think the Dragon is playing by the rulebook of deception against India?
RM: That the Dragon plays to its Sun Tzuvian rule book of deception is well appreciated by the present leadership. While recalling Wuhan and Chennai bonhomie, one should not forget Doklam and Ladakh resistance also. Dealing with countries like China requires complicated strategising with protecting national interest as the bottom-line. The Indian government is handling it with dexterity.
ARK: In 2013, a similar transgression by the Chinese in Eastern Ladakh and other areas led to a military and diplomatic standoff. While the Indian Army was strategically ready to respond, the political establishment and China Study Group asked the Army to stand down and instead a consensus was reached with the Chinese to move back only to be backstabbed yet again later. Has India learned any lessons from the China Dream objective of Xi Jinping
RM: It is not an occasion for blame game. History records every happening and posterity judges it. But the Indian response at Galwan and Pangong Tso this time is definitely different from the stand-off in 2013 in the sense that the Chinese aggression is today met by the Indian side with equal assertion. We are acting today like a big country with 1.3 billion people and also a rising big power, not just a push over. We learnt lessons from the past and teaching some to the adversary now.
ARK: India’s response to the Chinese aggression has been a multi-pronged strategy. India banned over a hundred Chinese apps and several measures are being taken on the trade front as well. Indo-Pacific on the other front is also being strengthened through the QUAD grouping. Will this really make Beijing recalibrate its diplomatic positioning with India?
RM: There is no need to see every action of India from China prism only. While certain strong measures in trade like restrictions on Chinese companies and apps are directed at reducing that country’s penetration into India besides advancing ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ goals, India’s interest in the Indo-Pacific goes beyond targeting any one country. The Indo-Pacific is the most happening region in the world today. It is here that the global power axis got relocated in the 21st century. India is an important and big democracy in this region, which is largely democratic, pluralist and economically fast-growing. India’s focus on this region is three decades old. From the IORA of the 1990s to the QUAD of 2020s, India’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific region has been, to quote from Prime Minister Modi’s address at the Shangri La Dialogue in 2018, “inclusive”.
ARK: CPEC has remained a growing concern for India. New Delhi has often raised objections. More recently, Pakistan lost over a dozen of its soldiers in an attack by Baloch rebellion groups on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) route in Southern Balochistan’s Gwadar. Do you think Pakistan-China bonhomie is increasingly turning Pakistan into a Chinese colony and giving more power to Baloch and Sindhi armed rebel groups?
RM: After Hong Kong and Macau, Pakistan has emerged as the third Special Administrative Region of China. Parts of it like Gilgit-Baltistan, through which the CPEC runs, have been colonised by China by deploying its army units there, ostensibly to protect the corridor. Like many other BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) projects in so many countries, CPEC is also a project of economic colonisation of Pakistan by China. Gwadar port is going to be a failed civilian project as no trade is expected to take place through it, but will certainly become China’s military asset in the Indian Ocean soon. Naturally, the Chinese face resistance from many groups in Pakistan like they face resistance to their colonising efforts in other countries.
ARK: Pakistan National Assembly recently brought in a resolution to create Gilgit Baltistan (GB) into a province inviting massive protests in Hunza demanding release of political prisoners. Is this move only to make Imran Khan’s PTI win forthcoming GB elections and keen locals chained to illegal occupation of Pakistan Army?
RM: Gilgit Baltistan (GB) is the classic case of Pakistan’s oppressive and anti-Shia statecraft. The only Shia majority region, which is a part of the Pakistan occupied Jammu Kashmir (PoJK), has been systematically converted into a non-Shia majority region in the last 70 years by pushing more and more people from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The local resistance movement has been ruthlessly crushed using army from Islamabad. The culture and customs of the GB people are under serious threat. With the advent of the CPEC, a new China dimension has also been added to the woes of the locals. Converting the hitherto centrally administered territory of GB into a province is a political move by Imran Khan to wrest control of the region from PML-N. But what should be condemned is the stoic silence of our Kashmiri leadership. They shout from rooftops about a non-existent demographic invasion in J&K, but remain mute spectators to the atrocities perpetrated against their own Kashmiri brethren across the border. It shows the duplicity and dishonesty of our Valley leadership.
ARK: Over the last many weeks questions have been asked on New Delhi’s support for the One China policy. Indian masses came out to celebrate Dalai Lama’s birthday as well as Taiwan National Day. Do you feel it is time to rethink India’s official stand?
RM: One China policy is only a convention and practice. It is generally understood as a reciprocal one. International relations is a domain that shouldn’t be mixed up with domestic politics.
ARK: Back in Ladakh, many local social, religious and political groups have come together demanding implementation of the Sixth Schedule. In a way they demand local self-governance and first right to property to the locals of the region. There have also been environmental concerns. How will you address these concerns?
RM: The core concern of many Ladakhis is about protection of their land, customs, culture and livelihoods. It is a genuine concern. After the creation of Ladakh into a Union Territory, there is a delay in promulgating domicile laws that led to fears and concerns. I am sure the Union Government will quickly address the concerns of the people of the region, who have all along been loyal citizens of India.
(The interview was conducted by Shri Aditya Raj Kaul and was originally published in the India Foundation Journal on November 1, 2020. Views expressed are personal.)