India has the same problem as the US, which is the persistence of those regarded as domain experts within the portals of policymaking even after—in fact, especially after—the suggestions made by them have been found to have disastrous consequences. Although it has passed into folklore that lunacy is the consistent repeat of failed approaches when it ought to be obvious that failure will be the inevitable result. That does not stop such “domain experts” from suggesting the same nostrums that they have championed in the past, with perhaps slight changes in emphasis. In other words, presenting the same used car, with only a fresh coat of paint and a changed licence plate. The electoral system may result in a change of government at the political level, but at the level where much of actual policy gets formulated, there is continuity in personnel and consequently of those on the outside who get consulted during the making of policy. Consequently, a kaleidoscopic pattern gets formed, in which the same bits of coloured glass get swirled around the policymaking matrix rather than getting replaced with alternatives that do not just appear different (in the way spin doctors proclaim every such “breakthrough” to be) but represent an actual change from measures from the failed past. Over the past couple of years, substantive changes have been made in policies concerning Jammu & Kashmir, but the usual suspects have gone into overdrive, worried that the changes in J&K policy introduced during Modi 2.0 may actually succeed. Before that, they in effect seek a return to the past, although of course couching such a reversal in language that gives an illusion of retaining the change in atmosphere and effectiveness made during Modi 2.0 while calling for a slide back into the policy approaches of the past.
Much has been said about the “roots” of the “Kashmir problem”, even while there has been insufficient attention paid to a very consequential such root. This is the corruption and maladministration deliberately indulged in by the few who have for several decades played musical chairs with each other. For long, Kashmir has been a zone safe from any serious investigation by the Income-Tax, the Enforcement Directorate, the CBI and other agencies tasked with taking action against illicit funds and assets. This seems to be changing, and accountability at least on the scale seen elsewhere seems to be taking place in the two new Union Territories. A hands-off policy had been going on since the 1975 Sheikh Abdullah-Indira Gandhi accord. The assumption of office in 1989 as Union Home Minister by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed saw the two families experiencing a situation where either or both were directly in the seats of power at the state or central level. Except since the alliance between the PDP and the BJP broke up in 2018, a breakup that paved the way for the 2019 removal of Article 370, which widened the perception gap between J&K and the rest of India from 1954 onwards. In 2019, J&K was converted into a Union Territory with a legislature, while Ladakh was made a Union Territory without a legislature, hopefully only for the time being. Given the security situation facing both the new UTs, there is an almost overwhelming case for retaining the new status rather than returning to the past, when there was a unitary Jammu & Kashmir state. In this construct, both Jammu as well as Ladakh were given far less attention and bounty than were other parts of the state. This did not stop those parts from getting converted into havens for “militants” (the quaint term used for those who seek a wresting away of the state from the rest of India by violence). More than the National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party has from the start been less than successful in curbing such activities. While the PDP Chief Minister and ministers ensured their stamp was prominent in decision making by the coalition, the influence of the BJP ministers in the Mehbooba Mufti Cabinet appeared muffled at best, perhaps because the CM and her principal colleagues dealt with the central leadership of the BJP, bypassing state office-bearers and even ministers. That the security situation was less than ideal during the PDP-BJP regime is undeniable, as is the improvement in conditions after the changes made since the breakup of the alliance took effect. Whether it be the revocation of Article 370 or the setting up of two Union Territories in place of a single full-fledged state, the government has endured the blowback generated by China and Pakistan as well as the headwinds created by the influence within some western countries of the Sino-Pakistan and Sino-Russian alliance system of dissemination of material helpful to the strategic objectives of the three countries. The ruling party in Canada, the Labour Party in the UK and the Democratic Party in the US have been particularly affected by the misinformation created by lobbies loyal to the interests of one or the other of the three countries mentioned above, Russia, China and Pakistan, and several of those prominent in them have sounded off about Kashmir in a manner suggesting that they are less than aware of the ground situation there. In particular, the effort by GHQ Rawalpindi at reviving the Two Nation theory and in creating a safe haven for terrorists who could as easily get deployed in Europe as in India.
The District Development Council elections have been welcomed in a situation where voters throughout the state were less than happy about the quality of governance experienced at the hands of successive state governments. The “domain experts” who over decades helped fashion dysfunctional policies towards J&K by the centre are now demanding a “return to statehood” for J&K, while the Gupkar Alliance is touting that it will roll back the rollback of Article 370. Either of these moves would be a disaster for J&K. Hindus and Muslims are cut from the same cloth and ought not to be treated separately in the manner that the country’s only Muslim-majority state was for too long. And until tensions with the PRC simmer down to safe levels, the flexibility of the UT system is better suited to effective response to crises than the construct it replaced. Of course, Ladakh too merits a legislature, the way the institution has been created for the UT of J&K. The change in the medication prescribed appears to be generating results that are a change from the dismal swings into trouble that marked the past. Modi 2.0 must not return to the past but move towards a future that ensures J&K as well as Ladakh enjoy the tranquility and prosperity that people living in the two UTs look forward to.