When the Republic of India was reorganized early in its existence into states that were defined by language, Jammu and Kashmir was left untouched, even though it was a union of three completely unrelated ethnic and linguistic groups (not counting Gilgit and Baltistan). This arrangement is a relic of the 19th century and its continuation has been profoundly destructive to India and to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
500 years of Muslim rule in Kashmir was ended when Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s armies captured Kashmir from the Durani Afghans in 1819. Ladakh, till then an independent state allied to Lhasa, was captured by Zorawar Singh in 1834 and joined to the territories of his sovereign, the Dogra king of Jammu, Ghulab Singh. The English East India Company took Kashmir from the Sikhs and sold it to Ghulab Singh for 75lac Rupees. Thus the state of Jammu and Kashmir came into existence, as a property purchased (Kashmir) and captured (Ladakh) by the Dogras of Jammu.
This anachronistic stitch-up of 19th-century war, conquest, and imperialism has survived into the 21st century as a focal point of all the disagreements over religion and nationhood that have plagued the Indian subcontinent ever since it became subject to foreign conquest. Religious separatism, rejection of the Indian Republic, favoritism towards Pakistan, sympathy with Pakistan’s Jihad against India, have become the culture of Kashmir, thanks to provisions like Article 35a and Article 370, which preserve the status quo of 1846 in Jammu and Kashmir, isolate the state from integration with India and prevent it from joining the country on its journey of democracy, pluralism, economic development and social progress democracy.
Trifurcation of J&K into its constituents would clear out the plug that has choked the subcontinent since 1947. Kashmir is, of course, the focus of everyone’s attention, but Jammu is also in need of being liberated from this 170-year-old prison of its own making.
The issues in J&K regarding Two Nation Theory separatism and Pakistan sponsored Jihad have been discussed ad infinitum elsewhere. What has been less discussed is the failure of the political classes of J&K to play a role that is constructive for anyone apart from themselves.
After the Indian state overcame the huge assault of Islamic Jihad in Kashmir orchestrated by Pakistanis, Farooq Abdullah took the reins of power and ran an effective administration to rebuild after the war. But none of the four chief ministers, from three different parties, who have taken office after that (Mufti Mohammad Saeed, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti) have shown any spark of valuing the responsibility that came to them as both representatives of the Kashmiri people and as instruments of the Constitution of India.
J&K festered with a complete absence of functional government and administration from the day Mufti took office in 2002 till his daughter left office in 2018. These 4 chief ministers were not only thoroughly inept at running the state administration (except Mufti, in his first term), they (including Mufti) also did not trouble themselves with the Islamic radicalism that Paksitan and Islamist organizations were pumping into Kashmir to fill the vacuum that had been created by the utter absence of any sense of vision and purpose on democratically elected politicians.
After the Army neutralized the massive Mujahid assault on Kashmir, Pakistan took to other methods to covertly spread radical Islamic attitudes in the population of Kashmir, but the last 4 chief ministers neither took note, nor worried, nor bothered to draw up and execute any plans of action.
17 of the years of peace that were earned by the armed forces in neutralizing Pakistan’s terror campaign were frittered away by the politicians of J&K who were concerned only with homes of Gupkar Road and liberal use of the State’s aircraft and helicopters. In all those years, the billions of rupees that New Delhi was sending to Kashmir, instead of being ploughed into development of roads, industry, infrastructure, education, and health disappeared into the pockets of well-connected rogues. The Indian population watching the ruckus on nightly news only got to see Kashmiris as violent stone and bomb-throwing radicals, but not the frustration, despair and hopelessness brought about by Kashmir’s political class and its utter lack of interest or responsibility.
These politicians have caused a failure of India’s democratic promise in Kashmir. If Kashmir cannot find a new breed of politicians to take over, and to turn the power and resources that New Delhi provides and in to good use, then it is time to turn Kashmir into a Union Territory. Chandigarh, formerly Goa, and others, all show the path forward. Union Territories, spared the venal struggle for power and access to the public purse, are models of prosperity and functional government.
A Kashmir run by New Delhi, with a clear focus on law and order, quality governance and economic development, is the need of the hour. If the government of India has no ideas or ability to reboot the politics of Kashmir, then Kashmir must be turned into a Union Territory. In 10 or 20 years, the situation can be reassessed for the return of statehood and a state assembly, depending upon what transformation has been achieved.
But Jammu too needs to be out of J&K, as a full state. The blunt reality is that given the dominance of Kashmir, the politics of Jammu are atrophied and thoroughly dysfunctional. Jammu, never having had the opportunity to produce a chief minister, has a political class that has had no experience and no interest in the responsibility and challenges of leadership. No one in India can name a single Jammu politician. This is because Jammu politicians have counted for little. They have gotten used to Jammu getting its share of treasure that New Delhi sends every year to J&K, without having to do anything with the purpose for that largesse, nor any obligation or oversight on its responsible use.
Virtually all the development and power in Jammu is concentrated in Jammu City and its monopoly on the revenues that come out of the Vaishno Devi shrine. Step away from Jammu City and the townships on the national highway like Kathua and Samba, and head towards Doda, Bhaderwah, Reasi, or Poonch, and you find yourself in complete undeveloped rural hinterland, with not even mobile phone coverage or roads in the more distant villages.
If Jammu were separated from Kashmir and turned into a state, finally its politicians would have to worry about the responsibilities of elected officials in running their own state, in taking responsibility for the well-being of the voters, to finally start taking responsibility for the process and challenges of making policies and delivering results and be held to account by the voters for.
It is unlikely that the Government of India will withdraw monies that Jammu gets from Central funds, money that are paid out by other states to the national kitty. This generosity of the Indian people will provide plenty of resources for Jammu politicians to give Jammu citizens a functional government of their own. Hopefully, with the end of article 370, industry that has filled Punjab and Himachal will overflow into Jammu and in time make the state prosperous enough that the cost to the Indian Treasury can be tailed off.
Ladakhis will, of course, be delighted if Ladakh is turned into a Union Territory. They want nothing but to be freed from the authority of Kashmiri politicians who care nothing for the Buddhist Ladakhis and free to run their economy and their domestic politics according to the model of governance and trade they have been seeing in Himachal ever since the Leh-Manali route was opened, under the shelter of competent administration from Delhi.
J&K’s trifurcation is necessary to end the 170-year-old drama left behind by the East India Company, and it will open up a new era of peace, democracy, stability and prosperity for Kashmiris, Jammu-ites and Ladakhis, and India.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.