Before scrapping of Article 370, for the people of Kashmir, the primary and daily exposure to India was the organs of the Indian state Image Credit: Gulf News

August 5, 2021 marks the second anniversary of the abrogation of the Article 370 in India’s constitution and the process of creation of a New Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh.

Let’s first look back at the generational impact of Article 370 and then how has its absence has now completely changed the picture.

Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) merged with India in October 1947. But what Article 370, enacted two years later and that too as a temporary provision in 1949, ensured was that the people were, as if by design, prevented from integrating with the lifeblood of the Indian national mainstream.

The erstwhile state of J&K was physically located next to two Indian states (Punjab and Himachal Pradesh), but for all practical purposes it could have been located in another continent — such was the long-term consequence of the so-called short-term article.

The unhindered two-way flow of trade, ideas, customs, food, festivals, culture and attire, among others, is what bonds a group of people into the intangible concept of a nation over a period of time.

The project of building the modern Indian Republic went broadly as per script in most parts of India and the fissiparous tendencies that some regions exhibited in the early decades of independence were eventually crowded out by the unifying impulse of the Indian project. The only region that somewhat defied this unifying impulse was the region where a special provision existed that prevented emotional and cultural bonding.

A new embrace

The process of being emotionally vested in each other — in the successes and failures, the trials and tribulations, the needs and wants, the celebrations and the achievements — simply did not take place. For the people of Kashmir, their primary and daily exposure to India was not the Indian people but the organs of the Indian state.

For the people living in other parts of the country, they had no lived experience of knowing and growing up with a Kashmiri as a neighbour or a friend or a colleague. It was natural, then, that the gulf would only widen over the years.

Article 370 was supposed to give special status to the region of Kashmir. In reality, what it delivered was just a piece of land and the told the people to keep away. The instrument was more devastating in its consequences than the Berlin Wall.

The physical presence of that wall struck out in its obscenity each day. The wall of Article 370 was like the “invisible Berlin Wall”, only more tyrannical in its impact. What Aug. 5, 2019, did, by tearing down the Article 370 wall, 30 years after the fall of Berlin Wall, is that for the first time in independent India a signal was sent that the Indian national project in Kashmir is about the people and not just the land.

The land was physically with India anyway, with or without Article 370. With the obliteration of the divisive instrument, the people have also now a chance to finally become one.

So how have these two years been under the paradigm of ‘One Nation, One Constitution, One Flag, One Market’?

First, is the application of Welfare laws. 890 central government laws, hitherto not applied, are now all applicable. 205 state laws have been repealed while another 130 state laws have been modified and then applied.

The central laws now applicable include such laws as the land acquisition bills and right to fair compensation and all such laws on good governance; prevention of atrocities act against SC and STs and all such laws to ensure rights of weaker sections; right of children for compulsory education; laws that enable grass roots democracy and local governance; many laws relating to land reforms; property rights to all women and their children and a host of similar other reforms.

Big Infra Projects

Second, is the focus on Big Infra Projects. The removal of red tape ending corruption has speeded up many stuck projects. Out of 54 sanctioned projects worth almost $8 billion under the Prime Minister’s Development Package only 7 were completed by June 2018. 20 are complete now and 13 more likely to be completed by 2021 end and balance by 2022 end. The Qazigund-Banihal Tunnel is ready.

The Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link is rapidly progressing. Metro rail systems — one for Jammu and two for Srinagar are already in the pipeline and expected to be ready in the next few years. More than 3,000MW Hydropower capacity projects, that were stuck in multiple layers of delays have been restarted providing both employments as well as development opportunities.

Third, is the Human Touch and Last Mile Delivery. Jammu and Kashmir is among the few states with 100% household electrification under the Saubhagya scheme, and before target date.

In just over a year, every household in the region will have drinking water supply directly in home. When it comes to rural roads, J&K is leading the nation with almost 8,600 Km of roads combined under PMGSY and black topping constructed in 2020-21 and further 4,100 KM on track to be completed in 2021-22.

Fourth, is Power to People. District Development Council Elections, Urban Local Bodies Elections and empowerment of these bodies with the transfer of 27 functions financial and other local governance functions as per the 73rd Panchayati Raj Amendment of the Indian Constitution has enabled the creation of an entirely new wave of empowered and grass roots democratic structure.

Fifth, is the focus on Health. In the pandemic infused world, J&K has not found itself being left behind but rather is setting benchmarks in some cases and may become the health capitals in the post COVID world. It has become the first region in the country to offer Rs500,000 ($6,800) health coverage to every family in the Union Territory — a Universal Health Insurance scheme.

More than 2 million families residing in the region are now eligible. With investment of over $1 billion, 2 new AIIMS, 7 new Medical Colleges, 5 New Nursing Colleges, and 2 State Cancer Institutes are coming up in a short span of time. More than 1,600 medical education seats have been increased in the region. Medical oxygen, which became a national imperative during the peak of the second COVID wave, galvanised the J&K region too. 84 medical oxygen plants will be operationalised.

A bright future

Sixth, is ensuring brighter future for youth. Only way to achieve that is through education. In just one year alone, more than 20,000 additional college seats have been added towards this goal. 1.2 million student health card schemes to cover for exigencies, regularising ad hoc teaching posts, implementing the ambitions National Education Policy.

Skill Development and entrepreneurial support with establishment of 607 vocational labs, with easy access to finance under various schemes such as MUMKIN, MUDRA etc have provided multiple opportunities to the youth.

Seventh, is ensuring jobs for the youth. Over 34,000 different kinds of jobs have already been identified recruitment initiated or completed. The B2V scheme, which sanctioned over 19,000 loans to youth entrepreneurs proved to be significant success and another 50,000 such loans are slated to be sanctioned in the next few months.

Eighth, is empowering traditional strengths. Tourism and framing sector have been the traditional strengths of the people of the region. In the Agri-sector, to empower the farmer such measures as GI tag for Kashmir Saffron, Guchi (Doda) — already issued — and for cherry, rajmah and kala jeera — under process — will significantly boost the income for the farmers from these produces.

A first of its kind, price support scheme for Apple framers has been launched. High density planation for apple, mango, lychee, olive in Jammu region while walnut, almond, strawberry and cherry in both Jammu and Kashmir has been introduced.

The plan is on track to achieve 55,000 high density hectares of high-density plantation in next five years. Although COVID-19 pandemic has affected the tourism business, yet, the priority of vaccination was given to the tourism sector and the tourists have started returning.

Ninth, the delimitation commission is working expeditiously to better represent the will of the people in the new assembly of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The new assembly of the Union Territory will have 90 seats.

In the two years since the historic day in 2019, a lot has changed in the world. The world has been ravaged by a deadly pandemic, the global consequences of which are still unfolding. The United States has announced a sudden withdrawal from Afghanistan.

China has emerged at the world stage in a light in which it was not seen two years ago. In the middle of this, a broadly peaceful and progressing Jammu and Kashmir is a testament to the collective will of the people to make a new beginning.

A New Jammu Kashmir is in the making right in front of our eyes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is leading the effort in shaping this new dream.

As the decade unfolds, all the indications are there of a brighter future.