Abrogation of Article 370 was the declared agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) right from its inception. The current Modi Government at the Centre and the ruling BJP believe that scrapping of Article 370 was a must to correct the “historical blunder” committed by the erstwhile Jawaharlal Nehru–led Congress regime and integrate Kashmir Valley with the rest of India. The Modi Government claims that repealing of Article 370 and bifurcation of the Valley State into two union territories has helped to restore peace, curb corruption and enhance economic growth of Jammu and Kashmir as a whole. The National Panthers Party, a prominent political force in the Valley also felt “Article 370 should have been removed long ago.” But at the same time the party describes the bifurcation as “unconstitutional and dictatorial” act by the Centre “may be to promote their clandestine agenda”. Talking to Suresh Unnithan, Editor, PNI News, Ankit Love, a senior leader of the National Panthers Party and son of its founder president late Prof. Bhim Singh, said, though there was initially a lull in terrorist activities, militancy has started resurfacing in the Valley and the economy in a mess. The people of the Valley are annoyed and upset at the forceful bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into union territories, stripping its statehood. Excerpts from the conversation:
The BJP-led government at the Centre has been claiming that the abrogation of Article 370 could initiate economic growth and bring peace in the troubled Valley. What’s your feeling?
That’s not true. Unemployment in Jammu and Kashmir is on an all-time high and crossed 23% in March this year. In March 2014 the unemployment was below 10%. Regarding peace, the state is facing the worst ever law and order situation. I should say that the administration has totally failed in maintaining law and order and the Valley is witnessing unprecedented anarchy. It is highly disturbing that the state’s education system is in a mess. The National Panthers Party had built over 11,000 schools, and given employment to 35,000 new teachers when we held the education ministry from 2002. Now many of these schools are closed and not staffed in rural areas. It is instead a most crude and mindless authoritarian dictatorship that has been imposed on the people here.
You have been complaining that the democratic rights of the public have been under threat in the BJP regime?
True! The hurried bifurcation of the State, without any consultation with the stakeholders explains how undemocratic the BJP is. Moreover, after the unconstitutional bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir the BJP unleashed a regime of terror and placed all political leaders under house arrest. Was that not illegal? Under which act of law the democratically elected political leaders were detained and denied their fundamental rights? It was to terrorise and suppress their voice against the unlawful bifurcation. This is a blatant onslaught on the very democratic fabric of the nation. In the first four months following the total martial curfew imposed on us from 6 August 2019, according to the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, our economy lost over Rs 15,000 crore. The people were locked up and forced to starve. According to reports the security forces in Kashmir Valley had arrested teenagers and demanded hefty bribes from their families for their release. The arrested youths were threatened they would languish in jail without trial for months and years under PSA bribe money was not paid. More turbulence, aggression and incitement has been created by the unlawful actions of the BJP regime like dissolving a democratically elected government, not conducting Assembly elections and allowing the people to have an elected government of their own. The people here in Kashmir are by and large are unhappy with the bifurcation and robbing their statehood. As a consequence militancy has started resurfacing in the Valley. To my understanding, militancy has escalated in the Jammu division. These developments have badly affected the economy of the state and also worsened joblessness in the state.
You have said people in J&K are reeling under severe economic crunch. What is the immediate solution?
Yes, we are facing severe financial crunch. We are pushed towards abject poverty, thanks to the maladministration and wrong policies based on secretive agenda of the rulers. Of late, we are suffering from all the ills associated with poverty. The real war across all South Asia must be against poverty. This is our common enemy and we must strive to unite in fighting against poverty and not fight each other. Poverty breeds ignorance, intolerance and extremism. If we can directly address poverty and grow the people’s economic prospects the armed conflict too would conclude swiftly as a result.
Do you feel article 370 should be reinstated and J&K and Ladakh should be reunited to the original status?
In fact, Article 370 should have been scrapped off long back. Actually it was my father, late Prof Bhim Singh, founder of National Panthers Party, who started the campaign for abrogation of the Article about 40 years ago and death he continued the campaign with all vigour. He argued that the fundamental rights and protection of the constitution of India must apply to all people here. However, I felt this was to be done through a democratically elected Legislative Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, rather than by New Delhi.
I also feel Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh must be part of the same state, and not separate entities. Delhi needs to immediately consider this and unite both J&K and Ladakh. We cannot be bifurcated into two Union Territories. This is unacceptable and unwarranted. It is completely a delusional and fanciful claim by the BJP that Jammu and Ladakh are two separate union territories. This approach does not hold any merit under the international law, or has any precedence in our domestic law. It is in fact total madness to claim that we are Union Territories. If the BJP genuinely believed Jammu and Kashmir was a union territory then it means we are under the direct mandate of the President of India. They would be compelled to deploy Indian armed forces under emergency provisions of Article 352. In that case I request the present union government to immediately send Indian troops and defeat the illegally occupying Pakistan Army in POK, which is a genuine part of the Valley. Never in the history of India was a union territory occupied by any foreign armed forces. No action has been taken for 4 years to push the enemy forces from that part of the Valley. There could be no greater national emergency than this, the illegal occupation of a union territory of India by an enemy. We would welcome the Central Government fighting off the Pakistani Army’s illegal occupations. If they truly believe we are a union territory they should have taken action to retrieve our area occupied by the enemy forces and that is not done. So I, like the public at large, is forced to presume that their true intents were something else and not the welfare of the Valley.
What could be the cause of terrorism/ militancy still not subsiding in the valley?
Bring economic prosperity, contain unemployment, poverty and illiteracy, the militancy will come down and the Valley will be back to normal. Our enemy forces, the Pakistani Army and the ISI are taking advantage of the poverty and economic distrust of the youths to lure them to anti-Indian activities. As I said, the Pakistan Army is illegally occupying large parts of the Valley, POK, and conducting training camps to train terrorists and infiltrate them to Indian territory for disruptive activities. The world’s most notorious terrorist Osama Bin Laden was eliminated in Abbottabad where the Pakistan Army has a huge military complex. This is just a few miles from the border of Jammu and Kashmir. I am all for peace, but we must realise there is no peace presently in Jammu and Kashmir. There has been no peace here for over 75 years. We must fight for peace in a manner respectful to international law and the civilian population. We are constantly under attack from the Pakistan Army and we have a constitutional responsibility to defend our territory and also the liberal democratic values. Thus we must neutralise the Pakistani Army and its agents infiltrating into our territory. This is the only palpable solution for sustainable peace in the Valley. What’s the point in having over ₹4, 04,365 crore ($60 billion) annual budget for armed forces, and not being able to retrieve the sizable portion of the Valley occupied by our bitter foe.
Is there any persistent animosity between Hindus and Muslims in the valley?
No. There is no conflict between the civilian populations. They live in harmony with each other. We in the Valley respect each other and all faiths. We all get along quite well in day to day activities. However the Pakistan Army is unsuccessfully trying to create unrest in Kashmir to promote their illicit commercial activities. We are wise enough to understand their nefarious designs. Ultimately I see Hindus and Muslims both as citizens of our liberal republic, and the entire conflict between India and Pakistan to be more akin to a civil war as we share a centuries old common history and culture. We all have more in common, and one day I pray we find peace and reunite. After all East and West Germany reunited despite decades of conflict during the Cold War, so why cannot we?
Any possibility of the displaced Hindus back in the Valley? Will the Muslim community support any such move?
Yes, why not. All Indian citizens regardless of religion, caste or creed are most welcome to visit and reside in the Kashmir valley. The Kashmiri Pandits too have every right to return. Their exodus was most unjust. However, we are in the middle of an ideological armed conflict and one has to accept this too. There will be some risk associated and to remain in denial is dangerous too. But the risk can be mitigated. For instance their return to the Valley can be better facilitated by building an entirely new gated community for Kashmiri Pandits on the outskirts of Srinagar to ensure their better security. The Kashmiri Pandits should be adequately compensated with high quality real estate assets and world class infrastructure including luxury hotels, shopping malls, theatres and an appropriate temple complex. This could boost the tourism sector and help to attract sizable investment into the area. We are a rich state. We should have the freedom to manage our resources judiciously so that Jammu and Kashmir can be one of the most prosperous states in the country.
Do you feel Muslim youths are increasingly lured to militancy and anti-Indian activities and that is the prime cause for continuing unrest in the Valley?
The vast majority of our Muslim population is peace loving. However, there is a miniscule minority of that community susceptible to fundamentalist extremism, and they may be picking up arms. We also need to monitor the conduct of our armed security forces in Kashmir and ensure they are not abusing power. Development of quality infrastructure, investment in local commercial activities, generation of employment opportunities are the real solutions to contain unrest and bring back the misguided youths to the mainstream. It is a fact that poverty and lack of economic opportunities have pushed the youths to militancy. You may note that Jammu and Kashmir is the richest region in Asia in terms of natural resources. We have the largest mineral resources including the most sought after Lithium. Once the administration takes initiatives to judiciously make use of these resources, in no time the Valley will become the richest in revenue. Militancy will be a passé. Peace will rule the roost. Kashmir will be a piece of paradise on earth. In fact, Kashmir is where Heaven touches the Earth.