by Ishaal Zehra 26 April 2019
General elections are underway in India, and in next four weeks, 900 million people there will be eligible to cast a vote to choose their next Prime Minister. Polls predictions so far suggests the potential re-election of BJP with Modi in power again for the next five years. Now, at the end of the term of BJP rule, the question is ‘do India still wants 5 more years of BJP?’ and what expectations and hopes Kashmiri people should be having if BJP comes in center again with a heavy mandate?
The campaign slogan of Modi in 2014 was a promise of good days (are coming). Pankaj Mishra observes that after pledging to create millions of jobs, PM Modi has, according to a leaked government report, presided over a dramatic rise in unemployment among young Indians. Narendra Modi’s most touted campaign pledge in his previous election was to create 10 million jobs annually. Instead, his government has been accused of creating India’s worst unemployment crisis in 45 years. And in India’s rural regions, a continued agrarian crisis has compelled farmers to protest for increased subsidies and debt relief. Whereas, vowing to vanquish terrorism, he took most currency notes out of circulation and cracked down hard in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmir has since witnessed a sharp spike in militancy leading to its biggest terrorist attack in years.
As it came out, it wasn’t the worst, now the BJP manifesto for the upcoming elections is promising to annul Article 370 (which grants an autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir), and 35A (that gives Jammu and Kashmir a special status) as they believe this provision is discriminatory against non-permanent residents and women of Jammu and Kashmir.
What does article 35 means to Kashmiri people? The said article is basically an agreement reached between government of New Delhi and Srinagar in 1952, according to which no one except the permanent residents will be able to settle permanently in the state, acquire immovable property and avail government jobs, scholarships and aid etc. Interestingly, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has its own constitution, flag and own penal code, which defines a permanent resident as the one who is a Kashmiri by birth or settled in the state before May 14, 1954, or who has been a resident of the state for 10 years and has “lawfully acquired” immovable property in the state. This agreement was later added to the Constitution through a presidential order in 1954.
People of Jammu and Kashmir consider this article shield against Center’s aggression. Most people believe that this is the Centre’s design to change the demographic character of the Muslim majority state. Some fear that after repealing the act, the Centre might entice the Hindus to buy land and property in Jammu, Samba and other districts. That will thus change the demographic character of the Jammu region as well.
Some also feel that move to abrogate Article 35A will have huge ramifications on the ground as the article was included in the Constitution top reserve IOK peoples land rights. Such a situation will result in another mass uprising and IOK will become Palestine, where life will become an everyday fight for survival.
Both the former chief ministers of J&K, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, have been vocal about the need to leave these two Articles in place. Omar Abdullah remained loud and clear when saying that questioning the special status of J&K will in fact put a question mark on the accession itself. Like Article 370, Article 35A was also negotiated between the princely state of J&K and the government of India and it is the bedrock of accession,’ he opined. Tampering with Article 35A will be a clear cut indication that Centre is in effect altering the demography of J&K state,” he deliberated.
All parties cutting across the political spectrum in the Valley of Kashmir are of the same opinion about article 35A, an unlikely camaraderie though. They all want to preserve it. If this clause of the Indian constitution is scraped, they maintain, then it will invalidate constituent assembly of Kashmir which passed that historical resolution and ratified instrument of accession also.
One opinion is that BJP is only using this annulment threat to drum up emotions in these elections. As they were spotted using the same in their previous election campaign also. Interestingly, the Supreme Court of India, on April 3, 2019, gave the ruling in the same case stating that Article 370 is not a temporary provision, since it has acquired permanent status through years of existence, now it is impossible to abrogate the Article. How BJP will further proceed is yet to be seen.
In 2014, BJP swept into power as India’s first single party parliamentary majority in 30 years. Despite tall claims Modi led BJP government could not live up to their commitments which is visible by their withering economy conditions. Still they are hoping success. The tilted role Indian media and social media are playing in these elections is also becoming more and more obvious with critics and opposition both crying of rampant foul plays. Like their Bollywood movies, elections in India has also got a dramatic touch to it now.
With elections going in full swing in India – the world’s second largest Internet user market – there are fears that political misinformation via social media could impact the upcoming elections. Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter are some of the platforms that have taken steps to combat fake accounts and deceptive messages ahead of voting. But even these companies say that the spread of misinformation is impossible to fully contain. So if Modi wins again, which seems likely, the fate of Jammu and Kashmir would be at crossroads.