The abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent bifurcation of the state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) into two union territories, on August 5, is so far the biggest decision taken by the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in its second term.
The decision to abrogate Article 370 and the government’s subsequent moves can been seen in terms of political and economic strategy. While the former covers the political developments in the state and at the national level, along with the government’s international response, the latter (economic) focuses on the development of the state. The government’s response shows that it has thought-through the political angle; the performance on its economic strategy, however, leaves a lot wanting.
As a political move, the Modi government covered all bases. At the national level it ensured that its voice was the loudest and it was encouraged by the positive response it received from across the country. Such was the groundswell of support that soon even Opposition leaders appreciated Modi’s decision.
Following the August 5 decision, the Government of India left no stone unturned in the international arena to reiterate that the abrogation was an internal matter, that India was well within its rights to do what it did in Kashmir, and, while doing so India upheld the trust it has earned among the comity of nations as a responsible and respectable democracy.
The government also used its soft power and trade as foreign policy instruments against countries, such as Turkey and Malaysia, which were critical of India’s Kashmir policy. This muscular foreign policy approach reflected New Delhi’s confidence.
Long shadow of the visit
Such a surefooted government seems to have had a misstep while green-lighting a delegation of 23 European MPs to visit Kashmir. The delegation finished its two-day visit on October 30th and in the process left many questions unanswered. The composition of the group of MPs, the background of the organiser, and the motive behind the visit, are some of the questions that cast a long shadow over the event. The Congress has called this the ‘biggest diplomatic blunder’, the BJP has accused the Congress of ‘internationalising the Kashmir issue’, BJP ally Shiv Sena has said that the visit ‘raises serious questions’, and voices of criticism have risen from within the BJP, with Subramanian Swamy calling the visit “immoral” and a ‘perversion of national policy’. However, the impact of this visit—both its good and bad effects—will be evident only in the long run.
Time to use the carrots
What matters, however, is not just the views of the people in the rest of India, or of the international community, but the feelings of the people of Kashmir. Credit must be given to the government for being prepared to tackle violent protests. However, is it prepared to tackle the ongoing non-violent civil disobedience? While it has used the stick to good effect, the time has come to use the carrot too.
A BBC report quotes the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce of Industry pegging the loss to the local economy due to the clampdown at about Rs 10,000 crore ($1.4 bn). The badly affected industries — tourism, carpet making and apple cultivation — have also seen large scale unemployment. Kashmir today is home to thousands of unemployed and angry youth, many of whom who also do not have a political leadership to voice their concerns. A restive, young population should raise red flags for both New Delhi and J&K’s new administration.
The question is: what is the strategy to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiris? In this regard, New Delhi can take lessons from its decades of experience in tackling insurgency in the Northeast. As it did in the Northeast, the government must immediately launch big schemes aimed at boosting the local economy. Without wasting time it must get going on a building spree — better roads, bridges, more educational institutions, improved healthcare facilities, etc. which will provide jobs for the local people and create a class of people who will view integration with the rest of India favourably.
Economic development can be a potent weapon in weaning young Kashmiris off the narrative of a conflict with India into one of co-operation. Social spending and subsidies could be stepped up, both for the people and for industry and farming.
To be sure, resources had been poured into the state earlier also. However, much of it never reached the ground, thanks to massive corruption. That needs to change. The Centre reportedly has a plan to give the resources directly to the panchayats for spending. That plan needs to be set in motion immediately. The old ineffective pro-India leadership has been more or less neutralised — the Centre, therefore, needs to identify and build up alternative local leaders who want co-operation with India. If such a strategy has been so successful in tackling insurgency in the Northeast, there is no reason why it won’t work in Kashmir.
Yes, it calls for the injection of massive resources and the fiscal situation of the central government is already strained. The government could count upon the State-owned banks to provide the wherewithal and perhaps use the J&K Bank as well. True, there will probably be many bad loans, but put that down to the cost of nation-building. This is no time for penny-pinching.
The fatal attacks on five migrant labourers in Kulgam on October 29, when the European MPs were in Kashmir, is aimed at terrorising ‘non-Kashmiris’ from working in Kashmir. Private businesses will make a beeline into the Valley only when the basic infrastructure is in place, when the local economy is conducive and security is guaranteed.
Massive spending on development in Kashmir is the only way for the government to scotch the negative narrative that the scrapping of Article 370 has been done with an eye on votes only or that it is anti-minority. Moreover, unless the government provides adequate security and implement an ambitious economic plan aimed at boosting the local economy, the economic angle to the abrogation of Article 370 will not be achieved.
In the meantime, it might be able to rubbish the concerns raised by a demoralised Opposition, but it will fail in turning a new leaf in the development of J&K.For more Opinion pieces, click here.Get access to India's fastest growing financial subscriptions service Moneycontrol Pro for as little as Rs 599 for first year. Use the code "GETPRO". Moneycontrol Pro offers you all the information you need for wealth creation including actionable investment ideas, independent research and insights & analysis For more information, check out the Moneycontrol website or mobile app.