Soon after the Indian government announced abrogating the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 in 2019, converting the state into two Union Territories, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said it was a “temporary” situation.
PM Modi said statehood of Jammu and Kashmir would be restored at “some point of time”.
In March this year, PM Modi told a visiting delegation of politicians from Kashmir that “the government will work with all sections of the population to realize the hopes of statehood for Jammu and Kashmir at an early opportunity”.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah also told the Jammu and Kashmir leaders that “visible changes will be seen on the ground in the next few months”.
However, around 10 days after the meeting, the coronavirus lockdown had to be imposed across the country. As unlock phases progressed, speculation began that the Modi government may announce the restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir.
The speculation was based on the release of political leaders in Jammu and Kashmir — National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, who said he would not contest election till statehood was restored, and senior Congress leader from Jammu and Kashmir Ghulam Nabi Azad meeting PM Modi to press for the same demand.
Another Congress leader Tariq Hamid Karra — a member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) — claimed that a “decision [has] already taken by a chosen few at the Centre” for restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir and “for which the timeline fixed is August 15, 2020”. He had also claimed 4G internet services were to be restored on August 5, which, by the way, did not happen.
The BJP, on the other hand, said that statehood will not be restored to Jammu and Kashmir until guns fall silent.
While the Modi government has not officially responded to the statements by politicians, there seem to be three options before Jammu and Kashmir – (i) statehood will not be restored, (ii) J&K will be given statehood but without Ladakh, or (iii) the ideal situation, statehood with reunification.
In the first situation, statehood will not be restored since Jammu and Kashmir still faces large-scale terrorism. This is a big hindrance to a change of stand of the Modi government on the question of statehood restoration.
Recent reports from the Union Territory point to a big spike in terror recruitment even during the coronavirus lockdown. Local security agencies estimate that there are over 140 terrorists active in the Kashmir Valley. Of them, around 55 are foreigners and the rest local. This is the first time in over a decade that local militants have outnumbered foreign terrorists in the Kashmir Valley.
However, the number of terrorists killed in operations has dropped a little this year compared to 2019. Normally, a fewer number of terrorists being killed would indicate an improvement in countering the insurgency situation. But the Kashmir Valley has witnessed a spike in terror recruitment.
This is likely to dissuade the Modi government from restoring statehood to Jammu and Kashmir particularly at a time when both China and Pakistan are trying to escalate the security situation in the region.
Jammu and Kashmir has been a troubled border state — now Union Territory — for India. Restoration of statehood may not be a straightforward option for the Modi government especially when elections can be held to the legislative assembly of this Union Territory.
With the abrogation of Article 370, and with it Article 35A, the Modi government did two things to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. One, the government took away J&K’s statehood and bifurcated it.
Leading political figures – Abdullah, Azad and Karra – have demanded restoration of statehood and calling an election to the state assembly. In fact, Omar Abdullah said he would not contest election until statehood is restored.
If the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – whose leader Mehbooba Mufti is still under house arrest – don’t participate in the election to Jammu and Kashmir assembly, it would impact the poll process in the state.
This is a strong political reason for the Modi government to restore statehood to Jammu and Kashmir but without annulling the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir. That is, there would be no assembly election in Ladakh — a point indirectly indicated by PM Modi in his August 8 video posted on Twitter.
Lastly, in an ideal situation, J&K will be granted statehood along with reunification – a resolution that Kashmiri politicians have been demanding from the Modi government. They additionally also want restoration of Article 370 and Article 35A. The latter demand is, however, not possible under the BJP-led government at the Centre.
For an otherwise reunification of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to happen, the terror and cross-border security situation needs to be comfortable for India. By creating Ladakh as a separate Union Territory, the Modi government largely limited the disputes with Pakistan and China to one administrative unit.
Ladakh includes Aksai Chin and large parts of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. This was a strategic move of the Modi government when it announced bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir.
This means that when situation normalizes in the Kashmir Valley, the heavy presence of armed forces may be restricted to Ladakh only along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China and the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan. But this also means that a reunified Jammu and Kashmir is a distant dream.