By Anil Anand
Ever since Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that gave special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was abrogated on August 5, 2019 and the state divided and demoted to two Union Territories (UTs), the question often asked was whether statehood status would be restored anytime soon. The question became more relevant as it has been kept alive by none other than the top leadership in the Union Government as well as the ruling BJP.
So, who would have doubted that the demotion of the erstwhile state would be redeemed soon as both Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi and Home Minister, Mr Amit Shah have repeatedly assured both inside the Parliament and outside it. And as is the wont their assertions were dutifully taken forward by the top BJP leadership.
However, this question, return to statehood, has assumed a new dimension after the Government introduced the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, Amendment Bill in the Rajya Sabha. Expectedly, it was passed in the House by a voice vote.
This amendment to the original Reorganisation Act that had resulted in the change of status of the then state, further seeks to merge J&K’s cadre of Indian Administrative Services (IAS), Indian Police Services (IPS) and Indian Forest Services (IFS) with that of Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram and Union Territories (AGMUT) also known as the broader UT cadre.
The reasons cited behind this Amendment Bill are to provide “uniformity in the governance of all Union Territories” and to, “enhance their efficiency”. This Bill resulted in amending Section 88 of the 2019 Act and the resultant unification of the pool of All India Services personnel of Jammu and Kashmir with that of the AGMUT.
Furthermore, this Bill also provides for an additional amendment to Section 13 of the existing Act which entailed making the provisions contained in article 239 A, that are applicable to Puducherry, to become applicable to Jammu and Kashmir as well. In order to achieve that the amendment adds, “or any other article containing reference to the elected members of the Legislative Assembly of the State.” after the words, “article 239 A” in the Act.
The new amendments to the original Reorganisation Act might have achieved the claimed “uniformity in the governance of all Union Territories” as claimed in the Bill. But it has certainly raised a question about the need for such legislation in the light of repeated promise of returning to the statehood status.
One reason offered for the merger of J & K cadre with the UT cadre of officers, is that it will overcome the shortage of officers in the newly carved UT Jammu and Kashmir. There are other ways to meet this shortage rather than moving yet another step forward to strengthen the UT status.
For example after becoming chief minister for the first time late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed had successfully carried out an exercise of bringing back all officers of Jammu and Kashmir origin who had different states cadres either by transfer or changing their cadre to J&K. Well, bringing officers other than those who belonged to Jammu and Kashmir, on deputation is always an available option which under the present dispensation, when the UT of Jammu and Kashmir is directly governed by the Union Home Ministry, could have been much easier to execute.
That is where the merger of the cadre raises serious doubts on restoration of the statehood to Jammu and Kashmir as promised both by the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. After the recent elections to the District Development Councils ( DDCs), which were given top billing over conducting assembly polls, the cadre merger move has strengthened the belief that the UT system of governance has come on to stay for longer than expected.
The ruling dispensation through amending Section 13 that brought parity with Puducherry Union Territory with a legislative assembly, has kept a window open to take on its detractors doubting the former’s intention on returning the statehood. Ostensibly, this has been done to keep the glimmer of hope alive and score the political brownie points over the detractors and critics while at the same time go on strengthening the UT structure brick by brick.
Under these circumstances, the Leader of Opposition (LoP) in Rajya Sabha, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad was dot on target when he doubted the Government’s oft-repeated promise to restore statehood to Jammu and Kashmir at an appropriate time while speaking on the Bill in the House. “Bringing the Bill creates suspicion on the government’s intention. I want to ask Home Minister Amit Shah if the present cadre was working well then why the need to merge it? You had promised that the statehood will be restored….But bringing this Bill creates suspicion that GoI wants to keep Jammu and Kashmir permanently a union territory,” Mr Azad said.
While dealing with any aspect of Jammu and Kashmir the current central dispensation has its eyes fixed all the time on national politics on one side and the J&K on the other. After all having a BJP Chief Minister in the UT is now top on the BJP’s agenda after abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A as the party strategists feel it could give some more electoral traction at the national levels in the months to come.
At the same time the very strategists seem to be aware that the demotion to statehood has not been received favourably by people in the BJP’s stronghold of Jammu leave aside Kashmir. So, the need to keep the statehood issue alive and it would not be out of place for the party to showcase it, reverting to statehood, as a priority in its election manifesto for the assembly elections as and when these are held.
Politically speaking the latest amendments have further added to the confusion. Rather than bringing clarity it has deepened the mystery regarding the future of Jammu and Kashmir. There is no more scope for experimentation in the laboratory called Jammu and Kashmir.
First published in Daily Excelsior