Floods Have Made Bond Between J and K and Bharat Stronger, Article 370 Notwithstanding
Irony is the constant companion of contradiction. So far Jammu and Kashmir has enjoyed special status under Article 370. Last week, its people realised that a separate constitutional identity was no guarantee against nature’s fury. When the state structure—created under Article 370—collapsed like ninepins, it was the Union of India comprising all 29 states and seven Union territories which rose in unison to save its most splendorous geographical entity. The rest of the nation just forgot that a large number of locals from the Valley, including members of the ruling parties and separatists, were against the Indian state. For the past 65 years, they have been waging a war to retain J&K’s special status on paper only. They have been silent on the forced ethnic cleansing which drove Pundits out of the Valley. They have kept quiet when innocent Army personnel and helpless Kashmiris were killed in terrorist attacks. Over 90,000 people have lost their lives in the state during the past 25 years. Yet, India has been doling out grants to Kashmir, enabling it to compete with other states in terms of development. But the funds have only made a few people rich and rest of the state poorer. A special category of citizens who are the actual beneficiaries of the special status are the ones who are indirectly fuelling the fight against the abrogation of Article 370. But as the flood situation worsened, even hardcore supporters of separatists cursed the special status. All of them were looking to the Indian Army, Central government officials, PM Narendra Modi and his minister in the PMO, Jitendra Singh, to save them from apocalypse. It has taken a tragedy of immense proportions to turn J&K, an integral part of India, to become an inseparable member of Bharat Parivar. Despite Article 370, Srinagar was “taken away” from CM Omar Abdullah by the rapacious flow of water and his government was “totally inundated”. A team of officials led by Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami and Indian paramilitary forces ultimately prevented the devastation of a state and its people. The PM also dispatched IAS officer Ajay Kumar Pradyot to Kashmir to set up a system to track missing people and trace them, in the manner he did in Uttarakhand.
When 20,000 personnel drawn from the defence forces, equipped with modern communications systems and other equipment, were evacuating people, the local administration led by its young and acerbic CM was conspicuous by its absence. None of its two dozen ministers, 90 IAS officers and over 100 IPS officers were seen in action. Instead of asking his ministers to go out and save the people, Omar sent six of them to Delhi to demand money. He wasn’t even able to control stone-pelting by hired separatist goons to sabotage relief operations. Normally, in such a situation the CM, Chief Secretary and DGP take direct charge to minimise casualties and damage to property and livestock. Instead, Chief Secretary Mohammad Iqbal Khandey and DGP Rajendra Kumar were looking for safe havens from floodwaters, for themselves and friends. It is possible that most of them couldn’t step out of their homes due to excessive flooding. But none of them had any clue or plan in place to deal with natural disasters. Surprisingly, the website of the J&K Police defines the force as a “saga of sacrifice and courage”. But not one of its members was in sight to prove the slogan right.
The stranded inhabitants of the Valley chased away local politicians belonging to regional parties and even the Congress. They were genuinely upset over the total failure of the state machinery to rise to the occasion. J&K enjoys the dubious distinction of having one of the lowest GDP growth rates in spite of huge Central grants. What really takes the cake is that the state not only has a full-fledged Cabinet minister for flood control, Shyam Lal Sharma of the Congress, but also has a well-appointed office of J&K State Disaster Response Force in Srinagar. Set up in 2012, it has two battalions headed by an Inspector General of Police assisted by a Deputy Inspector General of Police. State leaders have been claiming that they had never expected such a large-scale disaster. However, in February this year, Omar himself had warned of such an eventuality. His government had hosted a two-day ‘State Level Conference of Disaster Preparedness and Mitigation’, which was addressed by him. At the meet, Omar spoke about the growing natural threat faced by the state and wanted the Centre to pay special attention. Experts from the National Disaster Management Authority also participated and gave their views on pompous-sounding subjects like ‘Overview of the Incident Response System and Disaster Management Architecture in India with Special Focus on vulnerability of Jammu & Kashmir’.
In reality, neither did the state government nor Kashmir’s permanent agitationists bother about the slow and steady degeneration of governance. All of them, including the Congress and National Conference, were more interested in keeping Article 370 on the statute book for the sake of preserving their vote banks. In the process, the safety of the state and its people became the casualty. For the past three decades, enormous time and energy has been wasted in debating the autonomy of the state, the role of Indian Army and human rights violations. In fact, the politics of the state revolved around keeping Kashmir deprived of the fruits of growth and prosperity, which the rest of India was witnessing. Any attempt by the Centre to connect Kashmir with other parts of country by road and rail were foiled by extremists. Even power projects were targeted and outside workers killed and kidnapped. For Kashmir’s short-sighted leaders, keeping the state in abject poverty and illiteracy was the instrument used to widen the gap between the state and the rest of India. Unfortunately, it has taken a loss of over 300 lives and property worth thousands of crores to drill the point home that India takes care of even its most truculent states. For all Indians, J&K remains their most cherished heaven on earth. The existence or absence of Article 370 is meaningless and J&K and Bharat were never separated at birth, and shall never be. By cruel irony, the floods have only made the bond stronger.
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