Prime Minister Narendra Modi's second term in office, which started off with a bang in May, now increasingly finds itself dragged into the citizenship conundrum. While the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A was in the trademark style of "shock and awe" leaving people, particularly in the then state of Jammu and Kashmir, shell-shocked, the tall claims made in the run-up to the Lok Sabha election on NRC in Assam seem to fall apart with all stakeholders barring the AIUDF criticising it.
Citizens both in the Kashmir Valley and in Assam feel deceived by the Centre as the BJP-led government is struggling to contain the situation in both the regions as a sense of hopelessness overshadows all its efforts. There is no timeframe when the situation will return to normalcy in Kashmir or what will happen to the fate of the people in Assam who were wrongly left out of the NRC or those who got in but should have been excluded.
The effort in both regions that aimed to achieve something grand, rather script history, is fast disintegrating into a nightmare for the ruling party.
It is now looking for a way out of the mess that stands before it in the two of the most sensitive regions of the country — Kashmir and Assam. The answer to it is unlikely to come soon, certainly not the "shock and awe" way.
Jammu and Kashmir
Soon after the Central government abrogated Article 370 and Article 35A on 5 August stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and dividing the state into two Union Territories of — Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh — a sense of disbelief took over before it plunged either into happiness or dejection for people in the region. The Kashmir Valley, in particular, felt deceived at the sudden and nearly inconceivable decision by the Centre which even managed to rattle Pakistan and China.
Although Article 370 was abrogated through a presidential order, the order itself has to pass through the legality test as the Supreme Court has admitted a petition challenging the Centre's decision.
Nevertheless, the decision resulted in the largescale blackout of services like mobile, internet and heavy deployment of security forces. Even markets, offices and educational institutions remain closed. Though schools till high school level are open now, they are not seeing enough attendance by students. Although restricted access has now been given to facilities and services provided by the government, there is no doubt that common Kashmiris feel suffocated by this near lockdown.
The concertina wires may have gone down from the roads but it's only the landlines that are crawling into action, but not entirely. Lack of mobile connectivity in today's world cannot be more alienating than anything else no matter how many landlines work.
The plight of the regular Kashmiris evoke sentiments of citizens who are facing hardships to conduct their regular lives. The law and order machinery in the Valley has been working overtime to prevent any incidence of violence so that an already delicate situation doesn't spiral out of control but this very attempt has enraged the citizens against its own government.
"The Valley has remained under lockdown with both cellphones and landlines blocked and internet access suspended. Amid the shutdown, baton and gun-wielding personnel continue to patrol the streets. Youths have engaged in clashes with the forces at road blockades at several places to protest the revocation of Article 370," a Firstpost report said.
What is worrisome is that despite repeated attempts by the government to reach out to its citizens including assurances from the prime minister himself, twice within a month — once through a televised address to the nation and then from the ramparts of the Red For on Independence Day — have failed to convince the Kashmiris of a hopeful path ahead. "From students to professionals, belonging to both Jammu and Kashmir regions, many were apprehensive that taking away the special status will render the 'ecologically sensitive' province 'vulnerable' to exploitation due to infrastructure-related activities," a PTI report said.
"It is the responsibility of all of us to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. It is the responsibility of all of us to have new wings. And for that 130 crore countrymen have to take up this responsibility and to fulfill this responsibility, we have tried to remove whatever obstacles have come up," Modi had said in his Independence Day address.
The sense of “alienation” is all-pervading as the unprecedented security clampdown in the Valley is a testimony to it. This sense of being left out by the rest of India is not new in the Valley and the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A has only compounded the problem. The Valley was little prepared for such a sudden change of status, although there was enough grapevine about it when the government flew in security personnel in large numbers from different parts of the country. It was perhaps as shocking as the announcement on demonetisation.
"The sense of 'alienation' and 'disempowerment' among Kashmiri youth is at an all-time high and even parental control cannot stop them from joining militancy, former Union minister Yashwant Sinha-led Concerned Citizens’ Group (CCG) has stated in its latest fifth report compiled after its visit to Jammu and Kashmir," a report in The Economic Times had said in July this year.
The government's edginess to remove all curbs in Kashmir clearly shows that the Centre finds itself on a sticky wicket even after nearly a month. The connect it hoped to establish with citizens in Kashmir after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A is practically non-existent. Peace is being enforced in the Valley through a large number of security personnel and creating an online vacuum.
"As of now protests seem largely limited to Srinagar but no one can guarantee that they will not spread to other parts of the Kashmir Valley," Bharat Bhushan wrote in the Business Standard.
"Unprecedented restrictions have put Kashmir into a state of lockdown for more than three weeks and information has only trickled out since 5 August when Article 370 - as the provision giving the region special status is known - was revoked," BBC reported.
More the nervousness, the wider is the gap between the citizens and the government. It's ironic that the one big stroke which was thought to be all-inclusive is only pushing Kashmir on the edge almost taking the government off their minds and hearts. Whatever may be the fate of the decision in the court of law, it is the common Kashmiris who are struggling.
Home Minister Amit Shah's words must be staring at him right now — harsh and cold.
"The NRC is part of the Assam Accord and was also in (BJP's) election manifesto based on which the government has come to power. The government will identify illegal immigrants living on every inch of the country's soil and will deport them as per the international law," Shah had said in Rajya Sabha in July this year.
Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections this year, the home minister had announced that the government will free the state of illegal immigrants if it retains power.
“We have stopped infiltration in Assam. Once Modi is voted back to power we will identify each and every infiltrator and send them back,” Shah had said during an election rally at Kaliabor in Assam in March this year.
Now after the final NRC was out on 31 August, the party finds itself in an awkward position. According to the Assam government, 19,06,657 people have been left out of the final list of NRC, which for many indigenous bodies is too low a number. There are high chances that many of them in this lot will be able to get into the NRC in the 120 days given by the government for appeal in case of exclusion of names from the NRC.
Caught in the wrong foot in this exercise to identify and expel illegal immigrants, the BJP-led state government in Assam has now decided to move the Supreme Court for 20 percent sample verification of the draft National Register of Citizens in border districts along Bangladesh and 10 percent in other districts.
Worse, there is no clear roadmap as to how these people will be extradited to their parent countries if the appeal period also fails to bear any fruit. The situation has become such that almost everyone will be a part of the NRC now, leave alone identifying and expelling illegal migrants.
A Firstpost piece rightly pointed out that there is no political or legal consensus on the path ahead for the 19 lakh people who do not find their names in the NRC list.
The outright acceptance of the NRC by Dhubri MP Badruddin Ajmal has only complicated matters for the BJP as Ajmal comes from a constituency that shares borders with Bangladesh. BJP feels that it's the border areas where there is the most concentration of illegal migrants.
"The NRC is going to be a strong document which will help in resolving the foreigners' issue and everybody should accept it," the All India United Democratic Front chief said.
Ajmal's appeal has become a politically tight spot for the BJP given the big claims it had made earlier. It seems BJP was anticipating a backlash as in the last three weeks ahead of the publication of the NRC, it sought to reject the whole exercise seeking to put the onus on NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela.
On Friday, a day before the final NRC was made public, Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told Times of India that "BJP stopped treating the NRC as 'a national document' the day it was revealed that only 6 percent of the population of South Salmara and Dhubri districts, both bordering Bangladesh and Muslim-dominated, had been excluded from the two draft NRCs".
It is ironic that when the Centre hoped that both the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A and publication of the NRC will be a catalyst for it to vigorously push forward its agenda of inclusivity, the situation is actually the other way round in both Kashmir and Assam.
Updated Date: Sep 02, 2019 20:40:54 IST