Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s address to the nation on Thursday may not have reached its primary audience in Jammu and Kashmir which was in blackout. But he did well by speaking out on his decision to revoke its special status, and divide it into two Union Territories. Considering the secrecy and disinformation that preceded the decision that he rightly characterised as historic, and the triumphalism among his supporters that followed, the address was reassuring. The promises he made will be checked against delivery in the coming months, not only by the people of J&K but also by the rest of India and other countries. In his 37-minute address, Mr. Modi promised restoration of statehood to J&K once normalcy returned, a participatory election, and growth in employment, commerce and opportunities in general for them. The PM urged industrialists to set up shop, and film-makers to shoot in the Valley, and asked people there to integrate with the global community. He even offered a catalogue of products and services that could make the State attractive in the global market. While these are desirable objectives, the PM could start with what is exclusively within his powers to effect — to call for fresh election and restore statehood at the earliest. While an elected government itself will be a sign of improvement in the situation, it will also make normalcy more organic. Revocation of statehood was unjustified in the first place, and its restoration must be immediate.
What actually triggered separatism and terrorism in J&K — whether the special status and autonomy it was granted by the Constitution, or the gradual erosion of these concepts over decades — is a difficult question, but the BJP has always claimed to have known the answer. The PM reiterated that position, stating that Articles 370 and 35A gave only “separatism, nepotism and corruption to the people of J&K”. Additionally, he also said these were hurdles in the region’s development; and now that these are removed, an era of development and progress could be ushered in. While the charges of corruption and nepotism are true to an extent, there is no reason to suggest that J&K has been any worse than other States in this respect. The implied reductionism in the address that political aspirations may be a price worth paying for material progress may not be a democratic path to progress. No other formation in India is more vociferous than the BJP on questions of culture, heritage and faith. National integration is essential for peace, stability and progress, and uniform development across regions, but this is not synonymous with an enforced cultural homogeneity. J&K needs a representative government and full statehood urgently for normalcy and integration with the Indian Union.