March 6, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether withdrawing the Army from the Kashmir valley will improve the law and order situation. We also look at the approval given to Masjid-e-Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Withdrawal of the Army from the Kashmir valley: Will it improve the law and order situation?
Not a day goes by when Kashmir is not in the news. More often than not, it’s for the wrong reasons. The past few years have been tumultuous for the region, to say the least. While insurgency from neighbouring Pakistan is one issue, there have been several incidents of Kashmiri pandits being targeted and killed.
Most recently, the discovery of a body in a forest of a man who went missing two months ago sparked questions from his kin about what the army did to him when he was in their custody. Given the law and order situation, the government is looking to withdraw the army in a phased manner to help improve people’s lives. Is the decision to remove or replace them wise, or will the valley be better off with a less militarised presence?
A few years ago, the political status of Jammu & Kashmir was overhauled when the Modi government scrapped Article 370, the constitutional provision which granted it special status under the Indian constitution. It gave the state autonomy where the President could decide which constitutional provisions should be applied with or without modification. It’s akin to similar provisions in the constitutions of the US and China for special regions.
In 1956, J&K adopted its constitution and defined itself as a part of India. A few years later, the formalisation process continued with the Supreme Court and Election Commission extending their jurisdiction over J&K. Following a ceasefire with Pakistan, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah signed the Kashmir Accord. It reemphasised Article 370 that J&K is an integral part of India.
From the later 1970s to the late 80s, the state saw a steady rise in violence. It coincided with the rise of militant outfits, unstable governments, and the killings of militant youth. Protests erupted in 1990 as youngsters took to the streets against the Indian administration. Hundreds die in clashes with Indian troops. The Centre imposed the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). It gave the army unprecedented powers.
As violence continued to mar the valley in the 1990s, Prime minister PV Narasimha Rao stated in Parliament that Article 370 wouldn’t be scrapped. When the BJP returned to power in 2019, in August of that year, reports emerged of large-scale troop movement into the state. Amarnath pilgrims were asked to return, prominent leaders like Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti were placed under house arrest, and internet and mobile services were restricted.
The decision to repeal Article 370 was followed by a storm of controversy. The government’s argument was this is essential to restore law and order in the state and ensure the citizens live in peace. Kashmiri activists were stuck between a rock and a hard place. The appeal of increased militancy decreased in Kashmir, but participation in corrupt politics was equally unsatisfying.
There was some troubling news coming in from International groups. Reports suggested an increase in unlawful killings. Now, the Indian government is considering a phased withdrawal of the army from the Kashmir hinterland. Does this spell trouble for the valley, or is it way past time to allow some sense of normalcy to return?
VIEW: It’s a necessary first step
The Kashmir valley is often called the most militarised place on earth. There are 1.3 lakh army personnel in J&K. 80,000 are at the border, and 45,000 from the Rashtriya Rifles conduct counter-terror operations. The government’s decision to withdraw troops is a good first step in restoring normalcy in a place that has seldom experienced it. The Centre’s thinking is not just to claim normalcy but to show it.
For those who see this as an extreme step, the government is considering replacing army personnel with the CRPF, who can handle law and order and counter-terrorism. Their strength in the state is about 60,000, with 45,000 deployed in the valley. Also, the 83,000-strong J&K police will come into play along with companies from the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) who remain deployed in the valley.
The government’s timing is crucial. It’s India’s G20 year, and they want the world to see Kashimr returning to normalcy. A large military presence would contradict that message. For some, the over-representation of the military in the valley was discomforting and never justified. They argued that the overbearing military presence in the 1980s worsened the situation.
The situation on the ground provides some validity to the government’s decision. Terrorist violence has decreased by 50%, with minimal stone-pelting incidents and clashes with law enforcement. Some ex-Army leaders support the decision citing the capabilities of the CRPF and the police. Perhaps the move could pave the way for elections, something many leaders have called for.
COUNTERVIEW: It won’t change much
While there’s no doubt the law and order situation has improved, withdrawing the army from the valley is risky. While counter-terrorism should be left to the J&K police, some say they aren’t fully prepared to replace the army. Former RAW Chief AS Dulat said there can’t ever be a complete withdrawal. His argument is that the situation in Kashmir and Pakistan is never static.
There’s the question of the AFSPA. Since its inception, the AFSPA has failed to achieve any of its objectives in the state. How can the government begin pulling back the army from the valley without de-escalation measures like removing the AFSPA? There’s also the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA), where individuals can be detained for up to two years. Replacing the army with the CRPF won’t change much. If the AFSPA is still in effect, it gives the CRPF the same impunity the army has.
On the political front, there haven’t been elections in the state since 2014. It begs the question – if the situation is normal, why not revoke the AFSPA and let political activity resume? Several parties and leaders have called for elections. That’s unlikely with a large law enforcement presence on the ground.
Some argue the government is trying to have it both ways. It’s trying to walk a tightrope. While wanting to project normalcy, announcing a troop withdrawal, replacing them with the CRPF, and keeping the AFSPA and PSA intact in the state, the messaging and narrative aren’t consistent. The fabric of democracy in the state has been hollowed out. The troop withdrawal might sound nice on paper, but it’s unclear if it’ll change anything on the ground.
- Article 370: A Short History of Kashmir’s Accession to India – EPW
- A timeline of key events that shaped the unique identity of Kashmir within India – Quartz India
- Modi Govt Considering To Withdraw Indian Army From Kashmir Hinterland In Phased Manner: Report – Outlook
- Govt considers phased withdrawal of Army from Kashmir hinterland – Indian Express
- Reducing army footprint in Kashmir: A bold, brave and welcome decision – Firstpost
- In G20 year, India plans to showcase a much-improved Kashmir – Moneycontrol
- Numbers Don’t Back the Claim on Army Withdrawal From J&K – The Wire
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) Withdrawing the army from the Kashmir valley will improve things.
b) Withdrawing the army from the Kashmir valley won’t improve things.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Slander against Amartya Sen by Visva-Bharati’s officials is unbecoming of its legacy
For the Left:
Why liberals should stop lecturing the minority community on how to run its affairs
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Masjid-e-Ayodhya approved (Uttar Pradesh) – The Ayodhya Development Authority (ADA) approved the proposed mosque in Ayodhya to be built on a five-acre land in Dhannipur village, per the Supreme Court’s directives. The Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation (IICF) will build the mosque and community facilities like a hospital, kitchen and an Indo-Islamic cultural research centre which will include an archive/museum.
Why it matters: In 2019, the apex court allowed the construction of a temple in Ayodhya, where the Babri Masjid once was, before being illegally demolished by Hindu fundamentalists. The SC also ordered the government to allot the Sunni Central Wakf Board a five-acre plot in Ayodhya. While the Ram Mandir construction has been expeditious, the mosque’s construction waited three years for administrative clearances.
Migrants avoid work (Tamil Nadu) – Industries across the states were in a panic as migrant workers steered clear of their workplaces after seeing fake news and videos about migrants being attacked. MSMEs, hotels, restaurants, and construction companies’ heads met up with their migrant workers to assure them of their safety. The Chennai police personnel visited locations inhabited by migrant workers to dispel the rumours.
Why it matters: Migrants account for over 70% of the workers in these sectors. Two older videos, one featuring clashes between two migrant workers’ groups and the other a local feud between residents, were rapidly circulated online under misleading tags. However, police authorities and business heads took swift and multi-pronged measures to calm the state-wide dismay.
Growing aviation sector (Bihar) – Over the past decade, the Patna aviation sector has grown eight times and generated ₹252 crore in the 2021-22 fiscal year, according to the Bihar Economic Survey. Its growth is expected to increase more after the launch of commercial flight operations from Purnia and after the completion of a few additional airports.
Why it matters: State officials believe that a robust civil aviation infrastructure is crucial for investment, trade, and tourism to flourish. To this end, the Patna Airport, one of the rapidly growing airports under the Airports Authority of India (AAI), has improved its ASQ index rank from 233 in 2020 to 71 in 2022. Work to build a terminal building and freight section is underway and likely to be completed early next year.
Electric boat on Lake Pichola (Rajasthan) – Udaipur’s city administration inaugurated an 18-seater electric boat on Lake Pichola to reduce water pollution in Udaipur’s lakes. The electric boat, owned by a private hotel, has two engines, is powered by two batteries, and is decorated in traditional Rajasthani motifs.
Why it matters: This is the city’s first electric boat after a court instructed the local administration to rid the city’s lakes of fossil fuel-powered boats. The pollution-free and the relatively less noisy boat is a necessary first step for conserving the lakes in the city. District Collector Tarachand Meena revealed that the administration would work towards turning all the lakes’ boats electric.
Governor invites Conrad Sangma (Meghalaya) – On Saturday, Meghalaya’s governor Phagu Chauhan invited Conrad Sangma to form the state government, per the Sarkaria Commission. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah will likely attend the oath-taking ceremony at the Raj Bhavan in Shillong on March 7. The new cabinet’s swearing-in will occur on the same day.
Why it matters: The new government will be a coalition of 26 MLAs from the National People’s Party, two from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), two from the Hill State Peoples Democratic Party (HSPDP), and two Independent legislators, composing one more legislator than the majority mark requires.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
1.62 million – The number of Russian crude oil barrels India imports in a day. The share of Russian oil in India’s imports basket has jumped from less than 1% to 35%.