4 August 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) Time to unlock: On a year after the removal of J&K's statehood-
- At least two dozen politicians in Jammu and Kashmir remain in detention, some unnotified, a year after it was deprived(taken away) of its Statehood and special constitutional status on August 5, 2019.
- Last week, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s detention was formally extended by another three months under the J&K Public Safety Act.
- Several others remain restrained within their homes in Kashmir, which is now a Union Territory under the rule of Delhi.
- Neither the J&K government nor the Centre has released a list or number of leaders who were detained last year.
- At least 16 National Conference and eight PDP leaders are under house arrest, according to these parties.
- The 2019 move of the BJP government at the Centre went beyond the Hindutva position against the special status of J&K by reorganising it as two Union Territories.
- The wisdom of the decisions remains an open question, though they refurbished(renovate) the BJP’s claims of muscular nationalism.
- The dubious(faulty) legislative route that the Centre took and the communication restrictions on the population that followed cast a shadow(doubts) on India’s standing as a constitutional democracy.
- The judiciary — the J&K High Court and the Supreme Court — has not shown any alacrity(liveliness) to settle the constitutional and legal questions raised before it.
- It has in fact, appeared to privilege the Executive’s position in the last one year.
- Some scholars have linked the continuing Chinese aggression in Ladakh to the change in J&K’s status.
- The spirit of Indian federalism has been weakened.
- Mainstream politics in J&K has become impossible with leaders in detention and those released reportedly undertaking to stay away from any public discussion on J&K’s future.
- This is not a sustainable situation if India wants to protect its global reputation and uphold the faith of its own citizens.
- There are two steps the Centre can take to start a conversation with the people of J&K — release all political prisoners and restore its Statehood.
- These will be wise steps towards healing(recovering) and progress in J&K.
- J&K can return to normalcy only with full Statehood and release of political prisoners.
2) Toxic brew: on the increase of liquor tragedies-
GS 2- Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability
- Once again, the scourge(something which harms) of illicit(illegal) liquor has struck, this time in Punjab, killing more than 100 people and leaving many crippled(damaged).
- The victims, in Amritsar, Tarn Taran and Gurdaspur districts, were sold hooch(bad quality alcohol) that apparently had a large amount of denatured alcohol.
- The State government, which is responsible for both excise and law and order, has sanctioned financial relief for the affected families, and suspended some policemen and officials in charge of excise enforcement.
- Wiser after the fact, the police claim that there was an inter-district racket in operation and made several arrests.
- On the other hand, the kith and kin(relatives) of those who died say the illicit alcohol was peddled(sold) virtually in the open by small-time vendors, some of whom have now been arrested.
- There are echoes in the tragedy of last year’s two major incidents involving Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and Assam, both witnessing large-scale loss of life.
- Moreover, there have been fatal outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people desperate for alcohol consumed hand sanitiser as a substitute, most recently in Andhra Pradesh.
- Almost every year, India’s illegal alcohol market inflicts(causes) tremendous destruction in the form of blindness, tissue damage and death.
- Commercial alcohol becomes expensive for the poor, and corrupt bureaucracies allow that void to be filled by illicit liquor vendors who almost invariably use toxic methanol instead of ethanol.
- Policies that fail to contain illicit alcohol produce long-term health impacts, as people tend to consume brews that have higher concentrations of alcohol, or toxic substances such as methanol.
- This should be particularly alarming for Punjab, which continues to simultaneously battle significant levels of narcotic drug use.
- From a medical viewpoint, the availability of licit spirits that contain lower alcohol levels, combined with a sustained public health campaign to wean(move) people away from the drinking habit and to warn them about the effects of contaminants are key interventions.
- Health communication about harm from alcohol is particularly relevant during the pandemic, since there is evidence of reduced immunity to viruses among those who are chronic alcohol consumers.
- As the World Health Organization points out, governments should regulate the quality of legal alcoholic drinks, while actively tracing and tracking illicit alcohol.
- This can be achieved only through cooperation from the community, particularly from women’s groups.
- Tragically, several States give low priority to revamping(repairing) the excise administration and policing, paving the way for episodic death and misery.
- They must show determination to end the flow of toxic brews that kill scores almost every year.
- The capability of the health system in every district needs to be raised, to reduce the damage from methanol through immediate, simple detoxification therapies.
- Liquor tragedies can be prevented if States close the gap for hooch, ensure accountability.
3) A change that hit federalism, inclusion-
GS 2- Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure
- Ever since Article 370 that broadly defined J&K’s relationship with the rest of India was changed and a new framework introduced last year, political activity in the erstwhile State has come to a complete halt(stop).
- In the last one year, the reorganisation of the erstwhile(former) State was defended on the ground that it would lead to greater integration of J&K with the rest of the country.
- In a democracy, the concept of integration has to be evaluated from a multi-faceted system and lens, which includes the emotional aspect as well.
- And in that respect, sadly, the effect on the ground of the change of August 5, 2019 has yielded(resulted) the opposite effect.
- First, the continued detention of political prisoners, particularly those who have been legislators and sworn in by the Constitution of India.
- It shows that if democratic rights are not even available to the voices that speak on behalf of the Indian Union, how would ordinary people even think of enjoying them?
- Incidentally, this change was introduced on August 5, which also happens to be the birth date of arguably the foremost scholar (and activist) on J&K, Balraj Puri; he passed away in 2014.
- The two core ideas that he consistently advocated were-
A) peace would not ensue(follow) in J&K without guaranteeing respect for the democratic rights for its people.
B) to ensure that the most important tool would be a rigorous(strict) pursuit of federalism within the State.
- Both of these are particularly salient in the present context.
KEY TO INTEGRATION:
- In his best-selling book, Kashmir Towards Insurgency, published in the early 1990s, Balraj Puri presciently(clearly) wrote that there was a persistent policy of denying Kashmir a right to democracy.
- One-party rule had been imposed on the State through manipulation of elections; Opposition parties had been prevented from growing, and elementary civil liberties and human rights had been refused to the people.
- “This refusal to integrate Kashmir within the framework of Indian democracy has proved to be the single greatest block to the process of Kashmir’s emotional and political integration with the rest of India.”
- He repeatedly argued that the feeling of hopelessness and a threat to identity exacerbated(worsened) by a political vacuum create a breeding ground for militancy.
- He emphasised that a prerequisite to emotionally integrate Kashmir with the rest of India was to ensure that the people of the State enjoy the same democratic rights and constitutional protections as the people across the country.
- Lessons of the last seven decades in J&K are crystal clear. The more democratic rights we give to the people of J&K, the more they feel a part of the Indian Union.
- The present phase of political dormancy reminds me of the early 1990s when the Kashmir Valley was perpetually under curfew.
- It was only after the channels of communications with everyone were opened that the strength of India’s democracy was exhibited.
- It was also realised that respect for human rights should be a key component of the Kashmir policy, as this and upholding national interest go hand in hand.
- These lessons were learnt the hard way with a lot of sacrifices, of lives, including those of ordinary Kashmiris and security personnel.
ASYMMETRY AND FEDERALISM:
- The last year should worry the entire country, as the constitutional change was an attack on Indian federalism.
- The idea that the presence of Article 370 weakened the Indian Union is erroneous and is contrary to a basic understanding of democracy and lessons learnt from the experiments of Indian federalism.
- J&K’s separate flag and Constitution within the Indian Union represented asymmetry, which is integral to the Indian federal experience.
- It should be seen in the context of an urge for recognition of identity within the vast ambit of the liberal and accommodative spirit of the Indian Union.
- There is plenty of evidence to suggest that such asymmetry has strengthened the Indian Union and led to better policy implementation and participation in political processes.
- In this respect, the multi-regional and ethnic J&K’s quest for autonomy should be seen through the broader lens of a multi-layered appetite for political, economic and social empowerment of all the three regions.
- J&K remains a microcosm(a community, place, or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristics of something much larger) of India’s diversity.
- J&K’s immense geographical, ethnic and religious diversity should be the source of strength rather than seen or viewed as a liability.
- Devolution of political power from Centre to J&K should not lead to political hegemony of any one region or political party.
- It should, rather, be accompanied with a devolution of powers within J&K to reflect the former State’s divergent regional and ethnic urges.
- The institutional reconciliation(restore) of differences among these various shades of diversity is one of the prime components for a harmonious solution to the J&K imbroglio(problem).
- Any devolution should have adequate federal checks and balances as accountability and transparency are at the heart of any successful federal democracy.
OVERCOMING THE SETBACK:
- Sadly, the decision, of August, 5, by the Indian Parliament has left everyone dissatisfied in J&K, including the people of Kargil within the separated Ladakh.
- Political class in J&K had been assiduously(with care) trying to bridge for several decades, and at grave risk to our lives.
- It has only compounded(complex) the divide between J&K and the rest of the country.
- As we complete a year of this new constitutional reality, the situation in J&K calls for serious introspection from all those who believe in an inclusive and accommodative idea of India.
- We need multiple bridges including those between J&K and the rest of the country and among the various communities and regions of the former State.
- In order to build these bridges we will need a greater multi-layered, institutionalised decentralisation and respect for democratic rights for the people of J&K.
- And in this respect the developments that ensued(followed) after August 5, 2019 have run contrary to both.