In the din of protests in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), long-standing cleavages between the main regions of the state, Jammu on the one hand, and Kashmir, on the other, are obvious. These must not be allowed to swell into a demand for separate states.
In this welter of events since the annulment of the order transferring land to the Amarnath shrine board, not a day has passed without some grievance or the other being aired in the various towns of the state. The transport blockade in Jammu and the consequent reaction in Srinagar are only a manifestation of this divide. If the people of Jammu have longed for regional autonomy, residents of the Kashmir valley have their problems as well.
Creation of more states by splitting J&K will help no one. It will only cement a communal arrangement: Hindus in Jammu and Muslims in Kashmir. This runs against the grain of what India has always stood for. After 1947, religion as ground for creation of new states has been a big no. The only, imperfect, example is that of Punjab. But that was under very different circumstances in a different age. If J&K is split, it will be openly accepting this as a principle. It would also undermine secularism.
J&K as it exists today came into being under circumstances different from many other states. Unlike a Kerala or a Bihar, different parts of the state were conjoined at different times. This has left its mark, and regional imbalances — be they in recruitment to government service, legislative representation and others — are a fact of life in the state. The way out would be to address regional issues in an amicable way.
This is easier said than done, especially if left to politicians alone. The last time such an attempt was made, in the form of the regional autonomy committee, it created more problems instead of providing a solution. At that time, there were electoral calculations behind the move, as they are in the present turmoil.
What is required is a mechanism that is delinked from any electoral concerns. There are ways to address contentious political questions without bitterness and violence. The best time for that is after assembly elections, not before them.
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