The erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir ceases to exist on Thursday, making way for the two newly minted Union territories (UTs) of Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir, with Radha Krishna Mathur and G.C. Murmu as the first lieutenant-governors (L-Gs).
However, against the backdrop of the historic division, people’s discontent is simmering against the Centre following the 72-day communication clampdown and curfew, coupled with a shift in strategy by militants, who have now trained their guns on civilians, labourers and apple growers from outside J&K.
Members of political parties across the spectrum say dialogue with the people of the state is the only way forward. With winter approaching, when terrorism is likely to be at its lowest, the next five months will be key to initiating back-channel dialogues with political parties and other stakeholders.
While the central government has vowed to usher in development and normalcy, experts say the absence of any leadership and growing discontent in the region make it imperative for the government to iron out differences with the people.
“This is a very dangerous situation that has been created. There is nobody left who can control the situation. People are very angry with what has happened over the denial of freedom and the forced imposition of a solution. So the government needs to first figure out how it will address this before proceeding further," said Noor Ahmad Baba, a political analyst in Kashmir.
In contrast to the discontent in Kashmir, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker from Ladakh, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, has echoed the sentiment of Ladakhis by hailing the division as a mark of achieving “independence from Kashmir".
The ground sentiment in Kashmir, Baba says “is not conducive to any kind of development unless there is people’s participation".
The Union government has not just stripped J&K of its statehood by abrogating provisions of Articles 370 and 35-A, it has also opened a Pandora’s box of concerns, primarily in the Kashmir Valley. With most leaders of prominent political parties and separatist groups having been taken into detention, senior members of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) point out that the government should vigorously reach out to people and start a dialogue.
“The process of dialogue has started with various political parties. Members of the government are also talking to both the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party, but the real challenge is that the government should be seen to be engaging with the people and the promise of development should touch the lives of people. The government has made the promise of development, and now if it is not visible, the Union government will lose credibility and opportunity in Kashmir," warned a senior BJP leader from Jammu and Kashmir.
The bifurcation of the state takes place in this atmosphere of lingering stalemate. The day is historic nevertheless because it’s the first time that a state is being reorganized into two UTs.
On the administrative front, Ladakh will not have an assembly and will be directly governed by the central government through the L-G. The rules to govern under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, are yet to be specified.
Like Ladakh, the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir Union will also have an L-G. According to the J&K reorganisation bill tabled by Union home minister Amit Shah in Parliament in August, the strength of the assembly will be increased from 107 to 114, following a delimitation exercise.
At the same time, the Union home ministry is yet to decide on how the assets of the erstwhile undivided state will be divided between the two UTs.