Jammu and Kashmir: Yes, Prime Minister, another ‘supertrain’

Among the longest and most expensive railway projects ever executed in the country, and long delayed, this rail link will include the ‘highest railway bridge in the world’ over the river Chenab

Srinagar-Baramulla railway link work in progress
Srinagar-Baramulla railway link work in progress

Uttam Sengupta

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first ‘civilian visit’ to Kashmir after March 2019 is expected just before the general election in 2024. Between February and March next year, he is expected to address a public meeting at Anantnag and possibly flag the inaugural run of the Srinagar–Delhi train link. This will be the first time that towns in the Valley will be linked to Jammu and beyond by train.

Among the longest and most expensive railway projects ever executed in the country, and long delayed, this rail link will include the ‘highest railway bridge in the world’ over the river Chenab. The 11-km stretch of track between Banihal and Katra proved to be the most challenging, we hear, but the last of the 55 tunnels is now nearing completion. Experts like former Railways engineer Alok Verma remain sceptical.

A Pandit and a critic

I am a Kashmiri first, before being a Kashmiri Pandit, and I have a
problem with the abrogation of Article 370 and the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir,” said Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak (retd), a Kashmiri Pandit and one of the petitioners who challenged the abrogation in 2019.

In an interview to the Caravan in September 2019, he declared, “Kashmiris never let down India; it is India that has repeatedly let down the Kashmiris”. Kak was referring to the steady dilution of Article 370 over the years.

Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak (retd)
Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak (retd)

“Kashmiris are unlikely to reconcile themselves to the abrogation of Article 370—a much-cherished marker of their special identity, and the humiliation of being downgraded from a state to a
Union Territory,” Kak said, even while conceding that he did not represent the majority opinion among Pandits, who had welcomed the abrogation.

Article 370, a potted history

It was on 17 October 1949 that Article 370 was included in India’s Constitution by the Constituent Assembly. N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar, who worked closely with Sardar Patel in framing Article 370, stated in the Constituent Assembly, “The effect of this Article is that the Jammu and Kashmir state, which is now a part of India, will be a unit of the future federal Republic of India.”

Article 370 (then Article 306A) was passed unanimously—with only one dissenter, who was not the Hindu right-wing ideologue Syama Prasad Mookerjee. The dissenting vote came from Maulana Hasrat Mohani, one of the founders of the Communist Party of India. Mohani wasn’t objecting because Kashmir was being accorded special status, but because he wanted similar autonomy for all other states in a federal spirit.

Article 370 was temporary, to apply only till the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir could modify, retain or reject it. The constituent assembly of Kashmir, before adjourning sine die in 1957, decided to retain it.

N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar
N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar

Patel, the architect of ‘integrated’ Kashmir?

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was the real architect of Article 370, said historian Srinath Raghavan in the Manthan talk he delivered in Hyderabad in 2019. The five-month-long negotiation began in the home of Sardar Patel and was finalised when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was on his first state visit to the United States.
N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar wrote to Patel, asking him to communicate to Nehru that he had agreed to the provision. Sardar Patel then wrote to the prime minister that he had finally managed to prevail and persuade the Congress Parliamentary Party to agree to the provision.

In his talk, Raghavan said that nullifying Article 370—a similar provision for hill states contained in Article 371 still remains—could become a dangerous precedent. A ruling party which finds it difficult to politically control any state—say, Tamil Nadu—may be tempted to bifurcate the state into two Union territories in future, he argued.  

Elections after 10 years, finally?

The last election for the Jammu and Kashmir assembly was held in 2014. The decks have now been cleared to hold an election in J&K after a gap of 10 years, though it was, till a few days ago, a Union territory and not a state.

Meanwhile, the delimitation of assembly constituencies has happened amid protests. The Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganisation) Amendment Bill and the J&K Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023, were both passed in the ongoing winter session of Parliament.

Even while upholding the abrogation of Article 370, the Supreme Court has called for the restoration of full statehood to J&K; Ladakh, presumably, remains a UT. More importantly, the lieutenant governor of the UT of J&K has been authorised to nominate two Kashmiri ‘migrant community members’ to the Rajya Sabha, including a woman, and one Kashmiri displaced from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The provision has upset Kashmiri Pandits, who read this as a sign that the government has reneged on its promise to resettle the migrants back in the Valley.

Kashmiri Pandits who stayed on in the Valley are also unhappy at being left out. They bore the brunt of militancy and have been left out in the cold, they say. Sikhs in the Valley also feel let down. The phrase ‘members of the migrant community’ can include Muslim migrants too, as well as people from Doda, Rajouri and Poonch registered as migrants.

Until the Supreme Court judgement, the buzz was that elections for the assembly of the Union territory of J&K would be held along with the general election.

Now, with the restoration of statehood amid claims of normalcy and peace in the Valley, the court has directed that the state’s assembly elections be scheduled by 30 September 2025.

Celebrations of statehood

Kashmiris in Srinagar were not amused when the Jammu Raj Bhavan hosted the Nagaland Statehood Day celebrations on 1 December. People continue to wonder what made LG Manoj Sinha give his clearance and what indeed was the compulsion to do this.

While most public figures maintained a stony silence in public, former chief minister Omar Abdullah could not help tweeting, “Irony comes to die in J&K. Here we celebrate Nagaland Statehood Day in Raj Bhavan, Jammu, while celebrating ‘Union Territory Day’ when it comes to J&K. Talk about rubbing salt into the wounds of the people here.”

Said people are now waiting to see if indeed they get to celebrate the return to statehood in 2024.

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