The Supreme Court of India on December 11 gave a historic verdict on the repeal of Article 370 and 35(A). Through the judgment, the court upheld India’s sovereignty and integrity, which every Indian cherishes. The Supreme Court has rightly observed that the decision taken on August 5, 2019, is for enhancing constitutional cohesion and not for isolation. The court also accepted that Article 370 is not permanent.
Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh’s breathtaking landscapes, serene valleys and majestic mountains have captivated the hearts of generations of poets, artists and explorers. It is a place where grandeur meets the extraordinary, where the Himalayas touch the sky, and the pristine waters of its lakes and rivers mirror the heavens. But over the past seven decades these places have seen horrific forms of violence and unrest, much of which the extraordinary people of today never deserved.
Unfortunately, due to centuries of colonization, especially economic and emotional subjugation, we have become a confused society. Instead of taking a clear stand on fundamental issues, we have accepted a dual system, which actually leads to confusion. Unfortunately, Jammu and Kashmir has fallen prey to such a mentality. At independence we had an opportunity to start afresh for national integration. Instead we decided to continue with the misguided approach, which ignored the national interest in the long run.
I had the opportunity to be associated with the Jammu and Kashmir Movement from the beginning of my life. I belonged to an ideological framework where the issue of Jammu and Kashmir was not merely a political issue—it was a matter of taking into account the aspirations of society. Dr. Shyamaprasad Mukhopadhyay held an important position in the Nehru cabinet. He could have stayed in government for a long time. Yet on the Kashmir issue he backed down and chose the hard road. He had to give his life for this. As a result of his efforts and sacrifices, crores of Indians became passionately attached to the Kashmir issue. Many years later Atal Ji (Atal Bihari Vajpayee) delivered a powerful message of ‘Insaniyat’, ‘Jamhuriyat’ and ‘Kashmiriyat’ at a public meeting in Srinagar, which has been a source of great inspiration.
It has always been my firm belief that what happened in Jammu and Kashmir was a big betrayal—to our nation and the people who live there. So I had a strong desire to do whatever I could to remove this injustice to the people. I have always wanted to work to alleviate the suffering of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Generally speaking, Articles 370 and 35(a) were the main obstacles. And its victims were the poor and lower class people. These articles ensured that the people of Jammu and Kashmir never got the same rights and development that the rest of India got. These passages create distance between people of the same race. As a result, many people, who wanted to work to solve the problem of Jammu and Kashmir, did not. Even after feeling the pain of the people there.
As an executive looking closely at the issue over the past few decades, I have gained a keen sense of the specific complexities involved. Yet I was clear about one thing: the people of Jammu and Kashmir want development and they want to contribute to the development of India based on their strengths and skills. They also want a better quality of life for their children—free from violence and uncertainty. Thus while serving the people of Jammu and Kashmir, we prioritize three pillars—understanding citizens’ concerns, building trust through supportive roles and prioritizing development, development and more development.
Just after we assumed office in 2014, severe floods caused extensive damage in the Kashmir Valley. In September 2014, I visited Srinagar to take stock of the situation and announced a fund of Rs 1,000 crore as special assistance for rehabilitation, indicating our government’s commitment to support people in times of crisis. I had the opportunity to meet people from different walks of life and there was one common theme in these interactions—that people not only wanted development, they also wanted to get rid of the rampant corruption that had been going on for decades. In memory of those I lost in Jammu and Kashmir that year, I decided not to celebrate Diwali and decided to stay there on Diwali.
To further strengthen the development journey of Jammu and Kashmir, we decide that our government ministers will visit there frequently and interact directly with the people. These frequent visits also played an important role in building goodwill. From May 2014 to March 2019, there have been more than 150 ministerial visits. This is a record. The special package of 2015 was an important step in meeting the developmental needs of Jammu and Kashmir. It included initiatives for infrastructure development, employment generation, tourism development and assistance to cottage industries.
We harness the power of sports by realizing the dreams of the youth and recognizing their potential. Through sports initiatives, we have seen the impact of transforming their aspirations and future pursuits. Sports facilities are improved. Training programs are organized and trainers are arranged as needed. One of the most unique things was encouraging the establishment of local football clubs. The results were outstanding. Talented footballer Afshan Ashiq’s name comes to my mind. In December 2014, he was part of a stone pelting gang in Srinagar. But with the right encouragement, he returned to football. He was sent for training and excelled in the game. I spoke to him at one of the Fit India Dialogues. Remember, there I said it’s time to ‘bend like Beckham’ because it’s still ‘bent like Afshan’. Other youngsters have started taking up kickboxing, karate and more.
The panchayat elections were also a deadlock for the overall development of the region. Once again we have to choose, either stay in power or stand firm on principles. The choice was never that hard and we left the government for our ideals. Then the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir were given priority. The success of the Panchayat elections indicates the democratic spirit of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. I felt an urge to talk to the village panchayat chiefs. Among other things, I made a request to them—the school should not be burnt under any circumstances and it should be ensured. I was glad to see that it was followed. After all, burning down schools harms children the most.
August 5, 2019 is embedded in the heart and mind of every Indian. Parliament has passed a historic decision to repeal Article 370. A lot has changed in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh since then. The court verdict came in December 2023. But seeing the wave of development across Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, the People’s Court has been vocally supporting the parliamentary decision to abrogate Article 370 and 35(A) for four years.
At the political level, the past four years have brought renewed faith in grassroots democracy. Women, Scheduled Castes and Tribes and marginalized sections of society were not getting their due. At the same time the aspirations of Ladakh were ignored. August 5, 2019 changed that. All central laws now apply there without fear or prejudice. Representation is also broader—a three-tier panchayat system is in place. BDC elections have been held. The neglected refugees are also beginning to enjoy the fruits of development.
Key central government projects have reached the final stage. Thus all sections of the society are included. These include the Soghya and Ujjwala schemes. Progress has been made in housing, tap water connection and financial inclusion. Healthcare is a major challenge, which infrastructure has been developed to meet. All villages have reached the ODF Plus limit. Government vacancies, which were hotbeds of corruption and favoritism, have been filled in a transparent process. Other indicators such as IMR have improved. The development of infrastructure and tourism is something for everyone to see. The credit is naturally to the resilience of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, who have repeatedly shown that they only want development and are willing to be the drivers of this positive change. Earlier there were question marks over the status of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Now the record growth, development and tourist flow have only left a surprising mark.
The Supreme Court has reinforced the spirit of ‘Ek Bharat, Shrestha Bharat’ in its December 11 verdict. It reminded us that we are defined by bonds of unity and a shared commitment to good governance. Today, every child in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh is born with a clear picture, where he can paint a future full of vivid aspirations. Today people’s dreams are no longer confined to the past, but to the possibilities of the future. After all, all forms of despair have been replaced by development, democracy and dignity.
The author is the Prime Minister of India. This article is published courtesy of the Indian Express newspaper in India.