Article 370 Is One Of The Issues Before The Electorate In Jammu And Kashmir
SHAHID Ahamd, an unemployed youth from Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, has been beavering away to get a government job for the past three years. Although he has applied for a couple of jobs advertised by the Jammu and Kashmir government, the authorities, following the reports of discrepancies in the selection process, scrapped the recruitment process.
The gruelling wait for a job has now begun exacting a toll on his health, and sometimes he feels that he is slipping into depression.
For Ahmad, the ballooning youth unemployment is a major issue in Jammu and Kashmir, and the political leaders in the region must do something about it.
Given the mood of the electorate, a host of issues like rising unemployment, protection of land and jobs, farmers’ issues, release of prisoners, and scrapping of draconian laws could appeal to the electorate during the upcoming Assembly elections. Although political analysts believe that the restoration of Article 370 of the Constitution will remain a critical poll promise for key political parties in Kashmir, the other issues may take the lead.
Unemployment in the region has witnessed a quantum leap over the past several years. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, an economic think-tank and business information company, has pegged the unemployment rate in Jammu and Kashmir at 32.8 per cent for the month of August, which is the second highest in the country.
The abrogation of the special position of Jammu and Kashmir which, according to the Bharatiya Janta Party (‘BJP’), had stymied the development of the region, did not help creating enough job opportunities for the unemployed youth. The government has failed to prod private investors into investing in Jammu and Kashmir by restoring normalcy in the region.
In the absence of big corporate houses, the government is the only major employer in the region. About 69 percent of the population, according to the 2011 census, in Jammu and Kashmir is below the age of 35 years, and there are more than 2,50,000 educated jobless youth. The key issue before this large chunk of population is finding government employment.
“The youth cannot wait till the larger political issues are resolved. We need immediate relief”, said Ahmad.
Professor Noor Ahmad Baba, a prominent political analyst from Kashmir, said that there was much desperation among the youth, and the joblessness was the most pressing issue.
“The political parties like the National Conference will take up the issue of Article 370 during the elections, but there are a string of other issues confronting the people in both the regions of Jammu and Kashmir”, he said.
Prof. Baba said that Jammu and Kashmir had been reeling under bureaucratic rule for a long time, which has given rise to multiple issues, including the joblessness
“These issues will find an echo in the upcoming elections”, Baba said.
Protection of land and jobs
Following the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution, the government has effected sweeping changes in the land laws of Jammu and Kashmir. It scrapped 12 laws, including the crucial Jammu and Kashmir Big Landed Estate Abolition Act, which put paid to the landlordism, and did away with the phrase “permanent resident of the state” from section 17 of Jammu and Kashmir Development Act, 1970, thereby paving the way for outsiders to buy land in Jammu and Kashmir. It also amended 14 other laws.
These changes unsettled the people in both the regions, precipitating apprehensions that non-residents would eat up their share of jobs and make demographic changes.
All the non-BJP political parties share common views with respect to the protection of land and jobs. Some political parties have already hinted at making this a major poll plank during the elections.
Former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who recently parted ways with the Indian National Congress and is believed to be doing the BJP’s bidding, has already said that he would strive, among other things, for the protection of land and jobs.
“The protection of land and jobs is a major concern for everyone in both the regions and it is another issue that political parties will raise during their poll campaign”, said Prof. Baba.
Senior Jammu-based journalist Ashutosh Sharma said that people in Jammu had already sought constitutional safeguards vis-a-vis land and jobs.
“This is one of the key issues that people may vote for in the upcoming Assembly polls”, Sharma said.
On September 14, fruit cultivators staged a protest in the apple-rich Sopore town, some 45 km north of Srinagar, against the halting of fruit-laden trucks along the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway. The protestors griped that the unnecessary halting of trucks incurred them heavy losses as the fruits, with low shelf life, turned bad. This is the third time since July this year that the issue had brought fruit growers to the streets.
The Rs. 11,000 crore-worth apple industry, which provides livelihood to close to 4 million people, has been grappling with losses over the past several years. Despite producing copious amounts of crop, the apple growers are experiencing losses. The long-drawn-out lock downs of the previous years, unseasonal snowfall in 2018 and 2021, and disruptions in the movement of trucks have left thousands of growers in utter distress.
There is a general feeling among the apple farmers that the government is doing little about promoting the apple industry. The lack of cold storage units, seamless and timely transportation of perishable fruits, and falling prices due to the import of duty-free apples from Iran via Afghanistan are some of the pressing issues confronting the farmers.
Javed Ahamd, an apple grower from Shopian, said that they were forced to sell their produce for a song as the duty-free apples imported from other nations priced lower.
“It needs political will to address these issues”, said Ahmad.
He claims that for them, the issues related to the apple industry will take precedence over any other issue during the elections.
“We support the restoration of our special status but there are other issues as well that needs an immediate attention”, Ahmad added.
Draconian laws and release of prisoners
Hundreds of people, including political, social and religious leaders, have been booked under draconian laws like the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (‘PSA’) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act over the past several years, and lodged in different jails outside Jammu and Kashmir. The release of these prisoners will be another dominant issue in the upcoming polls.
Political parties in the Valley have already begun demanding not only the release of these prisoners, but also the revocation of the draconian laws. Senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, and Convenor and Spokesperson of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami recently sought the review of the cases of these prisoners to facilitate their release.
A few months before the central dispensation stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its special constitutional position, former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had promised the revocation of PSA if voted to power.
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