‘A single constitution for the entire country.’ ‘How will Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh benefit?’ ‘Article 370 and 35A responsible for backwardness of J&K’.
These are some of the headlines which adorn the front pages of newspapers in Kashmir. They are not news reports but government advertisements.
On August 5, the Centre announced it was scrapping the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution, splitting the state into two Union Territories and removing Article 35A, which empowered the Jammu and Kashmir government to define “state subjects” and grant them specific rights, including the right to own land.
While the announcements were made, Jammu and Kashmir was put under a communications blackout. Over a month later, most electronic means of communication remain hobbled but the state has been trying to reach out to the public in the Valley to create support for the Centre’s decision.
In the villages of South Kashmir, the army hands out flyers listing the many “advantages” of changing Article 370 and 35A. Meanwhile, the Jammu and Kashmir administration, led by Governor Satya Pal Malik, has put out full-page advertisements in Valley-based newspapers to explain the apparent benefits of scrapping special status.
Reversing the ad ban?
Officials at the Jammu and Kashmir Department of Information and Public Relations said that the advertisements on Article 370 and 35A started from September 3.
“The advertisements are being issued to 15 newspapers in Kashmir division and other 15 papers in Jammu division,” said an official from the department. “Barring a day, the Article 370 advertisement continued till September 12.”
These include newspapers that the government had stopped giving ads to just months ago: Greater Kashmir, the Valley’s largest circulating English daily, and its sister-publication, Kashmir Uzma, an Urdu daily. The Kashmir Reader, the other paper cut off from government ads earlier this year, has not received the Article 370 advertisements.
Information department officials suggest not all government ads have been restored to the newspapers. “We were told to issue only this ad [on benefits of scrapping special status] to Greater Kashmir,” said one official.
‘How will these changes benefit the common man?’
“In recent weeks, important decisions have been taken regarding Jammu and Kashmir. Articles 370 & 35A have been abrogated or substantially modified and other important changes have been made,” said the text-heavy advertisement that appeared in Greater Kashmir. “How will these changes benefit the common man? What advantages will accrue to the region?”
The “advantages” are divided into six sub-heads: it will dispel the “backwardness” that afflicted Jammu and Kashmir under Articles 370 and 35A, it will bring about a “new dawn for youth”, it will ensure “transparency and accountability.”
Above all, the advertisement claims, the changes will bring the fruits of national development to the Valley: “These two articles kept the state isolated and away from the development processes in the country for a long time. The special status benefited only a select few e.g Hurriyat leaders and people working for them.”
The advantages of development, according to the ads, are also detailed: “Investors will pump in capital and resources, industries and services will be set up, employment opportunities will multiply, big educational institutes will proliferate, health sector will grow, agricultural sector will be transformed, agro-processing will take a leap forward, ecological and environmental provisions will be enforced and natural beauty will be preserved.”
At the local level, the ad points out, panchayats will get “direct funding” from the Centre and people will “decide their own developmental priorities.”
Besides, it argues, the new arrangement will bring the benefits of nation-wide laws to region: “106 people friendly laws and 9 constitutional amendments of the Indian constitution” will be made applicable to the Union Territories of Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh.