The restoration of full internet services in Jammu & Kashmir after 18 months is enormously belated but very welcome. The 550-day suspension will go down as a period in which the world’s largest democracy turned its back on what the Supreme Court has held to be an essential means to exercise the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Indeed, the sheer number of days that millions in the erstwhile state were deprived of a basic facility without which daily life — including education, business, leisure and entertainment — is no longer considered complete, threatens to place this country in a dubious list, alongside nations with questionable democratic credentials.
The ban began on August 5, 2019, when the government abrogated Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, revoking its special status and carving it into two Union Territories. But the long suspension, among other measures, raised question marks on its claim of integrating the region with the rest of the country and promoting greater economic development. It continued even as the security establishment claimed successes in bringing terrorism under control and the National Investigation Agency said its raids in Kashmir had curbed cross-border funding of protests — the two reasons usually advanced for cutting off access to the internet. While the restoration will bring back some welcome normalcy to people’s lives, it is only a step in a larger process. Many steps remain to be taken.
In this context, the challenges in Kashmir can only get sharpened if attempts are made — or are seen to be made — to tamper with the outcome of the District Development Council election results. The Altaf Bukhari-led Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, launched six months after Jammu and Kashmir was split in August 2019, and called the “King’s party”, has now managed to win over enough Independents to take control of the DDCs in Srinagar and Shopian. The monarchical reference and its associated sense of entitlement is already worrying — the BJP should also be concerned about the political fallout of being seen to wrest DDCs without winning them in the election. The Apni Party won five seats in the Valley and its control of two DDCs is hardly reflective of the spirit of the mandate in both places. Having conducted a free and fair vote against all cynical predictions that the results would be a repeat of 1987, the BJP-led government must not be seen to do or to countenance anything that proves the naysayers right.