The decision to abolish Article 370 was taken by a close committee formed by the government. The announcement was partially expected but not in the manner it came. It came as a surprise for not only the nation, but for the neighbourhood also, most impacted being Pakistan. Advance deployment of security forces was done. All communication was blocked to control spread of rumours. Political entities who had gained the most from the continuation of Article 370 were moved into detention.
The plan of the government was to prevent rumours from being spread leading to instigation of youth, resulting in violence. To handle international criticism and desperation of Pakistan to project this as a violation of existing UN resolutions, the government was diplomatically geared. It conveyed firmly and clearly to all nations and organisations that the decision was an internal matter and within the Indian Constitution. Nothing would change as far as the Lines of Control (LoC) were concerned, nor would India enhance its claim lines.
To prevent Pakistan from exploiting this decision, the LoC was strengthened and strong retaliation to any ceasefire violations or attempted infiltration was resorted to. While it was immaculate in its planning and execution on security and diplomatic fronts, it has missed out key issues of managing change at local levels across the impacted region. Change is disliked as part of human nature, especially if it is drastic and impacts what has been in existence for over seven decades and converted into a religious issue. In recent times, resistance to any change in the valley’s status had been projected as detrimental, rather than beneficial.
On multiple forums, the government was challenged to even attempt this change. Hence, this decision was bound to be resisted tooth and nail. It therefore needed to be handled differently in some respects. Management of change is more than just taking the decision. It involves creating groups to convey reasons behind the change. Due to the existing environment, the government was compelled to adopt a top-down approach as any advance discussion would have been stalled by internal violence and external pressures. Thus, while the government had identified what would be the impact and benefits, it failed to present its case to stakeholders. While management of change dictates that it should have been a multi-step process, in this case it was a ‘sweeping change’ which considering the current environment was bound to be resisted. In addition, the government ignored creating tools for educating stakeholders even after it announced its decision. This increased doubts on the government’s intentions.
The announcement recently by the J and K Governor, Satya Pal Malik, that an additional 50,000 vacancies would be created for residents of the two Union Territories in multiple central agencies came as an afterthought. The much-touted J and K investment summit was also postponed. The ‘golden thread’ of change management is effective communication. These are meant to deal with emerging psychological and sociological factors, which are inherent in managing change. The masses of the state, who have been most affected by this sudden top-down push should have been told the reasons behind the change as early as possible. Communication also implies opening a path for those impacted to vent their frustrations.
There is no doubt that violence emerging from frustrations would need to be controlled. Resistance to change is natural and some should be acceptable. The longer the blockade, the more the spread of damaging rumours. Management of change also dictates monitoring and managing resistance. It has been stated that, ‘Resistance is a very normal part of change management, but it can threaten success. Most resistance occurs due to a fear of the unknown. It also occurs because there is a fair amount of risk associated with change.’ The government did anticipate and prepare for the resistance, however, did little to mitigate local fears.
Till date, no steps have been taken nor planned to be taken to convey the positives of the decision. It has not been done in Jammu, Ladakh or Kashmir. At the grassroots level there remain suspicion, fear and doubt. Unless these are removed, the benefits of the entire exercise would be lost and those impacted would remain suspicious and scared. Management of change also involves celebrating success, an aspect which the government has been doing across the country, but less in the impacted region. However, this stage should have followed ‘managing resistance.’ On the contrary, even before permitting resistance and release of frustration, it has jumped into the celebration phase, ignoring earlier stages.
The final stage of review, revise and continuously improve has begun with the government moving forward with creating vacancies, promising investments and development in the region. While this stage is meant to enhance confidence within stakeholders, it has done little to remove fears, worries and suspicion behind the actions of the government. By maintaining a lockdown, the government has blocked resistance and release of frustration, which is partially right, as Pakistan, local politicians and separatists would seek to inflame the valley.
However, it has led to speculation of rumours and doubts behind the intentions of the government. This flows because the main tool behind management of change, which is effective communication, has been ignored. The government has till date feared resistance and violence in the valley, whereas its lack of communication has created doubt even within the normally peaceful Jammu belt. If the government has adopted a top-down push model for the change, which was essential considering the circumstances, it has ignored measures essential to build confidence and remove fear. This could either be done by spreading positive messages employing multiple sources of media, placing posters across the region or speaking to masses. Curbing frustration and resistance may be ideal for a limited duration, ultimately the state would need to face the test. With multiple entities including Pakistan seeking to enhance resistance, communication with the masses becomes even more important. Sole application of force may not be the solution.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)