Repeal Of Article 370
By Shivaji Sarkar
Knots and crosses. Everybody seems to be busy playing this game when it comes to strife-torn Kashmir. The Centre is busy disentangling Article 370’s knot while the Opposition is busy ensuring it is not unraveled. Both cite history, politics, legalities, Constitutionalities et al with the devil taking the hindmost!
The face-off started with Home Minister Amit Shah making plain that the Article which gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir “is only a temporary provision and not a permanent one.” He was participating in a debate to extend the President’s rule in the State and pushed the BJP’s pet issue, repeatedly mentioned in its election manifestos.
Predictably, all hell broke loose with the Congress-led Opposition slamming the Government,, “The Article is the only Constitutional link between the State and the rest of India. It is legally and politically inter-dependent. If one goes, the other goes too….The Article is irrevocable.”
What is it about Article 370 that raises political tempers and hackles? Can one justify why Kashmir should get ‘special status’? Given that the Article has become the biggest impediment to integration of J&K into the Indian Union and symbolises the emotional delineation between Srinagar and New Delhi.
Tragically, Kashmir has been mishandled since Independence. Unlike other 562 princely States which acceded to India after Independence, Nehru’s kid gloving handling led to the loss of one-third State to Pakistan in 1948. After Maharaja Hari Singh signed the “Instrument of Accession” power was handed to Sheikh Abdulla who said the final decision about this would be taken by State Assembly.
Thereafter, Kashmir was given special status and Article 370 imposed bestowing a separate Constitution. Also, except for defence, foreign affairs, finance and communications, the Central Government could make laws only with concurrence of the State Assembly, practically giving it the Veto power.
It stands to reason this became the most touchy feature of the larger Kashmir dispute specially within the States three regions: Muslim Kashmir Valley where the Article is sacrosanct, Hindu Jammu where its abrogation is vociferously supported and Buddhist Ladakh which demands Union Territory status.
Moreover, while a citizen has only Indian citizenship, J&K residents have two citizenships, live under a separate set of laws, including those relating to ownership of property which bars an Indian citizen from purchasing land/property in the State. Wealth Tax, Gift Tax & Urban Land Ceiling Act do not operate in the State.
Sadly, Nehru’s promise that Article 370 was a temporary provision and would get eroded over a period of time has turned out to be a chimera. Worse, it has been made into an “untouchable” provision. Whereby the President has no right to suspend the Constitution, Supreme Court orders are not applicable on J&K, Parliament has no power to legislate Preventive Detention laws, citizens from other State’s cannot get citizenship of J&K.
Look at the absurdity. A Kashmiri girl looses her J&K citizenship if she marries any person residing elsewhere. But if she marries a Pakistani both will get J&K citizenship. Clearly, such a discriminatory provision not only compromises on the right to live with dignity but should have no place in Indian law.
Those hankering for its repeal argue Article 370 conveys a wrong signal to Kashmiris, separatists, Pakistan and internationally that J&K is still to become an integral part of India. It also delinks the State from the country’s mainstream, resulting in its non-development with money lining personal pockets. Woefully, this has lead to alienation of youth vis-à-vis jobs and livelihood whereby there is no Indian-ness among Kashmiris thereby depriving the State of industrial development thanks to doors being shut for outside investment.
This in turn leads to fostering a “secessionist psyche” and fissiparous tendencies whereby anti-nationalist elements thrive by receiving shelter from Pakistan consequently abetting cross-border terrorism. Indeed, Article 370 is a boon for Kashmiri separatists leading to proliferation of rabid anti-India leaders.
Pertinently, during the Constituent Assembly debate Dr. Ambedkar had cautioned Nehru that the Article would cause further division and create difficulties in the State’s full integration with India. Also, it would sow seeds of separatism in the Valley. Undeniably, his fears have come true.
On the obverse some Kashmiris underscore the 1975 Kashmir Accord between Sheikh Abdullah and Indira Gandhi which reiterated “the relationship between J&K and the Union will continue to be guided by Article 370.” Arguing that this was a categorical official assertion granting permanency to what originally had been adopted as a ‘temporary provision’ of the Constitution.
Bluntly, how is it possible that Kashmir agrees to be part of India but refuses to recognise or accept India’s Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State policy. Not only is this discriminatory but tantamount to the State being a part of India yet not a part. Ridiculous to say the least!
Undoubtedly, the Gandhi’s, Abdullah’s and Mufti’s like politicians of their ilk are looking at the short end of the stick, ignoring vital and more significant long-term implications for the country as a whole as well as separatist politics within and outside Kashmir. Pakistan’s agenda is very clear; the unfinished agenda of Partition is annexation of Kashmir.
What next? Clearly, Article 370 completely derides the fact that Kashmir is an inseparable part of India by marking it as a special and different State, which spells danger for the nation State. Add to this, it has weakened and constricted the political and Constitutional integration of the State with India
It is not necessary to read the Chinar leaves to figure out that the end game has begun in Kashmir. It is too early to say which way the pendulum will swing as the Acts and the players are many and so also many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ which do not make a whole. But winds of change seem to be finally blowing over Kashmir. Trying to sweep away the cobwebs of mistrust, misgivings, deceit and sorrow and generate strong winds of public opinion. Hoping to reap a windfall of return to peace and sanity!
What is crucial is whether Shah’s political astuteness and vision will bear fruit. Much will also depend on how his “zero tolerance to terrorism” plays out. But as Uri and Balakot underscore the Centre believes in an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth. Already, over 150 militants have been killed this year along-with separatist leaders being put under house arrest and security cover of 919 people withdrawn. Alongside, it remains to be seen whether constituencies will be delimitated and the stand the Centre takes on Article 35A which places curbs on non-residents ownership of property.
Our leaders need to realize that Kashmir is a national issue, which transcends political planks, ideology, philosophy and thesis. The need of hour is imagination, innovation and impetus. True, one cannot expect dramatic success overnight as winning the minds and heart of the people is not going to be easy. But the Centre’s words of peace with dignity can act as salve to wounds. Perhaps even turn hatred into love.
But even as these words beckon a promise for the future, deep mistrust and lack of confidence is apparent. Kashmiris need to rise to the occasion. Keep above populism, cheap gimmicks and petty politics. Time to give peace a chance. Those who oppose Article 370 need to answer one question: Is Kashmir more important than India? What gives? —— INFA