Article 370 of India’s Constitution is a solemn pledge the rest of India gave to the citizens of Kashmir State under a unique agreement on its accession to India. Then Governor General of India Mountbatten signed it, Prime MinisterNehru and Home Minister Vallabhai Patel assented to it, Sheikh Abdullah agreed to it, the Constituent Assembly sealed it. The article was temporary and transitional in the sense that until a constituent Assembly constituted under the wishes of the Kashmiri people decided to abrogate the provision, the Article would stay. The legality of this arrangement was tested in the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir which ruled that the provision is guaranteed; it could not be amended or abrogated. The Supreme Court threw out a Public Interest Litigation seeking its abrogation by the Court. The Constituent Assembly of Kashmir dissolved without passing a decision against it, which made the provision permanent and sacrosanct.
Under the UN Resolution 47 if 1949, which stated that “in order to ensure the impartiality of the plebiscite Pakistan withdraw all tribesmen and nationals who entered the region for the purpose of fighting and that India leave only the minimum number of troops needed to keep civil order,” India’s obligation to conduct a plebiscite in Kashmir has been thwarted by Pakistan by not withdrawing its troops from the POK. On the other hand, a plebiscite invoked by emotions and religious bigotry would only cause death of thousands of Kashmiris and endanger the safety of Muslims in India.
31% Indians voted for the BJP party under Mr. Narendra Modi, who, albeit not enthusiastically, swears by the equality of all citizens of India. The electoral approval was not for the so-called gau-rakshaks (cow protectors) and religious hooligans to force their ideology of hate on the Nation. It’s good to protect the cows and bulls and not to make them forage for food in the garbage heaps on India’s roadsides, but illegal to trade the life of citizens for the life or injury of animals – any animal including the cow. If the government failed to prevent the exodus of Pandits from Kashmir twenty years ago, the government cannot act in revenge – a Nation must not contemplate revenge against its own citizens. Nor must it use the refugees as an exhibit, deliberately not allowing them to resettle till they could go home. Real statesmanship would demand that administrative arrangements be made for the safe return of the unfortunate Pandits.
One must remember that the accession of Kashmir to India was attempted to be thwarted by the so-called Laskars armed and led by the military officers of an impatient Pakistan under a British General who got their just desserts in return. Kashmiris never questioned the provision, only opposed the government moves to slice away parts of the provision through the back door. Banning beef in Kashmir, where the majority are Muslims, amounted to belittling the provision using the brute force of Hindu chauvinists who got elected from Jammu. This, and the jingoist proclamations by BJP party men to set fire to Kashmir and the open declaration by a party leader that what India wanted was Kashmir, not the Kashmiris. AFSPA is an insult to our democratic claims and has hurt our standing of righteousness in the eyes of the world. It injures the provisions of our constitution.
Our right to Kashmir rests on our sacred belief in secularism and multi-culturism. If India is to be made a Hindu Rashtra, it is only right for the Muslim Kashmiris to want to escape to an Islamic country. The Hindus, no matter how few, who raped and killed a seven-year-old girl to get rid of the few Muslims who live in a Kathua village is sufficient reason for a Kashmiri to fear his survival prospects in India. The army loses its glory earned through treating civilians and saving those caught up by natural calamities when even one Kashmiri girl is killed or when an innocent Kashmiri young man is tied to the bonnet of a running military jeep. The officer who earned much praise for the strategy of ensuring a safe passage from stone-throwing should have known that extremists who resort to suicide bombing do not care for human lives.
The elected civilian government and constituted through machinations had, till it resigned in desperation and disgust, a paranoid existence under the sword of Damocles hung above its head by the army and the central government. At the time of revising this blog, the elected government had resigned; the central government supported by, if not sworn to, the religious laws of Hinduism rules the state through a governor. It is unfortunate but natural that under such an arrangement, the good people of Kashmir fear doom to their way of life. Mr. Narinder Nath Vora, the new Governor, is a man who helped in reconciliation talks with Kashmiris in the past, and gives some hope for reconciliation until a mad call for the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status becomes law.
The Jihadists of Pakistan are not worthy of emulation by us, but that is what many of our jingoists are doing – VHP, Bajrang Bal, Hindu Mahasabha, Shiv Sena, MNS.. you name it.
Special provisions are not new to our Constitution. Article 371-A provides unique powers to the government of Nagaland. Decades after its voluntary accession to India, Individuals of Sikkim enjoy tax exemption not only from the income derived from the State, but also from dividend income received from anywhere. In all, eleven States enjoy (or suffer) special provisions. A duly elected State government of Delhi can be , and is being, thwarted by the central government in any and all of its attempts to improve the lives of its citizens
Article 370 does not belittle the prestige of the government. The far more autocratic government of China suffers two states under a Special Administrative Region agreement that has several provisions that challenge the fundamental policies of the central government. The UK could have done precious little if China scrapped the 50-year agreement with it, but it chose to give Hong Kong to have its liberal democratic ways for a further 50 years. There certainly are hiccups in this arrangement, but no bloodshed. Many of us will not live to see what happens when the special administrative powers are abrogated in 1947. The US has special administrative provisions for Hawai, although a baby born in that state was eligible to become the President of the Country.
Trust me, Kashmiris are a good people. Their trade and economy can only flourish with India, and they know it. Put jingoists behind the bar, and eliminate the alien Jihadis who try to cross the border, but don’t kill the Kashmiri youth. In 2017 a Kashmiri house-boat owner told me: “I am Indian, I want to stay in India. It’s good for my business, and my heart resides in India. But India doesn’t want me. In Bombay I was insulted and thrown out of a hotel when they found I was a Kashmiri Muslim”
Religion is venomous. Keep it out of governance. The world is watching. Keep this Country together.