Today, a bill to scrap off Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was introduced in the Parliament by the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah. A lot of us look at it as the permanent ‘solution’ to the problem of Kashmir. But here is why the move is wrong at all fronts:
On October 26 1947, in the wake of the Pakistani people occupying a large part of Jammu and Kashmir (what we today call PoK), the then ruler of the state, Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession. It merged the state of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India and it is the sole thread binding the two pieces of land. Under the Instrument of Accession, Jammu and Kashmir surrendered three subjects — defense, external affairs, and communications but it came with a few strings attached.
Clause 7 of the Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh declared that the State could not be compelled to accept any future Constitution of India. The State was within its rights to draft its own Constitution and to decide for itself what additional powers to extend to the Central Government. Article 370 was designed to protect those rights.
Unlike what a lot of us believe, Jammu and Kashmir was not the only state to bargain its share of privileges. There were 12 states who got Special Provisions. Therefore, today when the President signs that bill, all it means is that the Union of India is going back on its words. The same words that got Jammu and Kashmir signing the agreement.
We cannot, therefore, ignore the fact that Article 370 is the basis of the contract called the Instrument of Accession.
India calls itself a Union of States. The Constitution guarantees every single state the right to self governance which is why we have Chief Ministers in every state, unlike Union Territories where we have Lieutenant Governors appointed by the Centre.
Jammu and Kashmir signed to be a State and not a Union Territory. So, today, even after the President signs the piece of paper that was given just an hour of discussion to decide the fate of 1.25 crore people, it will have to pass through the state legislative assembly with a two-third majority. Right now, the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, former BJP Leader, has dissolved the state assembly making him the Constitutional head of the state. To the President, Amit Shah quoted the Governor’s consent as the consent of the State. RIP federalism!
When India approached the United Nations to solve the Kashmir crisis, the solution that was laid out had three conditions:
Until today, owing to Article 35(A), no outsider could own a property in Jammu and Kashmir. This always gave an upper edge to India on the international platform which, unlike Pakistan, claimed that only the original inhabitants and their families live in Jammu and Kashmir. So, if a referendum were to take place today (although it is highly unlikely), only the actual stakeholders would vote for themselves. Now, anyone can go in and be a resident of Kashmir. So, the bleakest possibility of a referendum is now permanently ruled out.
By the way, outsiders cannot own land in Himachal Pradesh too.
Jammu and Kashmir already has the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. After today, it will be divided into two separate Union Territories: Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. The former will have an assembly but will still be ruled by the LG.
Today’s move very clearly states that the local leadership of the State does not matter to the Union. The Union holds absolute authority over the State now. The representation of the Kashmiris would no matter have a say for issues relating to Kashmir.
The local leaders are under house arrest, just like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani were, during the emergency. The Amarnath Yatra has been called off for the first time in 25 years. Army deployment is at its peak. Communication is suspended between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India.
Today, let us just take time out to read what Jayaprakash Narayan had to say in 1966 about Kashmir, “If we continue to rule by force and suppress these people and crush them or change the racial or religious character of their state by colonization, or by any other means, then I think that means politically a most obnoxious thing to do.”
Rajdeep Sardesai also has an interesting take on the whole issue, “Societies move ahead by instilling hope and confidence in its citizens, not by spreading fear and uncertainty. And genuine change never comes at gunpoint but through reforming hearts and minds.”
So, while you will be thumping your chests with chants of support today, there will be thousands of students from Jammu and Kashmir who would have no channel of communication with their parents back home.