By any yardstick, Monday’s move by the Narendra Modi government annulling special status to Jammu and Kashmir was one of the biggest and boldest in post-Independence India and equally crucial from a geo-political perspective. On the face of it, it needs to be welcomed on more than one ground though the implications will be known only as time rolls on and the fallout would largely depend on what the Indian government does to genuinely integrate Kashmiris with the rest of the Union, an objective that it says could not be achieved owing to the special privileges accorded under Article 370.
Legally, the majority view among experts seems to be that the government stands on a firm footing. Article 370, which permitted J&K to have its own Constitution, essentially flows from the Instrument of Accession, and those privy to the happenings then had said it was meant to mollify Sheikh Abdullah when he tried to declare independence. In the written text, however, it was deemed to be temporary and transitional in nature. A series of Presidential orders flowed ever since, the most important being Article 35(A) in May 1954. As ratified by the then Constituent Assembly, customs duties were removed and the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court extended to Kashmir even as the state retained the power to restrict employment and purchase of immovable property to only permanent residents. The genesis of the current debate, however, has its roots in 1956 when the Constituent Assembly of J&K dissolved itself without taking a decision on 370. It gave scope to interpret it as deemed permanent though classified temporary in nature.
As stated in the editorial of this newspaper on May 17, 1954, two days after Article 35(A) came into force, amendments to certain Articles of the Constitution follow from the definitive accession of Kashmir to India, and that it is complete and irrevocable. Once this argument is settled, the question that remains is whether the special provisions did any good to the state or not. The ruling government’s view, as enunciated in the party’s manifesto time and again, has been that it did more harm than good and also precluded efforts to make the state part of the Indian Union in its letter and spirit. The opposite argument has been that the Centre has, over the years, done little to make people of Kashmir believe that the country cares for them.
From a political standpoint, there could not have been a more opportune time on the domestic front for the Modi government to go ahead with a legacy-shaking law given that the Opposition is ineffectual and in complete disarray even as a large section of the Indian population is in a mood to welcome the change. On the international front, though, there could be challenges and it is possible that it could be dragged to the Security Council.
The manner in which the Centre went about executing its plan — placing former chief ministers under house arrest and virtually cutting off Kashmir from the rest of the world has also come under flak though New Delhi justified it on the grounds that it could not have dealt with the issue in any other manner given the security implications. Separating Ladakh, the source of infiltration, from Jammu and Kashmir and making it a Union Territory also seems to be part of the overall plan to ensure that Delhi has a firm handle on the security front.
Having triumphed politically, the challenges are two-fold now: first and foremost is dealing with a possible violent disobedience, aided and abetted from outside. Second is to win the hearts and minds of people of Kashmir in every possible manner by protecting their Kashmiriyat identity and also jobs and market. We hope the Indian government will work earnestly and quickly in that direction because that alone can offer a lasting solution.