What the origin of the grape does to the quality of the wine, the special status of Jammu and Kashmir does to confrontationist Indian politics. Last week, Amit Shah became the first Home Minister to announce on the floor of the House that Article 370 is only a “temporary provision”, indicating that it has passed the sell-by date. His colleagues demand the revocation of Article 35, which provides special privileges to J&K’s permanent residents. The BJP is convinced that both are discriminatory and violate the spirit of One India while providing unethical advantages to J&K over other states. It’s time to change the Article from a noun to a verb.
But they are articles of faith for the Valley’s opportunistic leaders like the Abdullahs, the Muftis and the separatists who benefit as the rest of the country supports their luxurious lifestyle, and unproductive governance. Shah exposed their hypocrisy of sending their own children to study abroad while ordering the Valley’s students to boycott classes. They allege that tampering with the Articles violates commitments given to Kashmiris during accession in 1947.
But the provisions only keep J&K poor while perpetuating their dominance. The Valley alone does not constitute the full state; as Shah noted, it covers just three and a half districts in a state of 22, which includes Jammu and Ladakh. But under 35A, only a permanent resident can own property, get employment in the state government or join a state college. While negotiating the instrument of accession Sheikh Abdullah had insisted on a clause that guaranteed the fundamental right of Kashmiris to join the Indian Army but prevented other Indians from joining J&K police.
The misuse of Article 370 has been brazen. In 2002, fearing loss of seats, the Sheikh’s son Farooq Abdullah exploited Article 370 by amending the state constitution to prevent delimitation till 2026, which was actually due along with the rest of India in 2008. Today, in an elected house of 87, the Valley has 46 MLA seats as compared to Jammu’s 37 and Ladakh’s four; thus ensuring Kashmir-centric politics and dominance in multiple spheres.
Ladakh’s size, terrain and geopolitical reasons mandate separate yardsticks. Gujjars, Bakerwals and Gaddies who were granted Scheduled Tribe status in 1991 and form 11 per cent of J&K’s population are denied political reservation, though such sections in the rest of India enjoy all constitutional benefits. Voting rights are denied to West Pakistan refugees, though their brethren in other states can participate in the festival of democracy. Moreover the sizes of J&K Assembly and parliamentary constituencies differ. Correct one and the other will stand corrected automatically.
The Modi administration is reportedly mulling delimitation—the first major step to bring equitable legislative representation in J&K. The need of the hour is One India and One Constitution. Delimitation and abrogation of the paralytic Articles are ideas whose time has come. Only the timing is left to be decided.
Once delimitation is passed, Kashmir will lose the bulk of seats, which places its politicians at a disadvantage. Today J&K is deprived of accessing India’s state of the art institutions, infrastructure, investment, real estate boom and technological upgradation. The Paradise on Earth is a hellhole of semi-developed slums, collapsing schools and tourist heaven-turned-Terroristan.
Most Kashmiris live below the poverty line though separatists and political panhandlers own 90 per cent of the Valley’s most expensive cars and gadgets without visible sources of income. They get full state protection while hapless citizens face bullets of the security forces and bombs of Pak-sponsored terrorists. J&K is a single-window bank where the Centre endlessly deposits funds but cannot withdraw a penny.
As the duplicities of history are outed by the nationalism of today, it becomes obvious that the inclusion of both the Articles in the Constitution was done not in the national interest but only to favour and protect the image of Jawaharlal Nehru, then the prime minister. The Chairman of the Drafting Committee Dr B R Ambedkar had refused to include them in the draft of the Constitution. Home Minister Sardar Patel expressed his total disapproval, although he accepted Nehru’s request in the end. Nehru used Krishna Swami Ayyangar, a pliable member of the Constituent Assembly from Madras, to push through his Kashmir agenda.
Ambedkar is believed to have told Sheikh Abdullah, “You wish India should protect your borders, she should build roads in your area, she should supply you food grains, and Kashmir should get equal status as India. But the Government of India should have only limited powers and Indian people should have no rights in Kashmir. To give consent to this proposal, would be a treacherous thing against the interests of India and I, as the Law Minister of India, will never do it.”
Nehru’s justification for special status to J&K came as an emotional speech in Lok Sabha where he said, “If I mention it, in the old days the Maharaja was very much afraid of a large number of Englishmen coming and settling down there, because the climate is delectable, and acquiring property. So although most of their rights were taken away from the Maharaja under the British rule, the Maharaja stuck to this that nobody from outside should acquire land there. And that continues. So the present Government of Kashmir is very anxious to preserve that right because they are afraid, and I think rightly afraid, that Kashmir would be overrun by people whose sole qualification might be the possession of too much money and nothing else, who might buy up, and get the delectable places.” He went on to announce that “the State legislature shall have power to define and regulate the rights and privileges of the permanent residents of the State, more especially in regard to the acquisition of immovable property, appointments to services and like matters”.
This blatant partiality of a non-resident Kashmiri prime minister percolated into India’s Kashmir policy that projected all attempts to bring J&K into the mainstream as attempts to suppress popular sentiments in the Valley. Decades later, these very same people would turn a blind eye to the barbaric killings of Kashmiri Pandits. They watched with blasé disdain as one lakh Hindus fled their homes, which were then taken over by them. That the pundits enjoyed the same rights under Article 370 was an inconvenient truth brushed under the Kashmiri carpets that adorn the floors of the palatial mansions of ruling political and terrorist clans. Since Kashmir is an essential part of India and will remain so, state leaders should enrol their state in India’s growth story. Any failure on their part will push it into the hands of IS and Taliban, ending in destruction.