Finally, the Article 370 and 35 (A) have been thrown into the dustbin of history. There have been many who are crying foul about this decision. Seen in isolation, the way in which the government went about scrapping the controversial articles appears as an assault on democracy. However, when seen in totality, the hue and cry against the act of the government shows at best the lack of understanding about the way governments function all over the world and at worst, it smacks of rank opportunism.
The first question one needs to ask is: what is so special about the people of Kashmir vis-a-vis the other citizens of the country? Why a state should enjoy special provisions? Why the government of one state was exempted from RTI, RTE or minority rights, reservation policy etc which are applicable to all other states of Indian Union? The validity of the removal of Article 370 is bound to be questioned in Supreme Court, but that aside, the logic of having such a provision is what we need to discuss.
The argument that it is so due to a historical reason doesn’t stand ground. Any agreement made with any monarch before the acceptance of our Constitution isn’t valid. When the 560 princely states of British India merged with the Indian Union, as defined by the Article 291 of our Constitution, a privy purse was fixed to be paid to the former princely rulers and their successors from 1949. By the 26th amendment to the Constitution of 1971, the privy purse was scrapped by the government. The amendment was required because it was a part of the Constitution and not a temporary provision like Article 370. What is relevant is that if the government can go back on a promise given to 560 princely states by saying that it is for the greater well-being of its common citizens, it can very well renege on its promise given to one frightened ruler on the eve of an invasion by some barbarian tribes from across the border.
Kashmir was not the only state that was annexed using force by the Indian government. Hyderabad, Junagadh and later Goa also formed a part of the Indian Union using force. None of them enjoy any special provision.
The third point is made about the suppression of the will of Kashmiri people. Whether in the will of Kashmiri people, the will of the Jammu people and the Ladakh people are included is rarely, if not never, discussed by those putting forward this argument. They argue that J&K Assembly represents the majoritarian will of the erstwhile state and it needs to be respected. By extending the same logic, the Indian Parliament represents the will of the people of India. Yes, it is majoritarianism argument and but at least numerically, it is superior to the majoritarianism argument of only J&K in isolation.
It isn’t the first time that the Union Government has imposed President’s Rule by toppling a democratically elected government. The apostle of democracy in India, Jawaharlal Nehru, started this tradition by dismissing the democratically elected Communist government of Kerala in 1959. After that, under various regimes led by different political parties, the Central Government has imposed President’s Rule 130 times, including eight times in Kashmir. In comparison, Manipur has faced it 11 times, Bihar eight times and Uttar Pradesh nine times in the last 70 years. There is no right of self-determination for any state of India, so why only Kashmir should be granted the privilege? The argument that Kashmir has something special called Kashmiriyat is a feeble one. What makes it so special or superior above other subcultures of India like Marathi, Bengali, Malayali, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Ganga-Jumna, Assamese, Odia and so on? India is a land of many subcultures, living together under a Constitution.
The usage of force to implement the will of the Central Government in a state is riling some people. All forms of governments draw their authority from the usage of force. In a monarchy, the right to the usage of force comes from the carefully crafted divinity of the ruler, or the sanctity of the tradition etc. In a democracy, it comes from the will of the voters. Everything else—minority rights, affirmative action etc—is built on this foundation. Even the Constitution is based on the will of the people. The core of any government is its willingness to use the power and it is as per the mandate given by the people. For doing anything, good, bad or ugly, the government needs to use its power. It may first take the form of coaxing, followed by persuasive coercion and when these fails, the usage of force. The moment any government fails to do so, it loses its authority and anarchy will ensue.
Modern India remains as a stable political entity not because there is a shared culture, history or language, despite the narrative repeated by hyper-nationalists. The present political contour of India is a historical accident, more dependent on the whims of a British Cartographer than anything else. Arguably, there are some elements of history and culture that is shared by conducive regions in the country (sometimes across the border too, like Pakistani Punjab or Bangladesh or Sri Lanka), but the only thing that binds this mind-bogglingly diverse country together is the Constitution and the will of the government to keep the country together, by coaxing, persuasion and then by force as a final resort. For now, the people of India, through its government, are showing the will to hold Kashmir, and the complete integration of Kashmir to Indian Union appears a historical inevitability. It would happen if we remember that there is nothing special about Kashmir or any other state of India, just like there is nothing exceptional about any language, religion, caste or region in India.
Author of Asura, Ajaya series, Vanara and Bahubali trilogy