On 6 August 2019, the Modi government scrapped Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and its subsidiary provision (A35A). The Jammu and Kashmir state has been abolished and its place taken by two centrally-run and controlled union territories.
All this has been done by presidential order without as much as consulting the Jammu and Kashmir legislature.
The Maharajah of Kashmir, Hari Singh, acceded to India under grave pressure of invaders from across the border. On 26 October 1947 he signed the instrument of accession, while the people of the Valley, under the leadership of the National Conference headed by Sheikh Abdulla, fought against the invaders.
It was in these circumstances that the Constituent Assembly, then busy drafting the Indian constitution, incorporated Article 370 which gave wide autonomy to the state.
At a time when Partition was tearing the country apart on the basis of the erroneous two-nation theory, it is remarkable that the people of the predominantly Muslim state sided with India. So much so that when the communal riots, mass killings and vast migration of the population which accompanied Partition of the country were raging throughout the country, the Valley of Kashmir was a paradise of peace and fraternal harmony.
However, beginning with 1953, successive Indian governments have taken steps to erode Kashmir’s autonomy and to strengthen central control over Kashmir’s affairs – all in betrayal of the promises made in 1947.
It is this betrayal and the denial of Jammu and Kashmir’s democratic rights that are the principal cause of the alienation of the Kashmiri people and the subsequent rise of militancy, which has been manipulated by fundamentalist and fanatical outfits such as Hizbul Mujahidin and subsequently by Pakistan-based and Pakistani army-supported Jaish-e-Taiba. This is Pakistan’s strategy of waging an asymmetrical war against India: by supporting a few thousand Jihadis at little cost, it can keep hundreds of thousands of Indian army personnel pinned down in Kashmir.
Over the last two decades the situation has developed in which the Indian army is perceived by the Kashmiri people as an army of occupation and any incident or protest is liable to create a clash, with frequent casualties, thus creating a vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence. Instead of learning from the tragic history of the past two decades and adopting sane measures to address the grievances of the Kashmiri people, the Modi government has doubled down on this bankrupt policy by opting for further denial of democratic rights of the Kashmiri people and increased suppression.
Modi’s government has put forward by way of justification of its draconian action arguments which are patently false and fraudulent.
It has claimed that Article 370 was removed because it stood in the way of the integration of Jammu and Kashmir into India, when in fact the truth is that the people of the state willingly and voluntarily opted to join India on the basis of the promises given to them by the government of India, which were incorporated into Article 370; and that it is the betrayal of these promises over a period of several decades that has alienated the Kashmiri people and stood as a formidable impediment to Kashmir’s integration into India.
The government asserts that Article 370 bred separatism and terrorism and thus had to be got rid of. Again the truth is just the opposite. It is the erosion of Article 370 over a long period which has produced sentiments of separation and given rise to terrorism. Doubtless, the terrorists have received aid and abetment from across the border, but the problem is home-bred – the Indian government’s boneheaded and insensitive policies, which are hated by the people of the Valley.
Another spurious argument deployed by the Modi government is that Article 370 has prevented the economic development of Kashmir. Again the truth is that Kashmir has lagged behind in economic development because of the rise of militancy, the blame for which must be pinned on the Indian authorities and the policies pursued by them.
A little-known fact which must be brought into the domain of public knowledge is that Kashmir has among the lowest poverty ratios in the country because of the land reform in that state made possible by Article 370. Whereas in India land cannot be taken away from the big landlords without compensation since the Indian Constitution guarantees private property as a fundamental right, the government in Kashmir, thanks to the state’s autonomy under Article 370, was in no way bound by such restrictions. Hence it carried out a serious land reform, taking land from the feudal landowners and giving it to the masses of the peasantry, thus relieving them of the misery inflicted in the old days by the feudal gentry.
The scrapping of Article 370 would bring neither peace nor development nor integration. It is only likely to exacerbate the present bad situation.
The scrapping of Article 370 was accompanied by a total lockdown in the Kashmir valley. Prominent local leaders, including two former Chief Ministers of the state, have been detained; all communications – telephone and internet – have been severed, with the population being imprisoned within the four walls of their houses. Most economic activity is at a standstill. Hardly a recipe for economic development!
Article 370 applies to nearly a dozen Indian states. So why has Kashmir been singled out for this arbitrary treatment? There is nothing new here. The Indian government’s attitude towards Kashmir has been authoritarian since the early 1950s. In 1953 it arrested, and put in jail, Sheikh Abdulla, the very popular leader of the Kashmiri people, and installed in his place a nonentity – Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. It has repeatedly rigged elections and dismissed governments. All these actions have served to build up resentment among the Kashmiris and bred resistance.
Under the Indian Constitution, any change in the boundaries of any state must have the consent of the elected State Assembly. As the latter was dismissed a while ago, as a substitute for that consent, the Modi government secured the approval of the state governor who is an appointee of the central government. On top of this, the government’s actions are illegal as India’s Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that Article 370 was “not a temporary provision”.
The government has decided that there will no longer be any restrictions on non-Kashmiris buying property in Kashmir. This is a barely-disguised attempt at changing the demography of the state, which is only too likely further to infuriate the Kashmiri people.
The BJP is the political arm of the arch-reactionary and militantly communalist Hindu outfit, the RSS. It pursues an agenda of turning India into a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (Hindu raj) run by religious fanatics and chauvinists, for whom non-Hindus do not belong to India. Every decent person, Hindu and non Hindu, Indian or foreign, is duty bound to condemn the Modi government’s actions and demand the restoration of Kashmir’s autonomy and annulment of the abrogation of Article 370.
All persons arbitrarily detained must be released forthwith. For too long the Indian government has treated the troubles in Kashmir as a law and order problem, instead of regarding them as political problems that require political solutions which pay proper regard to the Kashmiri people’s democratic rights and their right to live in dignity. Security forces in Kashmir regularly kill innocent people and civilian protestors without being held accountable for their murderous activities. This must be put an end to.
Only by respecting the democratic rights of the Kashmiri people and the restoration of Kashmir’s autonomy can there be peace and harmony. Failing that, Kashmir will turn into a vast prisonhouse, whose people either meekly accept the miserable conditions imposed on them or fight against these conditions by every means – peaceful and not so peaceful. If they choose to adopt violent means, the blame for that must squarely lie on the doorstep of the fundamentalist Modi government whose fanatical policies are tearing India apart by pitting one religious grouping against another.