Srinagar, Aug 2, 2023- As we are heading towards the celebration of the 4th year of the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A, it becomes imperative to analyse the implications of the move on ground zero.
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was incorporated as a temporary and transitional provision under Part XXI of the Constitution under extraordinary political and historical circumstances.
Due to the inability of Maharaj Hari Singh to decide the merger of J&K with the Indian Union on 15th August 1947, the Two Nation theory ideologues mischievously unleashed the tribal invasion — supported by Pakistan regulars — in October 1947. In those appalling circumstances, the Indian security forces successfully repelled the advances of marauding tribal invaders and took control of the situation, notwithstanding Pakistan continues to be in illegal occupation of a part of Jammu and Kashmir.
Pertinently, the Indian government landed its military forces only after having signed the Instrument of Accession with Maharaja Hari Singh on 26th October 1947. Article 370 was the fulfilment of the commitments made in the Instrument.
What Was Wrong with Article 370?
Ever since the incorporation of Article 370, it was never intended to breed sub-nationalism, which would later metastasise into secessionism — and bring in its wake a trail of death and destruction. Its leitmotif was to address the regional aspirations of the local population while integrating them into the nation-building project.
The local elites, however, narrowly propagated the regional identity issues in exclusivist terms to an alarmist extent, which inevitably eclipsed the process of integrating the local population into the national mainstream and thus prevented the development of civic nationalism among them.
Article 370 was the product of narrowly conceived politics of the pre-globalization era. It was based on the premise that a certain ‘imagined community’ needs to be given ‘special’ status for safeguarding its distinctive historical character. In the era of globalisation, a region or state can afford to remain aloof from the rest of the world only at the cost of reducing itself to an antiquated redundancy.
Although the successive state governments, in cohorts with the Union, reduced Article 370 to a husk by extensively extending most of the provisions of the Indian Constitution to the erstwhile state of J&K, it remained there as a symbolic relic of aloofness. It is noteworthy to state that before the 5th of August 2019, most of the laws and provisions of the Indian constitution were already extended to Jammu and Kashmir, including 94 out of 97 entries in the Union List, 26 out of 47 entries in the Concurrent List, and 260 out of 395 Articles.
Article 370 of the constitution had been maliciously used by the governing elites in J&K to play two sides: tacitly fan the separatist sentiments to seek concessions from New Delhi and, thus, present themselves as the saviours of Kashmir falling into enemy claws. They would then blackmail the Union to overlook their misgovernance and therefore seek the accommodation of their interests.
Article 370 had been used as a camouflage to trigger panic and a sense of vulnerability in the population by making them feel insecure about demographic change, loss of identities and usurpation of economic opportunities. One never knew where the fine line blurred between ‘internal autonomy’ and ‘complete independence’.
The remnants of the mainstream would dog-whistle the population to engage in street battles with police and security forces, the mobs would run over the institutional machinery, the rule of law would be thrown to the wolves and anarchy would rule the roost. This would not happen once, this vile drama would be frequent, episodic, and violent.
This situation of mayhem would provide a fertile ground for the opportunist political elites to promote and relish the fruits of nepotism, anarchy, and disloyalty towards the state. The worst things that Article 370 did to Kashmir were to promote dangerous political ignorance and a sense of state within a state. The unrealistic chase of the chimaera called ‘freedom’ made ordinary poor youths fall for Pakistan-backed propaganda and end up becoming cannon fodder for their devious political interests.
Even the skeletal presence of Article 370 cajoled the youths to assume that separation from India was a possibility because the Article had served as a psychological hurdle in the peoples’ integration with the nation by head and heart. This illusion of autonomy or ‘azadi’ never allowed generations of Kashmiris to fully identify themselves with the nation, take pride in its symbols, and become part of its growth story.
The sub-nationalism that sprung from Article 370 never allowed true nationalism to grow and flourish in the valley. In fact, it prompted people to view every symbol of the Indian nation with contempt and animosity. National Flags would be disrespected, and Independence Day and Republic Day would be remembered as Black Days. The elections would be lost to boycott calls and thin electoral participation.
The fear of terrorist violence would make people lose faith in the ability of the state to ensure their protection. The poor youths wouldn’t aspire to join IAS/IPS or military or corporate services: after all, they were glamorised as ‘holy warriors’ and earmarked for Jihadist violence by the merchants of terror. The unholy mix of tolerance for separatist terrorism and misgovernance had created the perfect social conditions for the vicious growth of terrorism from which ordinary people would endlessly suffer.
Towards a Bright Future
August 5, 2019, was the day of redemption for the people of Jammu and Kashmir in more than one way. It busted the guarded myth that Kashmir would explode if Article 370 was removed. Much to the surprise of one and all, people tacitly greeted the 5th August change by not rising in revolt against the state, a spectacle that would previously be the routine affair. Not a single soul got killed as none protested the change.
Previously, scores of people were killed over trivial issues after every wave of protests. State machinery would turn dysfunctional. Youth would lose respect for the law and ordered living. The schools and colleges would hardly remain open for normal classes. The pulpits of mosques would be used to intoxicate the political climate and provide ideological and doctrinal reasons to wage the so-called ‘jihad’.
The removal of Article 370 was an amputation of an infected organ necessitated by the urge to save the body politic from further damage of separatism. It helped people in general, and youths, in particular, to change their life goals. A new wave of optimism got set in. The youths of poor parents are no longer drawn into the abyss of terrorism.
The hypocrisy of mainstream and separatist politicians got exposed and their anti-national propaganda became an unforgiving sin. When these political elites lost their seats, the public got a cathartic experience of pleasure.
In the post-abrogation era, a new political culture has emerged, replacing anarchy with the rule of law, and encouraging greater public participation in political affairs. The previously marginalized groups, such as West Pakistan refugees, Kashmiri Pandits, women, and Pahari-speaking populations, are now being empowered and treated like equal citizens.
The most equitable change brought about by the revocation was the redefinition of State Subjects, now domiciles of the Union Territory (UT). This change eliminated regressive and discriminatory protectionist hereditary citizenship rights. Now, anyone who has lived in Jammu and Kashmir continuously for 15 years and students who have studied for seven years and taken their 10th and 12th class board exams in J&K can become domiciles of the UT.
In the current rapidly evolving and dynamic global landscape, people have the freedom to travel and contribute significantly to the economies of their host regions. Outdated protectionist measures, like the previous notion of “permanent residency” in the former state of Jammu and Kashmir, do not align with modern globalist and cosmopolitan values and the imperative of buttressing economic growth.
The previous definition of a “permanent resident” of the state of J&K was discriminatory, regressive, and heavily biased against marginalized and vulnerable communities, such as Hindu Dalits, Hindu refugees from West Pakistan, and children of women from J&K married to non-locals. The new Kashmir domicile law, indeed, rectifies these shortcomings, making it a powerful step towards inclusivity and equal rights for all.
For the first time in 34 years, Muharram mourners were permitted to undertake a peaceful procession of grief in Srinagar city. The yesteryears of public disapproval of the state gave way to active engagement of the public in electoral politics, resulting in the successful functioning of the first-ever local self-government at three levels with massive popular participation.
Moreover, the public steadfastly refused to sympathize with terrorists, their sponsors, ideologues, or apologists. Instead, they embraced unity and national pride. Religious institutions have undergone a renaissance, reviving the pre-militancy era of syncretic Sufi values. Mosques and dargahs now promote ideas of communal harmony and patriotism.
Women are free to pursue careers in entrepreneurship or public services without any threat of acid attacks or terrorist reprisals.
Since the former state of J&K suffered from religious intolerance and wanton violence, aesthetics and recreation were missing. The post-Article 370 era witnessed the opening up of theatres, amusement parks, evening sports events, and free movement of people. The signing of foreign investment agreements with various investors has added fresh air to the hope of employment generation and economic trickle-down.
The record tourist flow, peaceful conduct of the Amarnath Yatra, and unprecedented fall in militancy-related violence are testament to the positive winds of change sweeping the region.
Kashmir was as the ‘most dangerous place on Earth’ by the then President of the US, Bill Clinton in 2000. Now, much to the chagrin of hostile neighbours, the same region successfully hosted a G-20 Tourism Working Group meeting in May 2023 in which around 60 delegates of the member states participated. The success sent a strong message to our adversaries.
A strategic milestone, indeed
The annulment of the Article allowed the Union to extend 890 Union laws to J&K, encompassing laws concerning the rights of marginalized communities, children, senior citizens, laws promoting good governance, and domicile laws. All in all, the revocation has led to a positive shift in society, fostering a participative and inclusive political landscape.
Empowered and united, the nation is on its way towards a brighter future, leaving behind the dark shadows of the past.
(The author is President, Jammu and Kashmir Workers Party and can be contacted at [email protected].) (Agency)