Narendra Modi, during Lalkar Rally in Jammu, set the proverbial cat among the pigeons when he categorically said that the time has come to discuss if residents of Jammu & Kashmir have benefitted from Article 370. Article 370 of the Indian Constitution allows Jammu & Kashmir to have a unique ‘special status’ within the Indian Union. The Government of India has powers to make laws for all States on the items included in the Union List and the Concurrent List, except J&K where besides defence, foreign affairs and communication, it can make or amend laws only with the approval of the State Government. Over a period of time, some changes were made to Article 370 to include jurisdiction of Supreme Court, Election Commission and Comptroller and Auditor General but there are still many areas under the exclusive control of State Government. Article 370 allows the State of Jammu & Kashmir to have a separate Constitution and a separate flag, which makes it the only State in the Indian Union to have that privilege. The unfortunate reality of separate Constitution, besides the obvious feeding of alienation, is that it allows for certain laws which are outdated, unfair and stand in direct conflict with the Constitution of India.
The Constitution of India recognises single citizenship for all its citizens. So while residents of Jammu & Kashmir are automatically citizens of India, residents of rest of India do not become citizens of J&K. Residents of J&K can own property in any part of India, but residents of other States cannot do so in J&K. The property rights in J&k are also outdated and unfair. Till 2002, women who married non-State subjects lost inheritance rights in Kashmir. This is not true for the men marrying non-residents of the State. This blatant unfairness was set right to some extent by J&K High Court judgement in 2002 which allowed women marrying outside State to inherit and buy or sell property. However, children of women married to non-State subjects don’t have the same rights. They cannot inherit, nor can they buy or sell property. To buy and sell property, a State subject certificate is required and in J&K, till today State subject certificate is given on the basis of Permanent Resident status of father or husband only. This is an extremely unfair law and it was to this law that Narendra Modi alluded to when he talked about Chief Minister Omar Abdullah enjoying rights that his Sister Sara Abdullah Pilot does not enjoy. It made sense for Narendra Modi to direct that question at Chief Minister directly because his party has had the dubious distinction of opposing J&K High Court judgement tooth and nail.
While PDP and National Conference – traditional political rivals in the State – can hardly agree on anything, they joined hands to oppose this law which is so blatantly anti-women. It has been eleven years since the J&K High Court judgement was passed, yet Government websites haven’t been updated to reflect the new law. It certainly seems intentional that for the last 11 years, no orders were given to update or change the websites in accordance with the J&K High Court judgement. Not only is this grievous contempt of law, it also shows how National Conference and PDP have both ensured that ordinary folks remain in the dark about the new law and get lost in a bureaucratic maze.
The question that Narendra Modi raised is critical if we are looking at permanent solution to the Kashmir problem and if we are to ensure that residents of Jammu and Laddakh regions don’t feel shortchanged and at the mercy of dominant Valley politics. After 66 years, it is imperative that we ask people of Jammu & Kashmir, if they are better off with Article 370. I have seen over the years that politicians have created a fear psychosis out of this piece of legislation which was originally meant to be temporary and provisional. It has often been communicated to people that without this Article, their identity will be eroded and some terrible misfortune will befall Kashmir. In election rallies, I have seen local politicians instigate people in the name of Article 370. Qayamat or apocalypse is threatened if 370 is even debated.
The fact is that there is nothing sacrosanct about this Article. The sad reality, which is often glossed over, is that it is because of this contentious piece of legislation, people of the State have been kept impoverished, development remains a distant dream and integration and assimilation with mainstream India becomes impossible. Over the years, Article 370 has been unnecessarily made into a super-emotional issue with Kashmiris. It has been conveyed to them that this is their only weapon against India. It is linked with that bogus term ‘Kashmiriyat’ which means nothing. The Indian Constitution is a splendid document which provides equal rights to all its citizens without discriminating on the basis of caste, colour, creed or religion. As citizens of India, people of Jammu & Kashmir need nothing more than the protection by the Constitution of India.
Jammu & Kashmir is amongst the most subsidised States of India. For its sustenance it is completely dependent on grants from Delhi. It is true that a long period of militancy has ravaged the State and therefore it isn’t comparable with any other State, but in the last decade or so, no political party ruling in Kashmir has shown any will to improve the infrastructure, invest in development, create jobs and opportunities for the youth. Instead, local politicians have found the easiest way to cling to power – create fear, build castles of lies and ensure that the enormous monetary grants, that are sent from the Centre are promptly gobbled by the select few. If Article 370 is abrogated, Indian corporations can directly invest in Kashmir without any need for middlemen. Money can flow in, markets can be opened, land can be bought and sold at higher prices. The cosy nexus between ruling elite and a few business houses that control everything from land deals to tourism contracts, will be destroyed. Corruption and nepotism is rampant and unchecked. Article 370 has created an elite class in the State which reaps all benefits and the rest of the population remains impoverished, making them ripe targets for terrorists looking to recruit.
I watched Farooq Abdullah on a television channel yesterday. He said Article 370 is very important for the people of Kashmir. When asked why, he said “Don’t ask me why”. This pretty much sums up the political opinion about Article 370 in Kashmir. No one can explain what will happen if Article 370 is abrogated and why it is important. Article 370 is not a tunnel that connects India to J&K, it is actually an impediment which keeps J&K separate and alienated. We are also told that if Article 370 is abrogated, J&K’s accession to India becomes questionable. This is a myth that must be demolished forever. Maharaja Hari Singh signed the papers of accession on October 26, 1947. It was the same document that every princely state acceding to India signed. Sheikh Abdullah, who represented the voice of people at that time prevailed upon Nehru that State Assembly will take the final decision on Accession. For the intervening time Article 370 was conceived as a temporary provision. The State Assembly ratified the decision later and after that moment article 370 became redundant. It should have been scrapped at the same time.
In this entire debate there is an elephant in the room that everyone knows exists but no one talks about it openly. This elephant in the room is the silent acceptance that J&k must be given special status because it is the only Muslim Majority state in India. Nothing can be more detrimental to the idea of India. Nothing can deliver a bigger blow to the secular fabric of our nation that we are so proud of. Nothing more can expose our hypocrisy in denying two nation theory of Jinnah, if we are comfortable with Article 370. Every citizen of India enjoys equal rights, every citizen of India has equal right to her resources and every citizen of India enjoys freedom and liberty. Two constitutions, two flags and two emblems cannot exist in one nation.
Kashmir has seen much bloodshed, much mistrust and much betrayal. It is time to think out of the box for solutions. It is time to tell Kashmiris that they are equal citizens who enjoy all rights as every citizen of India. We do not need smokescreen of Article 370 which only alienates people further. A Kashmiri remains a Kashmiri as much as a Malyali remains a Malyali, Rajasthani remains a Rajasthani , Bengali remains a Bengali under the umbrella of India. Indian constitution protects federalism of states as much as it protects unique identities of every state and every individual.
Narendra Modi has inititated the debate. It is important that people of Jammu and Kashmir ask themselves: ‘How has Article 370 benefitted them in last 66 years?’
Originally published in : http://www.niticentral.com