The political noises over Article 370 the entire last week are reminiscent of the story of the elephant and the seven blind men. Everybody has something to say about its ears, tails and trunk, without even bothering to go into details about what it is and why it is in place. Article 370 was incorporated in the Indian constitution, while it was being drafted, to accommodate Jammu and Kashmir in the light of the Instrument of Accession and the international obligations of India regarding settlement of Kashmir dispute. While on the face of it, the said Article of the Indian constitution, suffixed with the word ‘temporary’ in its annals, offers some kind of a political autonomy to the state, constitutionally and legally it became imperative for Indian government to retain the state as part of the greater Indian mainland only through this Article. Challenging it would run the risk of seceding it from the grand Indian Union. The only other alternative to Article 370 would be a complete coercion and conquest, which would indeed be an ugly word for a democratic country. As for the political autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, it has been eroded excessively through deals like Delhi Agreement and through clandestine control of political sphere of Jammu and Kashmir by New Delhi through induced corruption, rigged elections and support to puppet regimes.
Now contrast this with the noises being churned out. Narendra Modi wants a debate on it with an obvious bias of scrapping it, summed up in the words that “people should decide whether it has been of any benefit to them.” His party has fully backed him, calling for complete scrapping of the Article. Congress has opposed it, maintaining it is unscrappable. National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party have both opposed it maintaining it would be a grave historical and constitutional error besides robbing the state of whatever autonomy is left. Many felt it was a hollow shell but indispensable nonetheless since it was a tunnel allowing the entry of Indian Union into this state.
And there are other noises too, some coming from unexpected corners like Shashi Tharoor’s blissfully ignorant Kashmiri wife who maintains that Article 370 discriminates against women and Kashmiri Pandits and came into being as part of consultation between Nehru, Sheikh and the Maharaja. Knowledge would come much to her disappointment; the Maharaja was not a part of the constituent assembly. Besides, the Article 370 is distinct from the permanent resident law, commonly called the state subject law, which was brought in by the Maharaja in 1927 at the behest of Jammu Dogras and the Kashmiri Pandits, who felt insecure due to the influx of the Punjabis, who were much more economically empowered and educated. For years this law has been marked by the silent ambiguity over question of gender (though it is a blatant lie that it has ever denied women the right to inheritance) but where does Article 370 stand as a stumbling block. The state government is well within its means, and supposedly in the process, to make the state subject law suitable enough for addressing the gender question without compromising either on the special status of the state or the nature of the state subject law that seeks to protect its unique identity.
The other noises for and against the Article 370 sharply bring out not just our collective limited knowledge on the subject but also dichotomies surrounding us, bitterly exposing our political hypocrisies. Many feel that Article 370 should be scrapped because it forbids the penetration of Indian laws meant for public good and the latest controversy over Panchayati Raj related 73rd and 74th amendment are profusely quoted. What is it that stops state government from extending Indian laws meant for public good when it has been the first one to extend laws like POTA that can be used against the public or for political vendetta? Only corrupt, complacent and puppet regimes that chose to listen to the diktats of New Delhi to ensure the de-democratising of civilian space. Certainly nothing prevents them from drafting their own similar laws, perhaps even better ones. Is it not a fact that the state’s land reforms way back in 1950s stand as an inspiring model for rest of the country. As for the 73rd and 74th amendment in particular; these are meant to ensure greater de-centralisation of power and empowerment of leaders at the grassroots. Does this de-centralisation of powers at the grassroots have to come with the centralization of authority in New Delhi? Why is it that the state government which sings the autonomy song on the logic of decentralised power structures fails to see reason in decentralisation of powers within the state at the regional or panchayat level.
Narendra Modi wanted to churn a debate, he has indeed started a public discourse on Article 370; unfortunately it is neither guided by reason nor by knowledge. The hypocrisies it lays bare reveals that the debate was never intended to be for public good or for greater democracy with more decentralized polity, but only for petty political convenience. Had it been so, we’d have been talking about strengthening the provisions of Article 370 and making this autonomy model a shining example for rest of the country, which has already begun craving for democratic federalized power structures and institutions.