An Im­por­tant Link

Re­peal­ing Ar­ti­cle 370 will be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for the BJP gov­ern­ment even if it has the req­ui­site strength to ef­fect a con­sti­tu­tional change.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Dr. Raza Khan

The state­ment of an In­dian state min­is­ter of the re­cently in­stalled gov­ern­ment of the Bharatiya Janata Party about ini­ti­at­ing a de­bate on the is­sue of ab­ro­gat­ing the spe­cial sta­tus of In­dian Kash­mir, as en­shrined in Ar­ti­cle 370 of the In­dian Con­sti­tu­tion, has trig­gered a big con­tro­versy. There would be per­va­sive and far-reach­ing reper­cus­sions for In­dia and the re­gion in case the rad­i­cal BJP gov­ern­ment takes steps to scotch the spe­cial sta­tus of Kash­mir within In­dia’s state struc­ture.

The con­tro­versy started when soon af­ter tak­ing charge, State Min­is­ter Ja­ten­dra Singh talked of the need for ‘re­think­ing’ Ar­ti­cle 370 of the In­dian Con­sti­tu­tion which gives spe­cial sta­tus to the state of Jammu and Kash­mir within the In­dian state struc­ture. This spe­cial sta­tus pri­mar­ily gives the Kash­miris the power to de­cide which of the laws, leg­is­lated by the In­dian par­lia­ment, may be ex­tended to the state. In this con­text, this is in­deed a very im­por­tant pro­vi­sion of the con­sti­tu­tion. There­fore, propos­ing its ab­ro­ga­tion caused rip­ples in the In­dian po­lit­i­cal land­scape – par­tic­u­larly in the po­lit­i­cal and public cir­cles of Jammu and Kash­mir. Re­act­ing to Singh’s state­ment, Chief Min­is­ter of Kash­mir, Omar Ab­dul­lah re­port­edly said, "Ei­ther the ar­ti­cle will re­main on the statute book or Kash­mir won't be a part of In­dia."

Al­though Min­is­ter Singh said af­ter­wards that he was mis­quoted but it was not an iso­lated state­ment of any BJP leader that could be be­lieved to have been taken out of con­text. The fact is, ab­ro­gat­ing the spe­cial con­sti­tu­tional sta­tus of Kash­mir was a part of the BJP’s elec­tion man­i­festo and

even Prime Min­is­ter Modi had vowed to do it dur­ing his elec­tion campaign.

Ap­par­ently, the point re­gard­ing Kash­mir’s spe­cial sta­tus in the BJP man­i­festo was merely rhetor­i­cal and dem­a­gog­i­cal. In other words, the BJP in­cluded the de­mand in its elec­tion man­i­festo to at­tract votes of Hindu rad­i­cals and ul­tra-In­dian na­tion­al­ists. Here it must be un­der­stood that dur­ing elec­tion­eer­ing, po­lit­i­cal par­ties and lead­ers, par­tic­u­larly rad­i­cal po­lit­i­cal out­fits, play to the gallery. They get car­ried away by the emo­tions of their sup­port­ers or of their own, which forces them to make prom­ises that are hardly doable. Con­sti­tu­tion­ally speak­ing, it would be well-nigh im­pos­si­ble for Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s gov­ern­ment to end the spe­cial sta­tus of Kash­mir.

Ar­ti­cle 370 was in­cluded in the In­dian Con­sti­tu­tion of 1950 by the Con­stituent Assem­bly of In­dia. There­fore, its ab­ro­ga­tion could not be done through mere rhetoric. Even if the BJP has the req­ui­site strength of mem­bers to ef­fect a con­sti­tu­tional change, it would be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to re­peal the ar­ti­cle. The rea­son is that Ar­ti­cle 370 is the only link between the state of Jammu and Kash­mir and the In­dian Union. If this ar­ti­cle is re­pealed, it would be like sev­er­ing the sole link of the state to the coun­try, as also stated by Omar Ab­dul­lah.

The sec­ond rea­son, which per­haps mo­ti­vated the BJP to come up with the an­nounce­ment, is the party’s de­sire to fully in­te­grate the J&K state in the In­dian Union. From the BJP’s ul­tra­na­tion­al­is­tic, at times chau­vin­is­tic, stand­point, this makes a lot of sense. The party and its ide­o­log­i­cal al­lies, such as the Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh (RSS), con­sider In­dia not merely a state but a con­cept and a rein­car­na­tion of Hin­duism. They be­lieve that no part of it could be sev­ered, par­tic­u­larly those parts that con­sti­tute the state. There­fore, re­gard­less of whether or not the BJP gov­ern­ment could re­peal the spe­cial sta­tus of the state of Jammu & Kash­mir con­sti­tu­tion­ally, it would like to ef­fect such a change po­lit­i­cally and ide­o­log­i­cally.

The BJP lead­er­ship also knows that chang­ing the sta­tus of Kash­mir may not be pos­si­ble im­me­di­ately. Thus, rais­ing the is­sue is a clever move aimed at start­ing a de­bate in the an­tic­i­pa­tion that it could grad­u­ally trans­form into a pop­u­lar de­mand over the years. The aim may never be achieved be­cause of its un­ac­cept­abil­ity to Kash­miris, whether it is a pop­u­lar de­mand in In­dia or not. Even pro-In­dian Kash­miri politi­cians like Chief Min­is­ter Omar Ab­dul­lah and lead­ers of the Kash­miri op­po­si­tion party, the Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party have re­jected any move to ab­ro­gate Ar­ti­cle 370.The com­mon Kash­miri, who has suf­fered great in­jus­tices and re­pres­sion at the hands of the In­dian state, would also throw out such a move. Be­wail­ing the pos­si­ble leg­is­la­tion, PDP Pres­i­dent Me­hbooba Mufti said, "Ex­perts be­lieve Ar­ti­cle 370 is the bridge of Jammu and Kash­mir's ac­ces­sion to the coun­try and if you break it, you go back to the pre1947 po­si­tion. Are you ready for that?"

To de­flect the crit­i­cism com­ing its way, the lead­er­ship of the BJP has come up with the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion that Ar­ti­cle 370 is a hin­drance in the devel­op­ment of Jammu and Kash­mir. In this re­gard, the BJP lead­ers cite the state’s sub­ject laws which pre­vent out­siders from pur­chas­ing prop­erty in the state. In fact, th­ese state sub­ject laws were aimed at pro­tect­ing the in­ter­est of the largely poor res­i­dents of Jammu and Kash­mir. The un­der­de­vel­op­ment of the val­ley has been due to the ad­verse se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion pre­vail­ing there since the 1989 up­ris­ing and the state ter­ror­ism un­leashed on the peo­ple. Against this back­drop, the BJP’s ar­gu­ment that Ar­ti­cle 370 and the priv­i­leges avail­able to J&K res­i­dents is a hin­drance to the devel­op­ment of the state is with­out a ker­nel.

Any ef­fort by the BJP gov­ern­ment to end the spe­cial sta­tus of Kash­mir by re­peal­ing Ar­ti­cle 370 will bode ill for the re­la­tions between the res­i­dents and the state of In­dia. A large ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple of J&K al­ready have strong anti-In­dia feel­ings due to the un­abated state re­pres­sion and large-scale un­der­de­vel­op­ment that has re­sulted in poverty and un­em­ploy­ment. In this sit­u­a­tion, any move by the BJP – which is in­fa­mous for its Hindu re­vival­ist agenda – would be re­ceived un­fa­vor­ably by the Mus­lim ma­jor­ity pop­u­la­tion of Kash­mir.

Fur­ther­more, any ef­fort by the Modi gov­ern­ment to put an end to the spe­cial sta­tus of Kash­mir would fur­ther dam­age Delhi’s re­la­tions with Is­lam­abad. Pak­istan is a sig­nif­i­cant party to the Kash­mir dis­pute and any change to the sta­tus of In­dian Kash­mir is likely to de­rail the process of nor­mal­iza­tion of ties between the two coun­tries. The re­cent en­deav­ors by Pak­istan Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif to ease the strained re­la­tions between In­dia and Pak­istan will suf­fer a big blow.

So the ul­ti­mate ca­su­alty, if the BJP’s sug­ges­tion is put into ac­tion, will be peace in South Asia. The BJP gov­ern­ment must re­think its strat­egy and re­al­ize that it is no more run­ning an elec­tion campaign. Now, the heavy re­spon­si­bil­ity of gov­ern­ing one of the most pop­u­lated coun­tries of the world is on its shoul­ders. It must ex­er­cise re­straint and show tact and mag­na­nim­ity so that South Asia could de­velop and thrive. The writer is a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and re­searcher. A Ph.D. in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, he holds ex­per­tise in gover­nance, ter­ror­ism and rad­i­cal­ism in South Asia and the Af-Pak re­gion.

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