Jammu & Kashmir: The Way Ahead

Article 370 is synonymous with decentralisation and devolution of power, phrases that have been on the charter of virtually every political party in India

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The governor’s rule has returned to haunt Jammu & Kashmir for the eighth time as the PDP-BJP coalition, divided over tackling violence in the Kashmir Valley — and catering to sharply conflicting political constituencies — has come to an end. The divergent consanguinity came crashing on Tuesday with BJP withdrawing the rug from under its coalition partner. The BJP’s decision to quit the alliance is being seen as an effort to pre-empt a precipitate move by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, possibly by September-October. The dramatic decision has cleared the way for the BJP to sharpen its ‘tough-on-security’ plank and follow the policy of hot pursuit ahead of three State polls scheduled later this year and next year’s Lok Sabha contest.

While announcing the divorce from one of the most unsuitable matches in Indian political history, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav blamed Mufti for the failure to restore peace and ensure equitable development of all the three regions in the State. Madhav added that Mufti discriminated against the (Hindu-majority) Jammu and (Buddhist-dominated) Ladakh regions. Madhav’s stress on PDP’s alleged failings on countering separatism and radicalism and lack of attention to Jammu and Ladakh is clearly an effort to reconstruct its hardline credentials, particularly at the national level where the party’s constituency was ill at ease with the arrangement.

PDP’s pleas for a softer approach towards stone-pelters and the perception that it turned the Kathua gang rape case into a ‘Valley versus Jammu’ issue exacerbated the tensions in the coalition. In 2016, there was a complete breakdown of law and order post the killing of Burhan Wani, which made the BJP uncomfortable. The BJP leaders claimed the PDP was known to intercede at even local police station levels to help offenders engaged in violence against security forces; more crucially, information about ‘operations’ was leaking from police stations over which PDP’s writ ran.

The BJP’s ‘surgical strike’ against its ally was targeted to ensure that PDP or the other political groups in Jammu & Kashmir were not given time to react and look for fall back measures. BJP leaders believe that the party will look to recover by addressing its constituency and argue that it now has a freer hand in dealing with terrorism in the State. Its Hindu constituency in Jammu, which always saw PDP as a bigger “evil” than NC, will celebrate Mųfti’s predicament and the crisis of credibility facing her.

The State of Jammu & Kashmir was the scene of a full-blown insurgency in the 1990s, beginning with a near-extermination of Pandits (Kashmiri Hindus) from the Valley. The atrocities incliuded rapes, murders, daily harassments meted out to the minority Hindus by the majority Muslims of the Valley. The persecution and ethnic cleansing continued until the whole surviving Hindu community deserted their home and hearth to wander about as refugees in their own country.

But the Vajpayee era saw some improvement in the ground situation gradually by the end of that decade and rapidly thereafter, with the initiation of peace talks between India and Pakistan and conduct of dialogue between the Union government and stakeholders from Kashmir in the early 2000s. Incidents of violence dropped and voter turnout in elections increased significantly. However, as the peace process petered out, disturbances started to build up again.

The volatile security scenario in Jammu & Kashmir is a manifestation of Pakistan’s proxy war with India. But Pakistan eventually lost the majority support of the people of the Valley, as its double standards lay exposed. Kashmir looked for peace, but with the breakdown in the peace process between India and Pakistan, and with the fate of Kashmir tied to it, a lasting normalcy remained elusive. The only way forward for India, therefore, is to decouple the Kashmir issue from that of Pakistan, and address the internal aspects: Kashmir’s development, unsettled political issues, healing the wounds and alienation of the youth, promptly. No doubt, a strong and stable Jammu & Kashmir is antithetical to Pakistan’s ‘unfinished agenda’ of seeing through MA Jinnah’s two-nation theory, and the biggest tribute to the pluralist Indian society and its flourishing democracy.

At the moment, there are two wars that India is fighting in Kashmir — first, the proxy war by Pakistan and, second, the war to win the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people. Winning the second war will make the war against the first much easier. There is also a lot of space for a healthy dose of unilateralism.

Various suggestions have been made to resolve the crisis. Conversion of the LoC into the International Border seems to be gaining momentum. As long as Pakistan thinks it can bleed India through Kashmir, there is little hope of permanent peace. However, given the fact that both countries are nuclear powers, no revision of the territorial status quo is possible between them.

The solution to give more autonomy to both sides of Kashmir and make the border soft is also floating around. Over time, this would de-emotionalise the issue. Kashmir will become a zone of economic opportunity and, after some time, people may even forget the problem. This theory has a premise that Pakistan will inevitably realise the cost of bleeding Kashmir and its leadership, including that of the armed forces, will realise this very soon. It’s mainly the intellectual class that is pushing this idea, but political constituencies are still sceptical in the wake of enhanced terrorism in the Valley and ceasefire violations by Pakistan at regular intervals.

The idea of trifurcation of Jammu & Kashmir has also gained currency in certain quarters. However, trifurcation will mean dividing the State along religious lines. It would actually support the two-nation theory. Jammu & Kashmir is a microcosm of India. It is multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Trifurcation will mean accepting that Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs cannot live together, which will bring the whole idea of India into a question. But there is a need for decentralisation of powers.

Now, it’s time to go deep into the Article 370, against which the BJP has been fighting a fierce ideological war for decades. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for a debate on Article 370 while addressing an election rally just before the 2014 general election, clearly gave the message that the BJP may be willing to review its absolutist stance on the Article that defines the provisions of the Constitution of India with respect to Jammu & Kashmir. Any meaningful debate on Article 370 must, however, separate myth from reality and fact from fiction.

Thanjavur Brahmin, Gopalaswami Ayyangar, the principal drafter of Article 370, had argued that Kashmir, unlike other Princely States, was not yet ripe for integration. India had been at war with Pakistan over Jammu & Kashmir and, while there was a ceasefire, the conditions were still “unusual and abnormal.” Part of the State’s territory was in the hands of “rebels and enemies”.

The involvement of the United Nations brought an international dimension to this conflict, an “entanglement” that would end only when the “Kashmir problem is satisfactorily resolved”. Finally, Ayyangar argued that the “will of the people through the instrument of the [Jammu & Kashmir] Constituent Assembly will determine the Constitution of the State as well as the sphere of Union jurisdiction over the State”. In sum, there was hope that Jammu & Kashmir would one day integrate like other States of the Union and, hence, the use of the term “temporary provisions” in the title of the Article.

While Nehru was undoubtedly idealistic and romantic about Kashmir, Patel had a much more earthy and pragmatic view and — as his masterly integration of Princely States demonstrated — little time for capricious state leaders or their separatist tendencies. But while Ayyangar negotiated with Nehru’s backing the substance and scope of Article 370 with Sheikh Abdullah and other members from Jammu & Kashmir in the Constituent Assembly, Patel was very much in the loop.

One of the biggest myths is the belief that the “autonomy” as envisaged in the Constituent Assembly is intact. A series of Presidential Orders has eroded Article 370 substantially. In fact, today the autonomy enjoyed by the State is a shadow of its former self, and there is virtually no institution of the Republic of India that does not include Jammu & Kashmir within its scope and jurisdiction. The only substantial differences from many other States relate to permanent residents and their rights; the non-applicability of Emergency provisions on the grounds of “internal disturbance” without the concurrence of the State; and the name and boundaries of the State, which cannot be altered without the consent of its legislature.

Article 370 is synonymous with decentralisation and devolution of power, phrases that have been on the charter of virtually every political party in India. Modi’s call for an informed debate on Article 370 would definitely align today’s BJP with the considered and reflective approach on Jammu & Kashmir articulated by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who called for Jamhuriyat, Kashmiriyat and Insaniyat (respectively democracy, being Kashmiri and humanism) to resolve the crisis.

But for now, as Modi government faces its toughest battle at the political front in less than one year, the policy of hot pursuit will definitely gain traction to align with its core constituencies. How — and whether or not — Pandits get justice would determine the so-called saffron party’s Hindu credentials.

However, the dialogue is the way forward and the government must open it at all levels. Though peace constituency is a marginalised force in Pakistan due to the onslaught of jihadi groups and military, India must continue its endeavour for long-lasting peace in the Valley.

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