Article 370: Answers for a friend
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Less than 24 hours after Narendra Modi was sworn in as prime minister, a member of his council of ministers declared the government was taking steps to repeal Article 370 of the Constitution. This article bestows special status on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), placing it on a different footing from all other states.
Any discussion on the subject leads to polarized opinions. In J&K, it has spawned a separatist mentality.
Last week, something similar happened in the course of a discussion with a friend whose ideas have always inspired me. His question was twofold. Is it necessary to expend scarce political capital on repealing Art. 370 when the new government has more pressing tasks on hand (such as ensuring India’s economic revival)? And what should proceed first: a country-wide, including in J&K, political consensus on the subject followed by repealing Art. 370 or should the reverse sequence follow?
I always bow to his wisdom but in this case I differ: J&K’s special status must end first. A tighter fit with India will follow over time.
If the matter were as simple as building a consensus, it would have been done a long time ago. Countless number of delegations, working groups and agreements has not led to the state’s complete integration with the Union. On paper, the state is fully integrated with India. Even someone as prescient as Jawaharlal Nehru, who knew the realities in the state felt that “there is no doubt that Kashmir is fully integrated” (debate in Lok Sabha, 27 November 1963).
Only an extreme optimist can assert that J&K is a “normal” state whose residents are patriotic citizens who harbour no ill-will towards the country. Events of the past 25 years point in another direction. No agreement under the present framework of Art. 370 can psychologically integrate Kashmir with India. Art. 370 only keeps the hopes of Kashmir becoming independent one day alive among its residents. They should not be blamed for harbouring that sentiment.
Kashmir remains one of the last unfinished chapters of nation-building in India. The country’s founders—not only political leaders but also the fine legal minds who populated the Constituent Assembly—were amazingly clear thinkers. Yet when it came to Kashmir, they displayed remarkable fuzziness.
Three examples illustrate this muddled thinking. In the debate after the moving of draft Art. 370 in the Constituent Assembly, N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar did not realize that what he assumed to be an “interim” administrative measure would end up as a separatist clause. The full debate is worth reading 65 years later for its hopeful naiveté (Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol X, 17 October 1949).
Three years later, on 6 September 1952, president Rajendra Prasad penned a note for prime minister Nehru which can only be called infamous for its interpretation of Art. 370. In his note, Prasad argued that abrogation of Art. 370 would also mean the inapplicability of Art. 1 of the Constitution that defines the territory of the Union. This was because Prasad felt that Art. 1 was applicable to J&K only through the medium of Art. 370. This is remarkable to say the least: Surely Art. 1 is applicable to the entire country without any crutch for it “defines” India. When Omar Abdullah said some weeks ago that if Art. 370 was repealed, Kashmir would cease to be a part of India, he was only echoing the narrow and mistaken view of an otherwise distinguished president.
The person who stands out in this march of folly, however, is Nehru. Out of his friendship with two persons—the last viceroy Lord Mountbatten and fellow Kashmiri Sheikh Abdullah—flowed two actions: referring the Kashmir “dispute” to the UN and the extraordinary Constitutional provisions for the state. To his credit, however, he realized his mistake quickly. He also admitted that only an imperfect solution was possible. In a note to Sheikh Abdullah on 25 August 1952, he said he had given up on plebiscite in the state by the end of 1948 and the only feasible option was to let Pakistan keep what it occupied, if peace was to be maintained between the two countries.
With this history and baggage, it is not possible to build a consensus about unifying Kashmir with India.
Any starting point towards making J&K a normal state has to begin with the repeal of Art. 370. Normalcy will not be an immediate consequence and will require the fading away of a number of generations committed to a separatist ideology in that state. But once Art. 370 is repealed, the psychological barrier will go. With that will also go ideas such as independence and merger with Pakistan. This will take time but it will happen.
The conditions for repealing Art. 370 exist today. The present ruling coalition is close to the parliamentary strength needed to carry out the necessary Constitutional amendments and get rid of this pernicious article. It is after 30 years that a government in New Delhi has acquired such strength in the Lok Sabha. It should do what is necessary to complete this important and unfinished task.
So here is my answer to my friend: Repealing Art. 370 is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for making Kashmir a normal place. But necessity must flow before sufficiency. That can happen later.
Siddharth Singh is Editor (Views) at Mint. Reluctant Duelist will take stock of matters economic, political and strategic—in India and elsewhere—every fortnight.
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read Siddharth Singh’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/reluctantduelist
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