Rights

It's Been 9 Months. What Did the Revocation of J&K's Special Status Achieve?

A complete abrogation of democracy and an unconscionable suppression of civil and democratic rights? A terminal alienation of the people from the republic and its purported vision?

Taking the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A to be a fait accompli – since it may be a vain expectation that the Supreme Court will, at any time in the future, restore what the government has scrapped – the question that may now be asked is: nine months down the road, what has this revocation delivered?

Politically, of course, the Hindutva right wing has succeeded in realising its long-standing “nationalist” agenda. It has stamped and sealed a message to Kashmiri Muslims that their decision to throw their lot in with a Hindu-majority India in the wake of the partition was no great favour, and that they must learn to view themselves, not in terms of any exclusive historical perspective, but as just another part of India’s country-wide Muslim minority.

Thus, the revocation has achieved the erasure of the extraordinary choice that the then only Muslim-majority state had made while acceding to the Indian dominion when the terms of the partition may, more naturally, have induced them to a contrary resolve. And most remarkably, when the Hindu maharaja of the then princely state had wished to retain his independence from both dominions.

Such erasure, therefore, conterminously cocks a snook at the struggles that Kashmiri Muslim nationalist leaderships had waged for long years against the twin sectarianisms of Dogra rule and the Muslim League – struggles which, more than most things then happening, had contributed to cementing the secular foundations of the freedom movement, and of India’s claim to becoming the opposite of what the League had brought about by obtaining a separate state on the grounds of faith.

The scrapping of Article 370 has also repudiated Sheikh Abdullah’s political idealism – expressed resonantly in his inaugural speech to the constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir on November 5, 1951 – that the decision J&K was making would, in the decades to come, help bolster the conviction of all Indian Muslims in a secular and democratic future, guaranteed by a constitution that enshrined the principle of equality to all Indian citizens, and respect for all religious faiths.  And, even more particularly, help to shore up respect for regional identities in an egalitarian, federal republic, citing what Gandhi had said in our darkest hour: “I look at the hills, and my help comes from there”.

Also read: Kashmir: The Lockdown Within the Lockdown

Beginning from the first stirrings for freedom among Kashmiri Muslims in 1931, evolving Hindutva opinion in the Jammu region had come to view such stirrings as inimical to the majority Hindu population in Jammu, leading to the emergence and foregrounding of the Praja Parishad, and later on, the Jana Sangh. Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference were beginning to be viewed as hegemons that would garner all the fruits of independence and of the accession to India and, chiefly, political control.

That the terms of integration with India, based on the terms of the accession, had been negotiated by a popular Kashmiri leadership for over five long months with the constituent assembly of India, and the draft of what was to become Article 370 prepared by Gopalaswamy Ayyangar, and piloted by Sardar Patel despite opposition from both within the CWC and the constituent assembly, did not weigh with the RSS.

It must be recalled that Sardar Patel wrote to Nehru on November 3, 1949, when Nehru was abroad in the US, about how he (Patel) had “prevailed” in obtaining the consent of the constituent assembly on the matter of granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Not to speak of the fact that Shyama Prasad Mookerjee was a member of the constituent assembly when the draft was approved with his signature on it as well.

The decision of the Abdullah government, however, to grant land to the tiller without any compensation to erstwhile landowners was to become a trigger for the Praja Parishad agitation in Jammu, led by Mookerjee, who now sought full integration of the state with the Union, and the rescinding of the special status formalised in the Delhi Agreement of 1952.

Sadly, it is a little-known fact that the imbroglio had actually reached a solution endorsed by all parties in Jammu and Kashmir and the Central government as a result of a tripartite exchange of letters between Nehru, Abdullah, and Mookerjee.

Kashmiri men wait before Eid-al-Adha prayers during restrictions after the scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the government, in Srinagar, August 12, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

On January 9, 1953, Mookerjee wrote to Nehru that while the Parishad would not object to any special position given to the Kashmir Valley, it demanded the full integration of Jammu and Ladakh with India.

Nehru rejected the proposal outright, reminding Mookerjee that the latter had assented to the Delhi Agreement, but, in a detailed response, Abdullah pointed out how forces in Pakistan and elsewhere were looking forward to such divisions, to unleash all kinds of mayhem.

Also read: Kashmir: Integration Through Distortion of Ambedkar’s Stand on Article 370

In his letter of February 17, 1953, Mookerjee agreed to the proposal that would grant regional autonomy to all three regions – contained in a 45-page report submitted to all parties – and that the Delhi Agreement which had formalised special status to Jammu and Kashmir be “implemented in the next session of the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly”.

As a result, Nehru asked for a withdrawal of the agitation in Jammu, which Mookerjee agreed to consider. Sadly, Mookerjee passed away in June 1953.

On July 2, the Regional Autonomy Report was sent to Durga Das Verma, the underground  dictator of the agitation, who returned it with his assent on July 3. Had this tripartite agreement not been vetoed by the RSS eventually, there may well have been no “Kashmir problem”.

Be that as it may, having now accomplished a “full legal integration” of the territories of the erstwhile state, and expecting the full endorsement of the Jammu region to the move, the Central government through its agent, the lieutenant governor, has now formulated new domicile rules pertaining to the new Union territory – a move that many have seen as betokening the real point and purpose of the revocation of Article 370 and 35A.

It is now stipulated that anyone who may have resided in the state for 15 years, or whose wards may have studied there for seven years and taken a class 10 or 12 examination, will be eligible to be a state subject; and thereby eligible both for jobs, scholarships and land rights in the state.

Many see this as a window for absorbing security personnel, bureaucrats and academicians into state services, public sector undertakings, state-run educational institutions etc., causing a shrinkage of opportunities for local residents who previously under the old state subject laws were alone eligible for these positions. Not to speak of parcelling out precious lands and other immovable property as well to hitherto non-eligible Indians – a provision in line with those that continue to exist in many other parts of the republic in Himachal Pradesh, the tribal regions of Telangana, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Nagaland and so on. But none of the latter is a Muslim-majority state.

Suddenly, however, the Hindutva right wing experienced concerted opposition to these new rules, not just in the Valley but in the Hindu-majority Jammu province – as matters of livelihood and identity came to the fore, transcending nationalist sentiments.

Also read: Article 370 and The Paradox of Kashmir’s Accession

This new resistance is reminiscent of the decade of the 1920s when a combined opposition was launched in the erstwhile princely state against the induction of officers from outside, resulting in the state subject laws of 1927 – events in which Kashmiri Pandits had taken a leading role and raised the slogan “Kashmir for Kashmiris”.

As to the claim that the revocation of the impugned Articles would see a surge of development in the erstwhile state, there is very little that has happened over the last nine months that encourages such a prospect. There has been no beeline of investors either in  Jammu or in the Valley, and no roadmaps for any such deluge to happen is in evidence either. That the  “development “ argument was always a red herring has been substantiated by studies that have shown that the erstwhile state was considerably ahead even of Gujarat in the matter of development as well as human development indices.

What, then, has the revocation achieved?

A complete abrogation of democracy in the state, and an unconscionable suppression of civil and democratic rights? A terminal alienation of the peoples, especially in the Valley, from the republic and its purported vision and promise?

The ruling Hindutva forces have tirelessly accused the Indian National Congress and Kashmir’s nationalist parties of having denied democracy to Kashmiris. Yet, what has happened is that the state has been demoted to a Union territory run by an unelected bureaucrat, and without an elected assembly now for close to a calendar year.

Security personnel stop Kashmiri residents as they stand guard on a deserted road during restrictions after scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the government, in Srinagar, August 23, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Danish Ismail

With no permission accorded to freedom of opinion if it is considered inimical to the powers that be, no right to free assembly or peaceful protest, and no permission even to the republic’s elected parliamentarians to visit and see things for themselves, even as chosen public representatives from select countries have been taken on guided tours to deliver an endorsement of the ruling dispensation’s actions.

Where is the full integration with the Union, and what are its contours? Has this been anything more than a political and cultural appropriation of the region with little or no benefit to the local residents, Kashmiri Pandits included?

Not to mention that this glorious assimilation has made not a jot of difference to the number of Indian security forces who have remained stationed there as before, battling an insurgency in a continuing saga of “disturbance”.

Also read: A Finely-Tuned War of Attrition in Kashmir

There is clearly little likelihood of the state assembly being reconstituted until after the proposed delimitation exercise is over.  But the question remains: even if the delimitation exercise were to alter the balance of political weight in the state towards the Hindu-majority Jammu region, would that solve the problem in Kashmir, or instead exacerbate it?

All told, it does seem that beyond thumbing the nose of the historical aspiration for autonomy, deriving from the erstwhile constitutional arrangements between the state and the Centre, little of value has thus far been accrued to the people, be it in the Jammu region or in the Valley. Unless, of course, the collapse of the state’s customary sources of revenue – tourism, crafts, horticulture – is to be counted as an achievement.

It must appear to be a cruel irony that even the exiled Kashmiri Pandits feel obliged to make the point that the dominance of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the state has carried little change in their conditions and their so hoped-for return to the Valley on their desired terms—or any terms at all.

Even they have come to see the new domicile rules as a challenge as much to their livelihoods and status in their home state as a challenge to all other domiciles of old, regardless of region or community. A  cruel consummation indeed.

As to a return to civic “normalcy,” the state has yet to see a full restoration of internet services; the common complaint is that the 2G facility is grossly inadequate for the needs of users. Those in Jammu are askance that the withdrawal of these facilities should have been made applicable to them as well, as though they also constitute a threat to internal peace.

Having opted for an authoritarian course in the erstwhile state over a democratic one – most reputed constitutional experts aver that the revocation could not have been operationalised without the concurrence of the state assembly and that the governor could not have been deemed to represent the elected, democratic opinion of Kashmiris – the Modi government continues to be on test with respect to the claims made on behalf of that course.

Who knows what is in store for the people of that blighted part of the republic?

Badri Raina has taught at Delhi University.