Conflict over Article 370
by Sandhya Jain on 02 Dec 2014 10 Comments

An astonishing aspect of the Assembly elections in Jammu & Kashmir is not the controversy over Article 370 but the revelation that the Bharatiya Janata Party may itself be conflicted over this constitutional provision. After sharply raising the ante, infusing life into the lacklustre National Conference and increasing the dogmatism of an ascendant People’s Democratic Party, the BJP beat an ignominious retreat to the dismay of its loyalists in the State.


The issue has been terribly mishandled and undoes the efforts of Mr Narendra Modi who, when he visited Jammu last December as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, urged ordinary citizens to interrogate Article 370 and assess whether it has benefitted or harmed them. By boldly demanding public debate on the subject, rather than critiquing it for brownie points, Mr Modi emphasised that Article 370 is a national issue and not a whipping post for politicians taking potshots at each other.


It follows that Article 370 – that was legislated by the Constituent Assembly of India – is not a subject for an Assembly election. It should never have been raised so aggressively by a Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, linked with the BJP’s Mission 44+, and then abruptly guillotined after an unworthy candidate from the valley threatened to take to the gun if the Article was abrogated.


Hina Bhat should have been expelled from the party the same day. As daughter of one of the men who allegedly indulged in unforgivable and unforgettable misconduct before the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, she should never have been inducted into the BJP in the first place. Yet the party meekly swallowed her rebuke and abandoned its position to the extent that the published manifesto was junked and replaced by a hastily prepared ‘vision document’ that did not make even formal mention of Article 370.  


Indeed, the party leadership was so clueless about its aims and achievable goalposts that an unnecessary controversy was raised about a ‘Hindu Chief Minister’. Worse, by openly naming groups from which it hoped to garner support, the BJP opened itself to charges of fomenting divisiveness. This increased polarisation in the State. The Prime Minister’s rally in Kishtwar (Jammu province) in the first phase of the polls, where he appeared to address only valley sentiments, added to the insecurity of pro-BJP groups. There is a widespread feeling that a golden opportunity to make smooth inroads in the sensitive border state has been frittered away. Puerile slogans like ‘Kendra mein Narendra, JK mein Jitender’ hardly improve matters.


The contentious Article 370 was forced upon a reluctant Constituent Assembly by the ruling Congress party. Syama Prasad Mookerji called it a pernicious attempt to balkanise India according to Sheikh Abdullah’s ‘three-nation’ theory. Galvanizing a protest by the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (precursor of the BJP), Hindu Mahasabha and Ram Rajya Parishad, he took the fight to Kashmir in 1953.


Mookerji regarded the Congress’s decision give Kashmir special status with its own flag and Prime Minister as a half-way house to secession at any opportune moment. The Article gave the State the power to refuse permission to anyone to enter Kashmir without the permission of the State’s Prime Minister; the refusal could extend to the President of India. Raising the battle cry, ‘ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur do Nishaan nahi chalenge’ (there cannot be two constitutions, two prime ministers and two national emblems in one country), he decided to challenge this law that banned non-Kashmiri Indian citizens from settling in the State and forced them to carry identity cards.


Denied permission to enter the state, Mookerji defiantly entered Kashmir on May 11, 1953 and was arrested on crossing the border at Lakhanpur. He died in jail five weeks later, on June 23, in circumstances that were never satisfactorily explained. The permit-ID card system was junked soon afterwards, but the special status remained. For BJP leaders to raise and dump Article 370 so whimsically makes a mockery of Mookerji’s tragic sacrifice.


The BJP’s ‘vision document’ lacks the punch of a manifesto, largely because it has taken a non-political nuance. The foremost promise is to accord primacy to development, viz., Tourism, Infrastructure, Modernisation and Empowerment (TIME). While unexceptionable in itself, this is a major comedown from the high rhetoric over the status of the State in the constitutional scheme of things.


The document promises justice to and honourable resettlement of displaced Kashmiri pundits. As asserted by Mr Modi during the Parliamentary election, the BJP promises to settle the genuine claims of the 1947 refugees from Occupied Kashmir, to give compensation to the refugees of the 1965 and 1971 wars as well as all border migrants. It promises citizenship rights to refugees from West Pakistan, including the Right to vote in Assembly and local body elections, Right to property, Right to higher and technical education and Right to State Government jobs. Above all, it promises to reserve three seats for displaced Kashmiris out of the 46 Assembly seats in Kashmir valley, and to reserve five seats for refugees from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir out of the 24 seats left vacant for the PoK.


It is notable that last year, when motivated violence against one community broke out in Kishtwar and a minister of state of the State Government was forced to resign (he was conveniently exonerated later), it was discovered that the ex-gratia compensation given to security forces from outside the State was different (much lower) than that given to Permanent Residents. Although the Supreme Court expressed astonishment over the matter, nothing could be done. The BJP vision document rightly promises to rectify this anomaly and to establish parity in granting ex-gratia to those killed in cross-border firing and terror violence.


Similarly, the promise of Dogra certificates for the people of Jammu is unexceptionable, though the talk of expanding the reservation pie by giving 33 per cent reservation to women in the J&K Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council is divisive and unnecessary at a time when the nation, particularly the youth, craves meritocracy. The party’s ultimate pledge to develop J&K tourism on the lines Switzerland is unhappily reminiscent of Sheikh Abdullah’s ambitions. Switzerland is the ultimate holiday destination for the world’s unconscionable superrich jetsetters who generally have offshore accounts and incomes disproportionate to their known levels of competence. It cannot be the lodestar of a nation keen to regenerate its civilisational roots.  

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