August of 2019 started with a rude shock as the government of India spoke of a perceived threat of Pakistani backed terrorist attack on Amarnath Yatra and cancelled the peaceful yatra that was in progress. Thereafter, the government gave an unprecedented advisory for all outstation students, tourists, yatris etc to leave Kashmir valley, and such a strong decision was not taken even during the height of militancy in Kashmir in 1970s and 1980s.
A build-up of 35,000 armed troops was done in addition to 50,000 army-men already there, and another 8000 airlifted on August 5.
Thereafter, the central government took the unprecedented step, the most aggressive one in Kashmir since 1947, to scrap Article 370 of the Indian constitution merely through a Presidential decree and no constitutional amendment. This first proves the lie of the government with regards to Pak threat to Amarnath Yatra and the lies of the Governor Satya Pal Malik of J&K who has been dismissing all fears of change of special status to J&K as mere rumours.
So, they were no rumours.
Article 370 that allows the J&K state to have its constitution and relative autonomy for its Assembly to legislate on any issue except defence, foreign affairs and communications, was the basis on which the accession of J&K happened with India, to which both Sheikh Abdullah the-then popular leader of Kashmir and the last Hindu rule Hari Singh, are party to, along with Nehru-Patel led Indian government. This can only be amended or abolished through constitutional amendment which needs the Kashmir Assembly to be a party to the decision, and with a huge majority. There is no Assembly today and there will be none with the state being unilaterally divided, and merely Presidential decree is being used to deny Kashmiris the basis on which they decided not to be a part of the Muslim Pakistan but of Secular India.
Also, Nehru-Patel-Iyyengar are on record in the Parliament that a plebiscite shall later be held to ensure people’s support to the accession to India based on Article 370, and was mentioned in the UN also, but never done during the long Congress rule.
Further, the current government, in whose wisdom no one knows, has divided a full-fledged state with special status into two union territories with Lieutenant Governors ruling henceforth. Ladakh with 3 lacs people is placed at same level as Jammu & Kashmir with 1.5 crores people. This is no joke. This is betrayal of the people there. There are states like Tripura with 40 lacs people and Goa with less than half a crore, and similarly Mizoram or Meghalaya and even Arunachal Pradesh, who are all states and none of these are above even 40 lacs population each. But a special status state is reduced to a union territory today in spite of 1.5 crores people, just like Delhi is suffering as UT in spite of above 2 crores population.
Article 370 which gave special status to J&K was followed by Articles 371 and 372 and their sections which have given similar special status in different proportions to Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Arunachal, Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal. Nagaland has got even a separate constitution and flag. Today Kashmir’s protection from outsiders coming and settling and unsettling the indigenous people is gone, while the same is there for these states. Is not the government upholding a second class citizenship for Kashmiris then through this? Or, is it the other states also one fine morning lose their ecological-cultural-economic protection with army-men marching in and curfew imposed to quell any protests?
Where is the Will of People being supreme in a democracy then gone? The government has not been able to get the abrogation of Article 370 ratified in the Parliament even. It is just a Presidential decree and the fate of 1.5 crores of Indians are permanently changed.
Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Telengana etc had shed blood over decades to get statehood. Here Kashmir loses statehood without even asking for it. There was call for Jammu to be separately integrated with India in 1946-52 period led by a feudal political force of erstwhile Zamindars, named Praja Parishad, led by Prem Nath Dogra. But that was a movement to protect their large farm-holdings and it was opposed to the socialist policies of Sheikh Abdullah, the first Chief Minister of Kashmir.
The Kashmiris did their best to ensure peaceful development by electing PDF and BJP and their hopes were raised with two coming together and a promise of Rs.10,000 crores was made by PM Narendra Modi in Lal Maidan after the alliance came to power, in the presence of the then CM Mufti Mohammad, but nothing substantial came out of it, and later BJP unilaterally withdrew from the alliance.
Combating terrorism and nefarious designs of Pakistan in Kashmir are in national interests and government is justified in taking steps. Already AFSPA act and presence of a huge military has to a large extent taken away the special status of the people and the state. But committing a major breach of legally binding promise to the people and the state who integrated with India based on a legal understanding is undemocratic, anti-federal and fascistic in ultimate sense. It may not even state legal scrutiny as the Supreme Court as recently as April 2018 dwelt at length on the permanent nature of Article 370.
Finally, why this issue taken up all of a sudden and in the middle of a roaring tourism business and Amarnath Yatra in Kashmir? Has it do with the fast decline in the Indian economy which recently came down 2% in its GDP, and two positions in global economic ranking? Auto sector has just lost nearly a million jobs with Rs.54,000 crores worth inventory standing idle. Realty in a mess, and tax terrorism allegations coming from within the apologists of the current government, like Mohandas Pie. Is it because the ruling party cannot go to face elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand with a fast declining economy?
The author is an academic and a columnist. And is Pro Vice Chancellor of Kolkata based Adamas University.