Kashmir, a crown jewel of the Indian subcontinent, is being spoilt due to the feud among India, Pakistan and its self-rule protagonists. It all started with the politics of Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession in 1947. If he had acceded to either India or Pakistan in time before the deadline in 1947, Kashmir’s destiny would have been different.
Just a few days of prevarication changed the fate of this beautiful territory. The delay caused its de facto division into three parts controlled by India, Pakistan and China. It made the Indian-controlled Jammu & Kashmir a cauldron of strife. The beautiful land with its distinct culture and ethos was thrown into a continuous contentious State.
Pakistan thinks that the two-nation theory is not complete without Kashmir. India says Kashmir accession to India is final and Pakistan should vacate its occupied territory. The so-called ‘mainstream’ political parties in Kashmir want the special status to stay and demand autonomy or self-rule. Muslim organisations under Hurriyat campaign for self-determination. Non-Muslim population in Jammu and Ladakh want the special status to go and also want to get fully integrated into India. Pakistan-sponsored terror outfits incite insurgency to work for the secession of Kashmir from India. It is a never-ending war of attrition.
The BJP blames the Congress for this malaise and says Nehru is the sole architect of it. But historical records speak otherwise. Nehru was not instrumental in taking the Kashmir issue to the United Nations. It was Mountbatten who did it. The government, headed by Nehru, at that time was provisional. It was the Cabinet which took the decision. The Cabinet consisted of leaders from different political parties, including Syama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder of Janasangh and an icon to the present day BJP. Mukherjee was a proxy to the decision. He accepted it in the parliamentary discussions in 1952.
Nehru was also not central to Article 370. It was Sardar Patel. Gopalaswami Ayyangar, the former Dewan of Kashmir and a minister without portfolio in the provisional government, drafted Article 370 for Kashmir under the aegis of Patel. Only after Patel approved and recommended it, Nehru agreed to it. Unlike now, Cabinet decisions in the provisional government were collective.
Article 370 has a history. In the beginning, all States were given the choice of acceding to the Union choosing the Indian Constitution or having dual Constitutions leaving foreign affairs, defence and communications to the Union, as per the formula of VP Menon, Secretary to the Minister of States Sardar Patel. Thanks to astute efforts of Patel, barring a few States, all the States acceded to India fully before August 15, 1947. Travancore, Saurashtra and Mysore toyed with the idea a little longer but acceded to the Indian Union fully before 1952. Kashmir chose the path of autonomy and came into the ambit of Article 370. Since then, both the Central and Kashmir governments have played games with it and Pakistan’s intrusion into it made matters worse.
With all the political complexity, Kashmir, at least the Indian side, remained with India. It gave space and time for the Kashmiris to decide their destiny. The Kashmiris, particularly from the Valley, could not conclusively decide their political future. The ‘mainstream’ political parties, who were calling the shots, contrived to continue the special status forever for their own political ends. This provided space for the forces of destabilisation and the war of attrition continued.
The duality of Constitution and some provisions in the special status had become archaic. It was not helping the State to have political stability and also hindered economic progress. The people of Jammu and Ladakh too were affected.
The special status needed to go to make Kashmir a real, integral part of India. But not the way Article 370 was removed, with a stroke of a pen and in a skewered legislation. It needed some homework, making at least a section of the people in the Valley support it. The same was the case with the removal of Article 35A. Making the Constitution applicable across the nation makes sense but abrogating all special provisions under 35A does not. After all, many States have such special provisions.
Kashmir needed such provisions specific to its needs because of its geopolitical situation. The decision looked like a quid pro quo for some personal and ideological reasons of the BJP vis-a-vis Congress or its majority nationalism.
The government, which was criticising Nehru for his imaginary unilateral decisions, itself indulged in the same. There was no need for such a hurry. The government could have initiated some democratic manoeuvres to create a conducive climate for such an action.
Anyway, the die is cast, whatever be the merits of the decision, the government needs to manage it. Just the nod from the international community, which is not happy with Pakistan’s terror links and its proactive activities thereon in Kashmir, is not enough. The government needs to manage its own internal constituency inside Kashmir.
The Indian government and the people of Kashmir must work together to find a lasting solution to their seven-decade long vexatious problem inside the Indian democracy. It might be a good proposition to make Jammu too a separate UT with legislatures and suitable special provisions under Article 371 to enable it to graduate it into a State like it happened in the greater State of Assam.
The world is waiting to see how the Indian government manages its big bang knockout change on Kashmir — is it going to be a new wine or old wine in a new bottle or more trouble in the Valley!
(The author is a freelance journalist)