First Person | Much Ado About Nothing

Article 370 is a non-issue and has nothing to do with the resolution of Kashmir issue

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

What is it about television news debate that even the cleverest of raconteurs fumble and end up making unnecessarily provocative remarks, which they probably would never do if they were not on television? Maybe, there is something inherently silly about TV news in India and its perceived viewership that even serious issues are dumbed down to fit the format of instant incitement, instant ratings, and hence, greater recall.

Nothing else can explain Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) chief minister Omar Abdullah’s frothing at mouth comments on Article 370 a few days back. Of all the arguments against raking up Article 370 issue, all he could come up with was: “J&K will not remain part of India if Article 370 was revoked.” This is as silly as the Indian Army officers insisting that J&K will not be a part of India if Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was revoked. Unfortunately, such flimsy comments take away from the seriousness of the J&K problem, which is perhaps the reason why we have not been able to build a national consensus on the issue.

The J&K issue, or more specifically the Kashmir issue, predates the Independence/Partition and the Instrument of Accession. While the Poonchi rebellion is well-documented as it linked up with the 1947-48 India-Pakistan war, the protests and killings in police firing in the Kashmir Valley through the decade of the Thirties clearly pointed to the fact that all was not well. In fact, the Martyr Day that Kashmiris observe on July 13 commemorates first of such incidents in 1931.

As far as Article 370 goes, it falls in Part 21 of the Constitution under the heading ‘Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions’, which cover states like Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram etc under various Articles like 371A, 371G and so on. One of the main provisions of these Articles is: ‘Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, (a) no Act of Parliament in respect of — ownership and transfer of land and its resources…’ can be carried out.

These special provisions also extend to states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Assam, Sikkim etc. But none of them actually refer to anything pertaining to accession, not even in the case of Hyderabad. Only Article 370 says: ‘the power of Parliament to make laws for the said State shall be limited to (i) those matters in the Union List and the Concurrent List which, in consultation with the Government of the State, are declared by the President to correspond to matters specified in the Instrument of Accession governing the accession of the State to the Dominion of India…’ It then goes on to explain, ‘For the purposes of this Article, the Government of the State means the person for the time being recognised by the President as the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir acting on the advice of the Council of Ministers…’

Clearly, these special provisions were made in the case of J&K because the circumstances of it becoming part of India were special. It was not a merger as happened with other princely states. Moreover, over the years, various provisions of Article 370 were chipped away. What remains today is mere tokenism, of a separate Constitution and a state flag. In reality, a chief minister of Uttar Pradesh or Tamil Nadu is more powerful than a chief minister of J&K, who can’t even appoint his own bureaucrats without consulting the central government!

But even this is no longer important. Today, the important thing is to accept that there is a Kashmir issue which needs to be resolved. And this issue has nothing to do with Article 370, for the simple reason this obscure part of the Constitution impinges neither on the everyday lives of the people of Kashmir nor the people of the rest of India. What affects them and us is the problem in Kashmir: the violence (perpetuated both by terrorists and the Indian security forces), frequent shut-downs, curfews and the near collapse of the civil society. And then there is the elephant in the room in the form of Pakistan.

If J&K doesn’t get investment, it is not because of Article 370. It is because the potential investors do not know when and how they will be able to recover their money. When Omar Abdullah first became the chief minister in December 2008, he deftly manoeuvred himself as the toast of the industry, addressing them in sessions in Delhi and Mumbai. Within a few months, he had assurances of investment from various companies. But before any of those promises could be realised, two sisters-in-law were found raped and killed in Shopian in spring of 2009 and the Valley was in turmoil.

Just as the situation was limping back to normalcy, in April 2010, the Indian Army killed three alleged ‘militants’ who turned out to be innocent civilians. Once again the Valley erupted in an unending cycle of protests and suppression. By autumn that year over 120 civilians had died in police/ CRPF firing. Who would invest in a place like this?

It will be shocking if the government of the day does not know that Article 370 is a non-issue. It must realise that since it is no longer in opposition, whipping up emotive issues like Article 370 and Uniform Civil Code will only tie it up in knots.


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