Lament of a common Kashmiri, addressed to the government of India

The real integration of Jammu & Kashmir, as Nehru said, could come (or can come) only by emotional and psychological integration of the people of my state with the country

Army presence in Jammu & Kashmir (photo courtesy PTI)
Army presence in Jammu & Kashmir (photo courtesy PTI)

Arun Sharma

On 5 August 2019, you abrogated Article 370, divided my state Jammu & Kashmir into two, and downgraded its structure to a union territory. It was a repeat of the tragedy that had happened to India when it was divided into two nations, namely India and Pakistan—only at the state level this time. That first wound never healed, and now I have to also cope with a second one festering.

The barrister who propounded the two-nation theory before India's Independence was at least honest when he said that he and those he called his brethren—many of whom did not agree with him—could not live with us and wanted a new country. You, on the other hand, preferred to add insult to injury. You told me that you were doing it for my own benefit!

Since I am not a learned lawyer or a worldly wise politician, I will judge your fateful decision, which has affected me personally, with the little common sense and logic that I have at my disposal and with some help from recorded history.

To begin with, you told me that Article 370—which envisaged special status for my state—was temporary, as per the title of the article itself, and therefore had to go.

I think, however, that you mistook the title for the text of the article. Of course the article was temporary, but its continuation or otherwise was to be decided by the Constituent Assembly of my state, which had to be set up per clause (2) of the same article. Clause (3) of this article did empower the President of India to declare that the ‘Article shall cease to be operative’—but only if the Constituent Assembly had made the necessary recommendation to the President. To the extent that the Union home minister did not speak of these provisions in the article in moving its abrogation, he can be said to have lied to Parliament!

Since the Constituent Assembly of my state dissolved itself on 25 January 1957 without, in its wisdom, recommending the abrogation of Article 370, it was deemed to have become a permanent feature of the Indian Constitution, like its other articles. This is what I, as a common man, understand by a reading of the Constitution of India.

I may point out that the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, in its judgement in October 2015, ruled that Article 370 cannot be ‘abrogated, repealed or even amended’. The Delhi High Court dismissed outright a plea seeking a declaration that Article 370 was temporary in nature. Even the Supreme Court of the country held the view in April 2018 that Article 370 was not a temporary provision. A bench of justices R.A. Goel and R.F. Nariman held that ‘the issue [of Article 370] is covered by the Judgement of this court in [the] 2017 SARFAESI matter, where we had held that despite the headnote of Article 370, it is not a temporary provision’.

It is regrettable that the government of India did not even heed the advice of its own judiciary.

You envied my ‘special status’ and complained that people from other states could not purchase land in my state.

I do not know why you were irked by my special status alone. I know that all the north-eastern states enjoy special status too.

I was, however, surprised to learn that the state the prime minister and the home minister hail from also enjoys some special provisions, and people from other states cannot purchase agricultural land there either. As things stand, only a khedut, a farmer from Gujarat, can buy agricultural land in that state. Correct me if I am wrong.

Not that I grudge them their special status. I only wish you had been less partisan in depriving me of my ‘special status’ while assuring others that there was nothing common between Article 370 and Article 371(A-J) except that the latter comes next to the former. Once again, you misled Parliament.

Your other piece of reasoning, that Article 370 had thwarted the development of my state, was totally untenable.

I can proudly declare that my state had been well ahead of many other states in respect of economic and human development indices.

I came across an interview with the renowned economist Jean Dreze where he noted that, based on the official figures, life expectancy at birth was higher in Jammu & Kashmir than in Gujarat; that the percentage of the poor living below the poverty line was lower in my state than it was in Gujarat; that the percentage of immunised children was higher in Jammu & Kashmir than it was in Gujarat

Yet Gujarat has been especially touted as a model state by the prime minister several times.

As the historian Andrew Whitehead revealed in an essay in The Rise and Fall of New Kashmir, the development in my state owed itself to the ‘implementation of perhaps the most far-reaching land reforms in independent India’. He further said that in the early 1950s, several thousand land owners lost much of their large and medium-sized estates. In the process, 700,000 landless cultivators became peasant proprietors, although left with only small plots, and the profound problem of rural indebtedness was also alleviated. In an agrarian society, Whitehead said, this really was a revolution.

Your third reason, that Article 370 had led to the rise of terrorism in my state, was laughable at best.

The rise of terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir, if one must point to a single cause for a complex issue, owed itself to the return of Jagmohan as governor of the state in January 1990. ‘His return to full control of events in Kashmir’, said Victoria Schofield, ‘marked the beginning of a new intensity both in New Delhi’s dealing with the Kashmiris and their response’.

Jagmohan's appointment was probably ‘the worst mistake the central government could have made at the time’, wrote Tavleen Singh, ‘but there was nobody in VP Singh’s newly elected government who could have told him this’.

The VP Singh government, Schofield pointed out in Kashmir in Conflict, ‘depended heavily on the extremist BJP, whose supporters wanted to abrogate Article 370 and integrate Kashmir within the Indian Union’. The attempt to find a political solution to the Kashmir problem, Schofield added, was put aside in favour of a policy of repression.

To drive the point home, Schofield quoted senior bureaucrat from Jammu & Kashmir Ashok Jaitley, who said, "What Jagmohan did in five months, [the militants] could not have achieved in five years." (I would say in fifty years even!)

The real integration of Jammu & Kashmir into India—as Jawaharlal Nehru, himself a Kashmiri Pandit, would never tire of repeating—could come (or can come) only by the emotional and psychological integration of the people of my state with the nation of India.

But given the way some legislators of the ruling BJP taunted me and gleefully declared after the abrogation of Article 370 that they could now 'marry Kashmiri girls'—thus 'owning' both our women and our land, the very archetype of a settler colonialism project—this seems highly unlikely now.

This article was first published 6 August 2020, and updated on 4 August 2023

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Published: 06 Aug 2020, 9:15 PM