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Sunday, December 15, 2019

Constitutional guarantees that bind J&K with the Indian Union cannot be unilaterally discarded

J&K’s special status isn’t a concession given to the state by the Union government. It is an outcome of a solemn compact between two sovereign entities in 1947.

Written by Imran Nabi Dar | Updated: July 26, 2019 7:42:46 am
Unlike other princely states, J&K negotiated the terms and conditions of its entry into the Indian Union. (Illustration by Suvajit Dey)

There has always been a campaign based on falsehood and narrow sectarian motives to question Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status. The main reason for this vilification has always been based on a complete aversion to the state’s Muslim majority and a denial of the constant struggle by its people for political empowerment. But the proponents of such a demand have generally couched it in polite language and tried to hide their communal agenda. Now the gloves are off. The views expressed by a senior IPS officer, Abhinav Kumar, who serves as Inspector General of Police BSF in Kashmir, in a recent article in this paper (‘A new deal for Kashmir,’ IE, July 5) are not only appalling, but also in total disregard of the Constitution.

“The expectation is that a war-weary and traumatised population will tire out,” writes Kumar while advocating a status quo in the “current level of casualties and economic costs”. The statement is a reflection of how an officer, expected to protect and champion human rights, is cheering the escalating trauma and continuing misery of Kashmir’s common people.

Kumar indulges in scaremongering with the thought of how it would be for Jammu and Ladakh, and the secular ethos of J&K, if the iron fist Kashmir has borne the brunt of is softened and an ear is actually lent to the voices from Kashmir. This approach, he claims, ironically, “ignores the repercussions for the idea of India”. He ridicules and lambasts Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution: “Without dismantling this structure, separatism and militancy will always strike a chord among a large section of the population in the Valley.” The Muslim majority of Kashmir favours either aazadi or merger with Pakistan, Kumar claims, while going on to question the legal status of these constitutional guarantees.

I am a National Conference (NC) worker and the party’s candidate for Kulgam assembly constituency. At 11 am on July 8, 2006, my father Ghulam Nabi Dar — a two-time legislator from Kulgam and a prominent National Conference leader — was killed in a grenade blast along with his four party colleagues, Mohammad Yousuf Shah, Mohammad Yousuf Wani, Ali Mohammad Zargar and Azad Ahmad Wani. Our family was devastated; it is a trauma that will never end. I was 25 years old then and the moment I heard the shrieks of my mother, I decided to join mainstream politics. Each day, during these 13 years while going to work in Kulgam, I am aware that I could meet my father’s fate as well. But, this fear hasn’t stopped me.

My father sacrificed his life for a political belief. He believed that the only way forward for our people is in Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s idea of an all-inclusive J&K that decided to become part of a secular Indian Union after constitutional guarantees ensured it a special status within the Union. He saw a future for our people in it and fought for it till the end. Like my father, more than 5,000 workers and leaders of the National Conference have been killed in the last 30 years for the same reason. Sheikh Abdullah had joined Gandhi’s India, and my father and thousands of other NC workers shed their blood for that commitment. Unfortunately, the idea of India in Kashmir that the senior IPS officer espouses is Nathuram Godse’s India. There is no way we will accept it.

Ordinarily, views such as those of Kumar’s don’t deserve a response. But because it is a senior serving IPS officer, who has spoken publicly, it is important to rebut them. J&K’s special status isn’t a concession given to the state by the Union government. It is an outcome of a solemn compact between two sovereign entities in 1947. Unlike other princely states, J&K negotiated the terms and conditions of its entry into the Indian Union. While J&K acceded to the Indian Union on defence, foreign affairs and communication, it was the only state that wanted its own constitution drafted by its own constituent assembly. Article 370, that determines the contours of J&K’s relations with the Centre, and is the constitutional link between Kashmir and New Delhi, was introduced in the Indian Constitution only after the then Prime Minister of J&K, Sheikh Abdullah, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, discussed it for five long months — between May and October 1949. Article 370 and Article 35 A were not concessions. They were the outcome of an agreement.

Nehru wrote to Sheikh Abdullah: “It has been the settled policy of the Government of India, which on many occasions has been stated both by Sardar Patel and me, that the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir is a matter for determination by the people of the state represented in a Constituent Assembly convened for the purpose.”

The consistent turmoil in J&K, too, isn’t without reason. On August 9, 1953, Sheikh Abdullah’s government was summarily dismissed and he was arrested. The tallest leader of the people of J&K, who had fought valiantly against autocratic rule to establish democracy — the leader who had changed the name of his party from Muslim Conference to National Conference so that the ideals of inclusiveness and rights of minorities are safeguarded; the leader who had decided to support J&K’s accession to India and not go with Pakistan, despite the state being an overwhelmingly Muslim majority — was betrayed. That was the beginning of the problem in J&K. Soon, New Delhi abolished the post of prime minister of J&K and elected Sadr-e-Riyasat. The view that holds that Article 370 can be done away with ignores the fact that it is this very Article that binds J&K with the India Union.

The reference to the Jammu and Ladakh region is nothing more than a ruse to divert attention from the main targets: The Muslim majority of the state. In Jammu province’s Hindu majority districts of Jammu city, Sabha and Kathua, supporters of the current government are openly demanding the ouster of the Muslim minority from these areas. The rallies organised in support of the rapists of a Muslim Bakerwal child in Kathua were led by two then-serving BJP ministers from Jammu. An outfit was set up to defend the rapists, the Hindu Ekta Manch.

The Sangh Parivar that spearheads the demand for the repeal of Article 370 and Article 35 A is against the Muslim majority character of J&K. While repealing the two articles will agitate all in J&K, it is beyond doubt that Muslims in the Jammu province, especially in the Chenab valley and the Pir Panjal region, will resist such plans. Moreover, Ladakhis across the board are conscious of the demographic make-up of their region, and won’t accept any change.

If the constitutional guarantees that bind J&K with the Indian Union can be unilaterally discarded, what is left to discuss.

This article first appeared in the print edition on July 16, 2019 under the title ‘The Article that binds’. The writer is a leader of the National Conference in South Kashmir and party’s spokesperson.

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