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Why the BJP cannot compromise on Article 370

By Vivek Gumaste
January 20, 2014 16:26 IST
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Article 370 is a golden cage that keeps Kashmiris trapped in a stifling environment, deters other Indians from investing in the state perpetuating its economic penury and expressly hinders the understanding of India; all under the false premise of preserving a narrow parochial identity, says Vivek Gumaste.

This was the last message that he sent to his countrymen: “I have entered Jammu and Kashmir state, though as a prisoner.” It was May 11, 1953

The next 42 days of his life, unfortunately his last, he spent in captivity as a political detainee, confined to a scrubby, stifling shanty located on a mountainous terrain overlooking the picturesque Dal Lake with limited access to the outside world. He was allowed only one newspaper; his mail was censored and his only license was a walk along a narrow strip of land that was no bigger than a tennis court. He was denied access to books, deprived of basic necessities and debarred from meeting family and friends. Much needed medical aid was withheld or deliberately delayed causing his health to deteriorate. He died mysteriously in custody on June 23, 1953.

A few days prior in a speech that was eerily prophetic, he had told the people of J&K:

“You want Indian constitution, you want Indian flag, and you want Indian President to be your President. These are just and patriotic demands. They will have to be met… I can only assure you that I will do all I can.

Ham Vidhan Lenge Ya Balidan Denge -- I will secure for you the Constitution of India or lay down my life for it.”

From Portrait of a Martyr by Professor Balraj Madhok.

This man was Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerji, the first president of the Jana Sangh, the forerunner of the Bharatiya Janata Party and an inveterate opponent of Article 370.

As the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi (he has called for a debate on Article 370) and its president Rajnath Singh indulge in exploratory allusions that suggest a mellowing of the BJP’s stance vis-a -vis Article 370, it is imperative to recall the shady historical events that ushered in this flawed law and take cognizance of the ultimate sacrifice made by Dr Mookerji: events vital to the understanding of this controversial statute and why it needs to be debunked.

First, Article 370 was not the outcome of popular consensus. It was the brain child of an ambitious scheming Sheikh Abdullah (the current CM’s grandfather) who envisioned himself becoming the supreme leader of a sovereign state with the aid of a special status accorded to J&K, making it a country within a country with its own distinct flag, emblem and constitution. It was a crafty ploy that he managed to execute with the help of a pliant Jawaharlal Nehru.

The inherent logical inconsistency of this move was evident to all leading to a chorus of protest in the constituent assembly. The Urdu poet, Maulana Hasrat Mohani queried: “Why this discrimination please?” Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, the chairman of the drafting committee denounced the idea and several members balked at this rationally challenged proposition. Only when Gopal Swamy Aiyangar assured them of its temporary nature did they agree:

“It is the hope of everybody here that in due course, even Jammu and Kashmir will become ripe for the same sort of integration as has taken place in the case of other states.”

Therefore, Article 370 was never conceived as a permanent statute. It was a transient decree, as is evident from its inclusion in the constitution under the section captioned, ‘Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions’.

So constitutionally it is not an anathema to debate its abrogation. The time is ‘ripe.’

Second, the illusion of Article 370 being a popular refrain is another myth. An academic recently claimed (Amitabh Matto. The Hindu, December 6): “Article 370 was and is about providing space, in matters of governance, to the people of a state who felt deeply vulnerable about their identity…”

But who are these ‘people of a state who felt deeply vulnerable about their identity’? Was this a universal lament? The answer: a resounding no. At best it was a sectarian demand of the Muslims of Kashmir. The Praja Parishad (representing the Hindus of Jammu) was vehemently opposed to Article 370 and responded with the cry: “Ek desh mein do cidhan, do pradhan, do nishan… nahin challenge, nahin challenge.”

It was Dr Mookerji’s unflinching support for this movement that led to his arrest and death. Eventually this peaceful popular protest was brutally crushed by draconian measures adopted by the state government:

“Through the winter of 1952/53 the Praja Parishad and the state government remained locked in conflict. Protesters would remove the state flag from government buildings and place Indian flags in their stead. They would be arrested …a parishad member Mela Ram was shot by the police… By the end of April 1953, 1,300 people had been arrested.”                       

From India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha

Additionally to circumvent legislative opposition, the Praja Parishad was prevented from contesting the Kashmir constituent assembly elections of 1951 by intentionally disqualifying its candidates. The result:  all 75 seats were won by Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference.

Can there be anything legitimate about a law affected by violent suppression of dissent and political chicanery?

Finally, what is most irksome about Article 370 is its non-reciprocity. While citizens of J&K can purchase land and property in any part of India, the reverse is not true: a classic example of blatant inequality that is morally untenable.

Article 370 is a golden cage that keeps Kashmiris trapped in a stifling environment, deters other Indians from investing in the state perpetuating its economic penury and expressly hinders the understanding of India and other Indians by a dearth of free interaction; all under the false premise of preserving a narrow parochial identity.

Article 370 is redundant; a paper dinosaur in a fast changing globalised world wherein physical barriers are fast crumbling. It is ethically flawed, has outlived its legislative legitimacy and mocks the fundamental structure of our nationhood. It must go. The BJP cannot afford to be seen as softening its stance on a fundamental tenet that defines its existential identity. In such a move there is a real danger of alienating its core constituency.

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