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Kashmir and Article 370: The tail is wagging the dog!

By T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan
December 07, 2013 14:10 IST
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Not just Article 370 but all such special status articles must go, says T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan

Suppose in 1971 Indira Gandhi had asked the so-called princes -- to whom India had promised a pension in perpetuity in return for joining the Indian Union -- if they would agree to its abolition.

What do you think these “princes” would have said? “Yes, dear, go ahead”?

So if you ask a Kashmiri, Hindu or Muslim, whether he or she will agree to the abolition of Article 370, will he or she agree? Why on earth would or should they? Everyone likes to be “special” in some way. Even Nitish Kumar wants special status now.

This establishes the first rule for the debate on Article 370: don’t ask those who benefit from a particular dispensation about whether it can (or should) be abolished. But, unfortunately, this is what Jawaharlal Nehru contrived in 1950.

He orchestrated a provision in the Constitution which says only a Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir can recommend the deletion of Article 370. You may as well ask the umpire to ask a batsman if he would like to be given out.

The second rule must be about context. There was perhaps a time in history in 1948 which warranted a Linus-like comforting blanket being offered to Kashmiris. But is our Linus never going to grow up, even though the threat of a military takeover by Pakistan is a now a thing of the past?

Pakistan can rattle its sabres till it turns blue in the face and it can brandish its nuclear weapons. But everyone knows that it can’t win in a war. Even Manmohan Singh says so.

A third rule must pertain to the issue of identity. If you ask a Kashmiri -- and I have asked plenty of them because my brother has been married to one for 42 years -- they all talk of something called Kashmiriyat, the shorthand for Kashmiri identity.

But I have never received a convincing answer from them or anyone else as to why the Kashmiri identity should be deserving of special consideration when other Indian identities are not. Is the Tamil or Bengali or Punjabi or Marathi or any other identity somehow inferior?

The fourth rule must be about the negative externalities of such special-status provisions. The question to ask is this: do such provisions engender a sense of separateness or do they allow integration? Is it a coincidence that many states to which a special status provision is applicable continue to nurse grievances which foreigners exploit in one way or another?

This actually takes us to an arcane aspect of the liberalism debate, namely, at what point does the country decide to impose a non-liberal rule? The answer does not lie in emotional outpourings, but in the cold precision of the logic of what are called impossibility theorems in mathematics. These basically say there are some problems which just cannot be solved in the way we would like them to be solved.

The world’s leading authority on this, none other than our own Amartya Sen, showed in a 1970 paper called The Dilemma of a Paretian Liberal how it was impossible to reconcile two highly desirable but mutually contradictory liberal conditions even if they were essential to a just solution.

The importance of his paper lay in proving, first, that it was futile to aim for something that is unattainable by definition and, second, therefore, that at some point a guillotine has to be applied on liberal approaches. Someone has to impose an arbitrary solution at some point.

A fifth rule in discussing special status provisions must look at the vested interests that such provisions create. Politicians, contractors and the links between them are one such vested interest and a very important one at that.

So powerful have they become in Kashmir that they even have the gall to threaten the country, as was evident last week when Kashmiri politician after Kashmiri politician adopted a highly minatory attitude.

In Jammu and Kashmir, meanwhile, despite the thousands of crores having been spent there in the last 60 years -- over half of which was spent after 1990 -- there’s not much to show as far as development indicators are concerned. So the question must be asked: where has the money gone?

All this does not mean that the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are right in their interpretation of Article 370. It was never a pro-Muslim provision. It was a political compromise and like all political compromises it should have been jettisoned long ago.

One final point for those who prefer numbers instead of logic: there are around three million people in the Kashmir Valley and 1.2 billion Indians -- including these three million. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

Finally, then there is the question of buying land in Kashmir -- a stupid rule forced on the state by the Brahmin advisers of the then ruler in the mid-1930s. Since it is there, should not such rules be symmetrical? How would the Abdullahs, the Muftis and the rest of them like to be prevented from buying property outside Kashmir?

Image: Relatives of missing Kashmiri men attend a sit-in protest in a park organised by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons in Srinagar ' Photograph: Danish Ismail/Reuters

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