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Mainstream, Vol LII, No 15, April 5, 2014

Kashmir: Modi’s Fantasies and Article 370

Sunday 6 April 2014

by Imran Ahmad Kichloo

“The time has come for at least a debate to find out whether Article 370 has benefited the common man in Jammu and Kashmir or not,” Narendra Modi stated recently while addressing a rally in Jammu. This reminds us of the famous statement of the Indian representative to the UN that “sinners are trying to teach the lesson of chastity”. Modi might have got great applause for this which was nothing but a new stunt in the politics of populism. Before engaging in arguments let’s examine the stand of the BJP on the J&K issue and politics. In its manifesto, the BJP unequivocally demands and strongly desires to abrogate Article 370. But Modi’s change of language seems contradictory to his own party’s agenda. The use of the phrase ‘debate 370’ instead of ‘abrogate Article 370’ compels us to raise our finger against the credibility, not to mention the hypocrisy, of the BJP as a party.

It may seem that Modi has become a champion and messiah of the Kashmiris’ real problems in the sense that he has not discussed the issue of Article 370 in the communal context but to us it is the compulsion of electoral politics which guides Modi to dance to this tune and nothing else. Any national leader, either from the ruling party or Opposition, when on a visit to the conflict zone, is supposed to do a lot of homework. Modi is no exception to this general rule. He might have done a lot of hard and smart work to pick any issue which was expected to be regional in nature and national in effect. The issue of Article 370 was, of course, the best and the only issue which suited him and his party

In his speech, Modi has somehow tried to locate the roots of gender-based discrimination in Jammu and Kashmir in Article 370. Some commentators may praise Modi for defending individual rights against collective rights but the case is not so. Under Article 370, a Kashmiri girl married to a non-Kashmiri gets the right to inherit and buy property (land) in her name. However, this right cannot be enjoyed either by her husband or by her children. Apparently it looks discriminatory in nature. But is it really so? Article 370 was inserted in the Constitution of India with a hope and vision that it will protect the unique identity of the Kashmiris, Kashmiriyat. Article 370 and laws relating to pro-perty provide an assurance against any change to be made in the demography of J&K. Now, Modi and persons like him, who press hard to change these laws, especially related to property issues, indirectly intend to dilute the sprit of Article 370 which is the life-breath of the Kashmiri identity.

Some people, especially from the minority communities of J&K (particularly Hindu Pundits), express their deep anger by putting a question-mark on the Kashmiriyat of which they were (and still are) a constituent part by arguing that Article 370 does not provide them any benefit as they have been ousted by the Kashmiri Muslims. Hence, they believe that being a Kashmiri, their Kashmiryat has been snatched away. But history is testimony to the fact that the year when they were expelled from the Valley, the society, at that time, was dominated and hijacked by a small fraction/group of people who were radical in their approach. Even among Muslims, the well-wishers of Hindus were compelled to remain tight-lipped out of the fear of death by their own men. So to blame all Kashmiris for not accommo-dating the Hindu Pundits is baseless. If it had been so then why were other minorities like Sikhs and Qadyanis not expelled?

Modi has tried to cement the common belief among the people that the State of J&K enjoys the fruits of special status. This is true but to think that J&K has got something more special than the rest of India is also not correct. It should be mentioned that Article 370 protects the identity of Kashmiris but on the other hand, it has equally helped the Government of India to strengthen and spread its roots in the State. Gulzari Lal Nand once said: “There is no need to abrogate Article 370, it is a tunnel between J&K and India which will help to take the provisions of the Indian Constitution into J&K”. This prophecy of Nanda became true. For instance, Article 249, which is depicted as anti-federal in nature, was made applicable in J&K by the Government of India through a presidential order. This became possible only by the misinterpretation of Article 370. So the mentality (that specials status to J&K makes it superior to other States) which is being projected through Modi widens the gap between Kashmir and the rest of India; and this does not, in any sense, fall within the ambit of our national interest.

People outside Kashmir are deliberately made to believe that Article 370 creates hindrance in the nation-building process; this is condem-nable. After all, none can evade the fact that it is Article 370 by dint of which Article 1 of Indian Constitution has been made applicable in the State. Politicians must show a sense of maturity while dealing with such sensitive issues. Inflammatory speeches do not help at all to redress the grievances of the people. If one has to win the hearts of the people, more pragmatic and serious efforts have to be made by the self-proclaimed protectors of peace and the nation. Gone are the days when it was easy to befool the people for electoral purposes; the people are much more mature to understand the deceptive tactics of politicians who claim to be the saviour of the nation.

One fails to understand why Modi suddenly jumped in defence of protecting individual rights against collective rights. When has he not soiled his hands with the blood stains of innocent persons who were butchered in 2002? Besides this, why did he remain a silent spectator when in 2010 more than 100 innocent people were massacred in the Valley?

In conclusion, it may be said that some Indian secularists are reluctant to concede the demand of some Kashmiri separatists about the merger of Kashimir with Pakistan on the ground that it may challenge the very secular foun-dations of our nation. Our secularism, in that case, may be branded as ‘non-accommodative’ and ‘exclusive’ in nature. But here again the onus lies on the shoulders of those secularists not to allow a communal person to become the Prime Minister of the country which is multilin-gual, multi-cultural and multi-religious and if that becomes a reality then it will be considered a big blot on Indian secularism and democracy. And in the bargain both these — secularism and democracy — will become weaker thereby enfeebling the Indian state itself.

The author is an MA student in Political Science at the Aligarh Muslim University.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62