Article 370 is not meant to reflect the liberal tilt in the Indian Constitution. It is specific. It gives a special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir—a status which the people of Jammu and Kashmir won after waging a long, tough fight for freedom both from the British and the Maharaja ruling the state.
Sheikh Abdullah was in the lead and achieved what looked impossible at one time, an autonomous status within the sovereign, secular Republic of India. Except three subjects—Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications—the Indian parliament had no power to legislate without the consent of the state legislature. The state could have merged with Pakistan, but preferred to integrate with secular India because the entire struggle by the Kashmiris was secular.
The undertakings given at that time are sacred and cannot be written off by the people who are of different thinking. The state had adopted even a separate constitution passed to make it clear the state would not compromise on its autonomy.
Watering it down now will amount to betrayal of the confidence which the people of Jammu and Kashmir had reposed in New Delhi. If any change had to be made, it has to be done by them. The Indian Union which the state had joined cannot amend its powers without the consent of the state people.
To give more subjects to Delhi is the prerogative of Srinagar. Sheikh Abdullah joined the Union on that understanding. Some elements trying to undo the understanding accorded to the state people are neither serving the cause of India, nor that of the state. In fact, most of what is happening in Kashmir is irrelevant and confusing.
Take the meeting of some Hurriyat leaders with the Pakistan High Commissioner Basit Ali in Delhi. Such meetings had taken place in the past too. The Indian government did not raise any objection to them then because they were taken as exercises to exchange views from the sidelines.
Shabbir Shah was only following a practice of several other Kashmiri leaders. To be charitable to him, one can say that he met the Pakistan High Commissioner as he or some other leaders would have done in the past, without a furore.
The Pakistan High Commissioner, however, is to be blamed because he knew that the Narendra Modi government had discontinued such practices. In his case, New Delhi made a request not to meet the Hurriyat leaders. Despite the majority in India being opposed to the “cozy relationship,” the Pakistan High Commissioner went ahead with the meeting. He should have anticipated the anger sweeping through India.
Apart from some sort of bravado, there was nothing positive about the meeting. New Delhi’s policy on Kashmir is to monopolize power and dilute the special status of Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah had kept the issue alive with some authoritarian thinking. When he challenged New Delhi, he was detained in a special jail at a faraway Tamil Nadu for 12 years.
No doubt, Jawaharlal Nehru tried to rub off the stigma of being power crazy and put up the Sheikh at his house after the detention. But history judged Nehru as a ruthless ruler who did not spare even his intimate friends. The same thinking prevails when those who want independence are called separatists. They are wrong in projecting a demand which has acquired a fundamentalist edge. In the bargain, the secular Sheikh’s contribution has been forgotten.
No doubt, the Hurriyat is a divided house. Some, led by Syed Shah Gillani, want the state to ‘join’ Pakistan. And the others, led by Yasin Malik, demand azaadi. Then there are those who are confused. Not long ago, when most Kashmiris, alienated from India as they are, favoured the integration with Pakistan, the Kashmiris would have voted for Pakistan if there had been a plebiscite. Today, a preponderant majority of Kashmiris, want azaadi. Yasin Malik has been able to veer them round from being pro-Pakistan elements to making them accept the demand for an independent, sovereign state.
Yet what the Hurriyat does not realize is that azaadi is an ideal, not a feasible proposition. When the British left India in August 1947, they gave the princely states an option to stay independently and they did not want to join either India or Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh, the then Jammu and Kashmir ruler, declared that he would stay independent. The land-locked state had to have the support of both India and Pakistan for access to the outside world. He did not want to depend on one.
With the Muslims in a majority in J and K, Pakistan expected its accession. When it did not take place, Pakistan sent its irregulars, backed by the regular troops. The Maharaja sought the help of India which insisted on the accession before sending its troops. He had to sign the Instrument of Accession Act.
The task of the Hurriyat is more difficult than that of the Maharaja. The two parts of the states are against azaadi. Jammu, the Hindu majority part, would like to join India. The Buddhist majority Ladakh, the other part, want to be a union territory of India. Therefore the demand for azaadi is essentially that of the valley which has nearly 98 percent of Muslims.
When India is in the midst of endeavour for polarization and when a political party is playing a Hindu card, it is difficult to imagine that the Congress or any other political party, including the Communists, would support the Hurriyat. Even otherwise, all political parties are opposed to the demand for independence, although some may go to the farthest in giving powers to the state.
After 67 years of partition, the wounds inflicted because of the division have not healed yet. How does the Hurriyat expect the people in India to reconcile to another partition, however genuine and strong are the sentiments of the Kashmiris? If partition is again on the basis of religion, the secular state may not survive as it is. True, the 15 crore Muslims in India are equal citizens and they cannot be treated as hostages. But the valley’s secession may have such repercussions which are dreadful to imagine. The Hurriyat has to introspect and change its tactics. It has to prove that it counts.