Article 370 and Indian Jammu and Kashmir; 10 December 2013



Article 370 and Indian Jammu and Kashmir; 10 December 2013

Indian prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, has raised the issue of the Indian Constitution’s Article 370 and its benefit for the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Although Article 370 supposedly guarantees autonomy to Indian Jammu and Kashmir (IJ&K), any such autonomy disappeared long ago.

Article 370 was included in the Indian Constitution in 1952 as a ‘temporary provision’, presumably until J&K’s international status was resolved and the state was finally integrated into India, as New Delhi expected would happen. Under this article, the Indian government was supposedly only responsible for defence, foreign affairs and communications. The IJ&K government of the day retained all other powers. This allowed the IJ&K state—comprising Jammu, the Kashmir Valley (or Kashmir) and Ladakh—significant autonomy. India’s input in IJ&K was limited to inter-state disputes, people’s fundamental rights and the three matters mentioned above.

Historically, Article 370 was created as a result of the controversial circumstances surrounding Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession to India on 26 October 1947. It was designed to appease Kashmiris uncertain about whether J&K should join India or Pakistan. It also unofficially recognised that India needed the Muslim Kashmiri leader, Sheikh Abdullah, and that New Delhi was agreeable to his terms for J&K joining the Indian Union (rather than Pakistan). In 1950, Abdullah was popular, politically powerful, and had considerable influence, including with his friend, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s prime minister. Nehru, who had Kashmiri ancestors, had an emotional attachment to the Kashmir Valley that, on occasions, clouded his otherwise rational approach to resolving difficult matters. He needed Abdullah to shore up India’s position in J&K, particularly amongst the Muslim-majority population living in the prized Kashmir region, possession of which Nehru was reluctant to forego. This related to India’s hope of winning the plebiscite that India’s leaders had promised, rather hastily, in 1947 to the people of J&K. J&K-ites were to determine whether J&K, in its entirety, would join India or Pakistan. But India’s desire to hold this poll faded quickly, chiefly because it felt that it would ‘lose’. Concurrently, a disenchanted Abdullah reverted to an earlier position favouring J&K being independent from both (secular) India and (Islamic) Pakistan. His stance was unacceptable to Nehru. As a result, Abdullah was sacked as IJ&K prime minister on 8 August 1953.

With the popular Abdullah sidelined, New Delhi steadily and consistently eroded IJ&K’s supposed autonomy. Local IJ&K politicians ably assisted India, starting with the administration led by Abdullah’s immediate successor, the necessarily (and possibly genuinely) pro-Indian, Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad. Thereafter, to all intents and purposes, IJ&K became just another Indian state. It is now fully integrated into the Indian political system. IJ&K voters send four representatives to India’s Rajya Sabha (Upper House) and six to its Lok Sabha (Lower House). The IJ&K prime minister, like is his counterparts elsewhere in India, is now called chief minister. The Indian tricolor flies throughout the state. The New Delhi-appointed Governor or Indian President is able to impose Governor’s Rule or President’s Rule on IJ&K. The Indian Administrative Service’s J&K cadre populates the IJ&K bureaucracy. People in IJ&K can obtain legal remedies through the Indian Supreme Court. Most persuasively, since 1947, IJ&K has become part of India economically. With no other transport options available, IJ&K is totally reliant on India for all of its goods and services. Consequently, IJ&K has become fully integrated with India commercially, financially and communications-wise.

So what’s the big deal? Article 370 has become a symbolic device that people use in different ways. For many Indians, especially non-Muslims, Article 370 is unfair, even abhorrent. It grants IJ&K, whose majority population comprises Muslims—although, as far as I can determine, the 2011 Indian Census does not confirm this situation—a special status not given to other Indians or Indian states. These anti-Article 370 Indians include members of Modi’s right-wing BJP. They want IJ&K to become a normal, or non-special, state fully incorporated into the Indian Union. Conveniently, this would allow them to purchase land and property in IJ&K, an option currently only available to ‘state subjects’ of IJ&K. This status arises from a law passed in princely J&K in 1927 and retained thereafter throughout J&K after 1947, with the exception of Pakistan-administered Gilgit-Baltistan. Naturally, some people in IJ&K fear being swamped should they lose state subject status.

Anti-Article 370 Indians also include many Jammuites and Ladakhis. They claim that they have long endured Kashmiri domination of IJ&K. Politically, ethnic Kashmiris have 47 seats in the IJ&K Legislative Assembly, giving them an absolute majority over Jammuites’ 37 seats—even though Jammu may have more electors than Kashmir—and Ladakhis’ three seats. Economically, Kashmiris get a larger share of state resources, jobs and services. Emotionally, New Delhi’s attention mainly goes to Kashmir and Kashmiris. Jammuites, particularly, and Ladakhis therefore would be happy to see IJ&K become a ‘normal’ Indian state without any special privileges. Many also may want the state bifurcated into two regions comprising Jammu-Ladakh and Kashmir, or even trifurcated into its three component regions. BJP politicians may be prepared to consider such proposals.

For Kashmiris, most of whom are Muslims, Article 370’s existence confirms that New Delhi acknowledges that this Muslim community is important, needs to be treated specially—and wooed. Additionally, IJ&K is India’s only Muslim-majority state. But, while Muslims comprise IJ&K’s majority population, they are part of a minority in secular, but Hindu-dominant, India. Kashmiris have cleverly extracted benefits from India for their special status. The removal of Article 370 would eliminate this specialness. Some Kashmiris say this would cause them to rethink whether they want to part of India. Such talk has concerned Congress-led governments that consider the Kashmiris’ presence in India—not in Islamic Pakistan—helps to confirm India’s secular credentials. Conversely, a BJP-led government possibly intent on Indian-ising, or even Hindu-ising, all Indians, regardless of their religion, causes Muslim Kashmiris angst. For them, Narendra Modi has possibly unleashed a monster.

Christopher Snedden
10 December 2013


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