Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s call for a debate on Article 370 of the Constitution (Dec. 3) has unveiled the mask over his face. He appears intent on being in the eye of a political storm by making statements on sensitive issues. One would have thought that the BJP would approach 2014 with a broad perspective on national issues. However, the party seems to be held hostage by Mr. Modi and his calculated campaign. This is not the time to initiate such a debate. Anyway, the process to abrogate Article 370 will be no easy task for the BJP, even if it comes to power.
Can anyone argue that the reasons which called for a special status for Jammu and Kashmir do not exist today? Have successive governments done all that is possible to dispel the notion of alienation among the people of the State? Has Indian democracy and federal governance given all that it could to quell the feeling of neglect among Kashmiris? The answer is “no.” Successive State governments have done nothing either. This being the case, the call for a debate on Article 370 will remain a political statement that does nothing for the social, political, and economic circumstances obtaining in the State.
The genesis of Article 370 merits recall when debating its continuation. The Instrument of Accession deposited by the Princely States with the state's ministry in 1947 only transferred to the Indian Union the rights exercised over them by the Viceroy. Maharaja Hari Singh also did so, and Article 370, only applicable to J&K, was the result. Thereafter, following full integration with the Indian Union, the Princes lost their rights but gained Privy Purses as compensation. However, Article 370 remains, though the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir received a Privy Purse like others. Interestingly, J&K was the only State left untouched when linguistic States were established.
Leaving all political or communal views aside, we have to look at the background to the inclusion of Article 370 in the Constitution and its impact over the decades. For this, one needs to look at the attack on Kashmir by tribals and irregulars from Pakistan and the struggle thereafter.
Kashmiri leaders have benefited immensely from the special status. Some have mentioned that similar provisions exist in other States and regions, but they must remember that none has been given a separate Constitution.