A change that hit federalism, inclusion

The idea that Article 370 weakened the Indian Union is erroneous and against basic understanding of democracy

Updated - August 04, 2020 12:06 am IST

Published - August 04, 2020 12:02 am IST

Ever since Article 370 that broadly defined Jammu and Kashmir’s relationship with the rest of India was upended and a new framework introduced last year, political activity in the erstwhile State has come to a complete halt.

In the last one year, the reorganisation of the erstwhile State was defended on the ground that it would lead to greater integration of J&K with the rest of the country. In a democracy, the concept of integration has to be evaluated from a multi-faceted system and lens, which includes the emotional aspect as well. And in that respect, sadly, the effect on the ground of the cataclysmic change of August 5, 2019 has yielded the opposite effect. J&K seems to be stuck in a morass.

Also read: Fact check: What is true and what isn’t on J&K, Article 370

First, the continued detention of political prisoners, particularly those who have been legislators and sworn in by the Constitution of India, shows that if democratic rights are not even available to the voices that speak on behalf of the Indian Union — voices that were more loyal than the king — how would ordinary people even think of enjoying them? Incidentally, this change was introduced on August 5, which also happens to be the birth date of arguably the foremost scholar (and activist) on J&K, Balraj Puri; he passed away in 2014.

The two core ideas that he consistently advocated were: peace would not ensue in J&K without guaranteeing respect for the democratic rights for its people; to ensure that the most important tool would be a rigorous pursuit of federalism within the State. Both of these are particularly salient in the present context.

Also read: ‘Presidential Order under Article 370 has no relevance’

Key to integration

In his best-selling book, Kashmir Towards Insurgency , published in the early 1990s, Balraj Puri presciently wrote that there was a persistent policy of denying Kashmir a right to democracy; one-party rule had been imposed on the State through manipulation of elections; Opposition parties had been prevented from growing, and elementary civil liberties and human rights had been refused to the people. “This refusal to integrate Kashmir within the framework of Indian democracy has proved to be the single greatest block to the process of Kashmir’s emotional and political integration with the rest of India.” He repeatedly argued that the feeling of hopelessness and a threat to identity exacerbated by a political vacuum create a breeding ground for militancy. He emphasised that a prerequisite to emotionally integrate Kashmir with the rest of India was to ensure that the people of the State enjoy the same democratic rights and constitutional protections as the people across the country.

Lessons of the last seven decades in J&K are crystal clear. The more democratic rights we give to the people of J&K, the more they feel a part of the Indian Union. The present phase of political dormancy reminds me of the early 1990s when the Kashmir Valley was perpetually under curfew. It was only after the channels of communications with everyone were opened that the strength of India’s democracy was exhibited. It was also realised that respect for human rights should be a key component of the Kashmir policy, as this and upholding national interest go hand in hand. These lessons were learnt the hard way with a lot of sacrifices, of lives, including those of ordinary Kashmiris and security personnel.

Also read: Explained | How the status of Jammu and Kashmir is being changed

Asymmetry and federalism

The last year should worry the entire country, as the constitutional change was an attack on Indian federalism. The idea that the presence of Article 370 weakened the Indian Union is erroneous and is contrary to a basic understanding of democracy and lessons learnt from the experiments of Indian federalism. J&K’s separate flag and Constitution within the Indian Union represented asymmetry, which is integral to the Indian federal experience. It should be seen in the context of an urge for recognition of identity within the vast ambit of the liberal and accommodative spirit of the Indian Union.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that such asymmetry has strengthened the Indian Union and led to better policy implementation and participation in political processes. In this respect, the multi-regional and ethnic J&K’s quest for autonomy should be seen through the broader lens of a multi-layered appetite for political, economic and social empowerment of all the three regions. J&K remains a microcosm of India’s diversity. J&K’s immense geographical, ethnic and religious diversity should be the source of strength rather than seen or viewed as a liability.

On devolution

I have always advocated, drawing from Balraj Puri’s life-long advocacy of the same, that the devolution of political power from Centre to J&K should not lead to political hegemony of any one region or political party; rather, it should be accompanied with a devolution of powers within J&K to reflect the former State’s divergent regional and ethnic urges. The institutional reconciliation of differences among these various shades of diversity is one of the prime components for a harmonious solution to the J&K imbroglio. Any devolution should have adequate federal checks and balances as accountability and transparency are at the heart of any successful federal democracy.

Overcoming the setback

Sadly, the decision, of August, 5, by the Indian Parliament has left everyone dissatisfied in J&K, including the people of Kargil within the separated Ladakh. It has only compounded the divide between J&K and the rest of the country that we, as a political class in J&K, had been assiduously trying to bridge for several decades, and at grave risk to our lives.

As we complete a year of this new constitutional reality, the situation in J&K calls for serious introspection from all those who believe in an inclusive and accommodative idea of India. We need multiple bridges including those between J&K and the rest of the country and among the various communities and regions of the former State. In order to build these bridges we will need a greater multi-layered, institutionalised decentralisation and respect for democratic rights for the people of J&K. And in this respect the developments that ensued after August 5, 2019 have run contrary to both.

M.Y. Tarigami is CPI(M) Central Committee Member, four-time Member of the J&K Legislative Assembly from Kulgam Constitutency, and President J&K – CITU

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