Modi government shouldn’t have taken away statehood of Jammu and Kashmir
V ERY early during his second tenure Prime Minister Narendra Modi has fulfilled one of the oldest, strongest and deepest wishes of the RSS and the BJP to take away the ‘special status’ of Jammu and Kashmir among states guaranteed by Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution. He is their superhero, as well as of tens of millions of their workers and supporters. In one stroke he has brought Jammu and Kashmir down to the level of other states! Article 370 gave the Jammu and Kashmir legislature the privilege to decide whether to apply any laws passed by the Parliament to the state or not, except for the laws related to Defence, Foreign Affairs, Communications and other matters described in the Instrument of Accession signed by the Maharaja of Kashmir with the government of India. Article 35A gave the Jammu and Kashmir legislature the privilege to define who can be a ‘permanent resident’ of the state. A permanent resident was defined as someone who was a state subject on May 14, 1954, or who had been a resident for 10 years and has lawfully acquired immovable property.
Under Articles 370 and 35A Jammu and Kashmir had a state constitution, a state flag and a state citizenship – privileges that waved like a red rag to the nationalist bull. The RSS and the BJP saw the privileges as nothing but yet another example of ‘appeasement of minorities’ by the Congress government. Why should Jammu and Kashmir have a ‘special status’ and special privileges? The position of the RSS and BJP was that it was the ‘appeasement of minorities’ by the Congress that had led to the country’s partition and to separate civil code for the minorities. That was why the minorities had not become a part of the national mainstream. They viewed Articles 370 and 35A as two great barriers created by the same minority appeasement policy of the Congress to bringing the minorities in Jammu and Kashmir to the mainstream. By a single stroke, therefore, they decided to do it ignoring all risks.
Though the RSS and the BJP have done it out of their ‘conviction’ that they had to end ‘minority appeasement’ in Jammu and Kashmir once for all, they seem to have done too much too quickly. The logic that all states must enjoy equal status has a great force, but the decision taken by the Modi government shows that they have not handled the issue in a careful and subtle manner. It has done it in a blitzkrieg manner. It has created an infinite space for an eternal grievance among Kashmiris that why did the Modi government take away the special status only of Jammu and Kashmir when some other states such as Nagaland, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh also enjoyed such a status? Even the Union territory of Andaman & Nicobar Islands enjoys a special status. Several areas inhabited by tribals also enjoy similar privileges and protection. The fact that even the states of Nagaland, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh, the Union territory of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and the tribal areas were given special status clearly showed that ‘minority appeasement’ was not the defining principle of granting special status to states and territories. The defining principle was national security in the case of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, both being border states like Jammu and Kashmir. The defining principle in the case of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and tribal areas was protection of homelands of aboriginal communities. There are ‘permanent resident’ laws prevalent in all these states and territories that bar people from other parts of the country to buy property there.
How one wishes the Modi government should not have abolished the ‘state status’ of Jammu and Kashmir in its zeal to abolish its ‘special status’! In the years after Independence Union territories have been graduating to states; this is the first time a state has been reduced to a Union territory, that too in a truncated condition. A state is like a nation within nation with which a certain large group of people identify regardless of differences of religion and culture. The pain of dwarfing must be extremely terrible for every Kashmiri.