Need for a bold step

Need for a bold step

Prime minister Narendra Modi’s newly sworn in minister of state in PMO Jitendra Singh’s statement suggesting for a debate on Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) has created a minor storm in the political circles with much criticism coming from the politicians in J&K including both the rivals – NC’s Omar Abdullah and his bete noire PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti.

In one of his earlier (pre-election) speeches Narendra Modi himself had alluded to Article 370 as having contributed to the problems of economic development of J&K. One thought that was certainly pertinent and significant.

Since its accession, the state of J&K has always been a tricky problem for the Central government because of its special status in the Indian union.

India government has always insisted that J&K is an ‘integral’ part of India.

Yet, there is the Article 370 in the Indian Constitution that grants J&K a special status whereby it has its own ‘permanent residents’ unlike in any of the other states of the Indian union. It is some kind of a state within a state – a kind of ‘autonomy’ already granted to it at its birth. |

Only the permanent residents of J&K have a right over the land in that state – a restrictive property ownership law that has done much economic harm to that state than any good.

It has scuttled itself from any economic movement while it is dependent on all matters including economic help on the Central government of India.

Thus, while the business leaders like Tata or Narayana Murthy or Ambanis have shaped the renaissance of the economically ‘new India’, there has been and cannot be any movement of the capital in any substantive way in the state of J&K.

Therefore, J&K has remained economically backward like a child that is anorexic and hence weak and irritable. Unfortunately, the ‘leaders’ in J&K have been zealously protecting this anorexia with much pride in it. In the process, the adamantly anorexic child state is harming itself and is a source of worry for the parent Indian government.|

The solution to this problem should be obvious to anybody. It is to rid the child of its anorexia, which requires a careful physiological and psychological handling. It requires a firm commitment and bold step from the parent -- our union government.

The self-imposed exile of Article 370 in J&K must go. During the reign of the previous governments, however, New Delhi’s approach has been to beat up the affected child whenever it threw tantrums; the spate of violent demonstrations many times in the past and the CRPF action in trying to quell the protests is one such example.

Article 370 could have been withdrawn from the constitution long ago.

Because the historic conditions under which that article was included, ceased to exist decades ago. For one, after the accession of J&K to the Indian union, Pakistan has occupied a considerable portion of the state.

Article 370 cannot be held valid for a state that is actually only a portion of the original one.

Illogical continuation

Add to this the control of the Aksai Chin area, a considerable portion of land, by China.

Now, as per new revelations, China has also been given control over the Gilgit area of POK by the Pakistan government.

Thus, the parties in Kashmir have also changed. It was illogical for India to have continued with the special condition of Article 370 for so long since its inception over six decades ago.

India must, at least now initiate the process of discontinuation of this Article by constitutional means.

An earlier statement by Dr Farook Abdullah, Member of the Parliament and former Chief Minister of J&K, that “No right minded person in J&K would like to join either the failed state of Pakistan and/or separate from the economically thriving India”, was very apt.

Some separatist elements may paint an illusion that that the grass is greener on the other side. But, the common woman wants ‘azaadi’ (freedom) mainly from the pangs of poverty.

She wants food for her young ones and employment for her grown-up children. Unfortunately, the central government – particularly the UPA that was in power - never tried to understand the undercurrent of frustration among the common people there on account of woeful lack of economic opportunities.

If the removal of Article 370 results in rapid investments in J&K and hence its development, people of Kashmir under Pak control today can also be expected to oppose militancy and show eagerness to be a part of the economic development story.

The government should show courage in getting the Article 370 impediment removed through constitutional means and herald a new era in the development of Kashmir unfortunately stuck in the time warp of ‘shikaras’ i.e. depending mainly on its tourism industry.

The problem of Kashmir has remained alive so far because of our own Union governments’ alienation from the people of J&K. The present newly elected government at the centre should not only declare J&K as an ‘integral part’ of India but through its tangible actions demonstrate that it firmly believes so.

If we are committed to their welfare, the solutions would come naturally because political hurdles are only artificial.

They have existed because we have tacitly given space, in our minds, for our enemies’ arguments.

The government at the centre should be bold to reject all such argument as sham and void by not giving any credence to them either by word or deed.

We need to build confidence in our Kashmiri population, remove Article 370 as soon as possible constitutionally by Presidential declaration, and nourish J&K to put it on the path of socio-economic growth like the rest of the country.

Let us put J&K on the path of progress and peace by connecting it to the mainstream.