It became the seed of a toxic separatism that encouraged violence both on the streets of Kashmir and the tacit teaming up with Pakistan to unleash a reign of terror.
New York: The shrill, indignant and raucous counter arguments eddying into the air in response to the abrogation of Article 370 are mere duds, hackneyed clichés and time-tested myths that have bitten the dust umpteen times. To reiterate these notions at this juncture is ridiculously redundant and an inane exercise that appropriates the dictum arguing for the sake of argument.
The noted columnist Pratap Banu Mehta, writing in the Indian Express (6 August) under a highly emotive title, The Story of Indian democracy written in Blood and Betrayal, pontificated: “India has betrayed its own Constitutional promises.”
Omar Abdullah, the former Chief Minister of J&K called the action “unilateral, illegal and unconstitutional”, and former Home Minister P. Chidambaram declared: “Today is a black day in the Constitutional history of India.”
How valid is this inflammatory charge of Constitutional heresy?
The unconstitutionality that these worthies are referring to is a narrow interpretation confined to the officialese of the Constitution, akin to bureaucratic nitpicking. On the contrary, the decision to nullify Article 370 resonates with the heart and spirit of the Constitution; it does away with an erroneous and dysfunctional directive at odds with the basic tenets of the Constitution itself.
Article 370 was a flawed statute to begin with. For one, it was crafty ploy engineered by Sheikh Abdullah, who envisioned himself becoming the supreme leader of a sovereign state in the future by exploiting this concession, and made possible by a pliant Nehru.
Two, it was hastily introduced into the Constitution by the Constituent Assembly over the opposition of the architect of the Indian Constitution, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, who remarked: “To give consent to this proposal, would be a treacherous thing against the interests of India and I, as the Law Minister of India, will never do it” (Balraj Madhok, Organiser. 14 November 2004).
Moreover, the contention that Article 370 was a popular refrain of all residents of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is a myth. At best it was a sectarian demand of the Muslims of Kashmir executed through dubious means. The Praja Parishad (representing the Hindus of Jammu) was vehemently opposed to Article 370 and responded with the cry: “Ek desh mein do vidhan, do pradhan, do nishan…nahin chalega, nahin chalega (One country cannot have two constitutions, two heads of state and two flags).”
To circumvent any opposition to Article 370, the peaceful protests of the Praja Parishad were violently crushed and the Parishad was prevented from contesting the Kashmir Constituent Assembly elections of 1951 by intentionally disqualifying its candidates. The result: all 75 seats were won by Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference and he was elected unopposed as the Prime Minister of J&K; any opposition to Article 370 was effectively stifled.
Can there be anything legitimate about a decree affected by violent suppression of dissent and deceit? The answer has to be in the negative.
Subsequently, Article 370 was exploited and abused by the political establishment in Kashmir to sustain a state that defied everything that was right in our Constitution and our tradition: equality, religious tolerance and non-violence; it gave credibility to a parallel interpretation of our Constitution to create a monster fundamentalist state; a rogue state within a democratic country.
The Constitution is a mere piece of paper with extensive verbiage; the words become meaningful only when translated into action, honoured or respected. It is not the governments duty alone to uphold the values enshrined in our constitution it befalls upon all of us, each and every Indian citizen to safeguard these principles.
The most audacious and violent betrayal of our constitution occurred on that fateful night in 1990 when a quarter million Indian citizens were driven out of their homes because they were Hindus and 7 million Kashmiri Muslims stood on the sidelines feigning helplessness against a few hundred terrorists- an act of unabashed ethnic cleansing for which the Kashmiri Muslims must be held responsible to some extent. Kashmiri society murdered our Constitution on that fateful night and lost all right to invoke it; so, did the liberal champions in our midst who chose to remain silent then and continue to do so in the face of what is arguably the most extensive act of religious sectarianism in independent India. Any attempt to allude to the Constitution in the current context is a trifle specious.
All the Chief Ministers of J&K have been Muslims from Kashmir as though conforming to an unwritten law, despite Hindus constituting 33% of the combined population of J&K—another clear example how Article 370 and its separatist undertone have encouraged marginalisation of Hindu Jammu and Buddhist Ladakh.
Last but not least, Article 370 became the seed of a toxic separatism that encouraged violence both on the streets of Kashmir and the tacit teaming up with Pakistan to unleash a reign of terror across not only Kashmir but the entire stretch of the country; a continuing train of terrorism that even reached the doors of our Parliament, the repository of our democracy. It is a bit rich when anyone invokes our Constitution to defend this warped narrative of Kashmir.
To term this decisive action as authoritarian and an indicator that “Indian democracy is failing” (Pratap Bhanu Mehta, IE, 6 August), is duplicitous hyperbole. The reality is quite the opposite. For once an Indian government has proactively acted to uphold our Constitutional charter. The government decision must be celebrated as a bold assertive championship of human dignity and human values in keeping with the true spirit of the Indian Constitution: a sign of a functioning vibrant democracy.
Agreed that scrapping Article 370 alone may not be the ultimate panacea for the Kashmir imbroglio, a lot more needs to be done. But it is a symbolic first step in the process of dismantling a malignant local culture that has thrived under its aegis by promoting disharmony and chaos at the cost of development.
Article 370 was essentially an instrument of blackmail, with Kashmiri politicians constantly threatening that tinkering with Article 370 would nullify Kashmir’s accession to India, a bluff that had to be called. But above all, Article 370 was an anathema to our traditional values and an oxymoron in an otherwise noble Constitution. It had to go to salvage the soul of a nation and the meaning of the Constitution; a decision long overdue.
Vivek Gumaste is a US based academic and political commentator.