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What Lies Ahead For J&K

By MOHAMMAD SAYEED MALIK
December 13, 2023 09:59 IST
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For the last four years since abrogation of Article 370, Kashmir-based political parties have been struggling to forge an alternate narrative to the one forcibly snatched from them.

The BJP is bound to go hammer and tongs at them now that their armoury is reinforced with the Supreme Court judgment, notes Mohammad Sayeed Malik, the veteran commentator on Kashmir affairs.

IMAGE: Tourists enjoy shikara rides on the Dal Lake in Srinagar a day after the Supreme Court verdict upholding the Centre's decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution. Photograph: Umar Ganie for Rediff.com
 

Linking the Supreme Court's momentous decision, finally burying the Kashmir-related Article 370, with its historical perspective, it becomes crystal clear that the Sheikh Abdullah-led Kashmiri leadership had been taken up the proverbial garden path by 'New Delhi' during the crucial period of negotiations over division of powers between the centre and the state during early 1950s.

They fell for a tantalisingly wrapped package mistaking it for a prize-trophy.

They made a fatal blunder: Not looking into the intrinsic worth of guarantees and commitments being gifted to them in return for popular endorsement of the state's accession to the Indian Union against the run of events on the subcontinent in 1947 and mobilising a popular uprising against the tribal invasion from Pakistan.

The myth of the state's 'semi sovereign' status somehow lasted for 76 years until the apex court pricked the balloon and tersely ruled against its perpetuation.

The court also held that Jammu and Kashmir ruler (Maharaja Hari Singh) had surrendered his sovereignty along with the accession, like rulers of other nearly 500 states.

It held that the existence of J&K's separate constituent assembly (1951-1956) or its decisions were not binding on the President of India under whose authority Constitutional orders governing the state-Centre relationship were being issued from time to time.

That is how J&K had sustained a separate constitution and a separate flag until August 5, 2019 when the BJP-ruled central government bulldozed it, downgraded the state and divided it into two separate Union Territories -- J&K and Ladakh.

The Delhi Agreement of 1952, between Sheikh Abdullah and the central government was the first formal demarcation of authority between the Centre and J&K state.

Sheikh Abdullah's dismissal from power and arbitrary arrest shortly thereafter (1953) permanently tilted the balance of power at the state's expense.

Areas of central jurisdiction multiplied after Sheikh's exit and Article 370 became a virtual a one-way tunnel.

This truth was reflected in the torrent of central laws extended to supposedly 'autonomous' J&K state.

The Supreme Court's interpretation that Article 370 in relation to J&K had been conceived as a temporary/transitional mechanism 'in atmosphere of war' is, at the best, a partial fact.

By the time Article 370 was evolved (1949-1950) the war atmosphere triggered by the tribal invasion had subsided and the constitutional mechanism for transfer of power from the maharaja to a popular government headed by Sheikh Abdullah had been meticulously put through.

It was during this period that the state constituent assembly was elected, a framework of Centre-state relationship was being devised and socioeconomic measures of far reaching implications were being implemented under the constitutional/legal protection of Article 370.

But for this legal safeguard the land reforms and other measures like protection of 'state subject' privilege could have been nullified through judicial intervention.

Obviously, an arrangement intended to serve 'in war atmosphere' only couldn't have been stretched as far as Article 370 was to usher such far reaching changes across the board.

IMAGE: Sheikh Abdullah with Jawaharlal Nehru in this 1948 photograph. Photograph: Rediff Archives

Failure of the state leadership (1940s-1950s) to secure a permanent set of guarantees and rest assured with temporary/transitional commitments turned out to be fatal flaw when the arrangement was challenged legally and constitutionally.

The Supreme Court's unanimous decision to bury the temporary/transitional Constitutional proviso after it had existed for over seven decades is unquestionable.

Politically, the story is no less intriguing. It was no secret that after Sheikh's dismissal in 1953, even Jawaharlal Nehru was aiming at getting rid of Kashmir's special constitutional status.

Whenever questioned, his favourite explanation used to be 'ghiste, ghiste ghis jaye ga' (Article 370 will wear itself out through gradual wear and tear).

The post-1953 torrential inflow of central laws into J&K rendered Article 370 virtually hollow from inside and its statutory existence was just nominal.

No doubt even this hollow contraption served the political purpose of demarcating the nationalists from the separatists within the state's political format.

IMAGE: Supreme Court Justice Sanjiv Khanna speaks during the judgement on a batch of petitions challenging the abrogation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, December 11, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Post-August 5, 2019, the mainstream part of the arena, broadly identified with the National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party and the Congress remains bereft of a marketable (alternative) political agenda, resulting in desertion and poaching by NDA-blessed new local outfits.

The Gupkar Alliance was an expedient arrangement to tide over the immediate challenge faced by the beleaguered mainstream groups.

Now that the Supreme Court verdict has removed that fig leaf they would be hard put to assemble some kind of politically saleable platform. Survival of the Gupkar Alliance itself is at stake now.

Interestingly, for the last four years since abrogation of Article 370, Kashmir-based mainstream parties have been struggling to forge an alternate narrative to the one forcibly snatched from them.

On the contrary, the Bharatiya Janata Party is bound to go hammer and tongs at them now that their armoury is reinforced with the Supreme Court's judgment and also its psychological advantage goes to them exclusively.

IMAGE: Security personnel on alert in Srinagar, December 11, 2023 before the Supreme Court verdict. Photograph: Umar Ganie for Rediff.com

The BJP is making no secret of its long-nursed ambition to get into power and rule the country's only Muslim-majority state/UT.

That explains the unduly long delay in holding assembly polls even when conditions on the ground seem to be fairly suitable for holding assembly elections.

Ironically, no one finds any issue with preparing to hold the 2024 parliamentary poll along with the rest of the country.

But the hesitation to also go for the all-important assembly elections is being deflected under one pretext or another.

For unexplained reasons, the Supreme Court has skirted the politically ticklish issue of downgrading J&K state and breaking it up into two Union Territories.

'We did not go into this issue' because the central government had vaguely committed to restoring J&K's statehood.

It ought to have been addressed with the seriousness that it merits as it is of great emotional value to the people of the erstwhile state across the board. Their expectations were belied.

The over 475 page court judgment relates, directly or indirectly, to numerous other issues which would continue to be debated for a long time to come.

For instance, the proposal mooted by one of the five judges that a 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission' be set up to go into post-1989 developments in Kashmir notably mass migration of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley and its possible resolution.

It is a multi-layered multi-dimensional issue that has far defied attempts at resolution. Also it continues to feed communal rancour with ugly projections.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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MOHAMMAD SAYEED MALIK
 
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