Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi during a rally in Jammu last week not only underlined the necessity of holding a debate on the politically sensitive issue of Article 370, but also stressed on the need for a discussion on the pros and cons associated with it in the context of Jammu and Kashmir. According to Modi, a fresh discussion should be initiated over Article 370 as it came into existence in a ‘stop-gap’ form when the process of framing the constitution was at a nascent stage. Modi opines that a special emphasis should be laid upon the fact whether the people of Jammu and Kashmir derived any special benefits compared to people of other states due to Article 370. The Gujarat CM has also clearly stated that if J&K has benefitted from Article 370, it should continue. This particular point of view on Article 370 was something new from any BJP leader. Issues like this should definitely be discussed in a healthy democratic set-up, but it came as a matter of surprise that why it went on to press ‘panic button’ of sorts in nation’s political circle. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has not only questioned Modi’s intentions over Article 370, but also challenged the latter to hold a debate over the issue in Ahmedabad or at any other place. Other parties also had a similar point of view to express. They have reacted in such a way as if Modi had called for excluding of J&K from Article 370. The manner in which other parties came out with their thoughts and views has changed the actual nature and course of debate related to the issue. What’s pretty surprising is Modi’s views have been received coldly within his own party and it seemed that the saffron outfit wishes to stick to its same old policy, which was adopted a long time back.

Article 370 came into existence in unusual conditions. After Independence, when Pakistan tried to annex Kashmir for the first time, Maharaj Hari Singh agreed to merge Kashmir with the mainstream India in order to keep it incorporated with India. However, after a while, then heavyweight Kashmiri leader Sheikh Abdullah started creating problems in the path of that ‘prospective development’. Along with an array of demands, he also sought special status and as a result certain privileges and autonomy were granted to J&K under Article 370. Riding on the ‘power’ bestowed by Article 370, J&K, in-spite of being a part of Indian territory, attained autonomy to a certain extent. It’s mainly due to the influence of this very Article; the nature of law that is implemented in rest of the nation is not in direct effect in J&K. Besides, a law can come into existence in J&K only when it would be approved by the state legislature.

A sizeable section of the nation agrees that separatism could strengthen its roots in Jammu & Kashmir in general and the Kashmir Valley in particular mainly due to Article 370. This feeling of separatism has been patronized by the leaders of J&K. Several leaders, including Omar Abdullah, keep on saying repeatedly that Article 370 acts as the connecting bridge between J&K and mainstream India, and if it’s disturbed the issue of Jammu & Kashmir’s ‘integration’ will become a major subject of debate again. This very thinking separates the people of J&K from other states. When Article 370 came into existence, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru expected that with the passage of time this special ‘Article’ will no longer be necessary, but nothing like that happened. One of the major reasons behind this is the utility of Article 370 has been exploited most of the times. A major part of benefits, J&K derives for being a ‘special state’, started making its way into the pockets of a few selected people. The demand of special status for J&K is nothing but a kind of blackmailing. Post-independence, Sardar Patel is credited with bringing more than 500 provinces on board through negotiation and it’s still a matter of mystery that why something similar could not be done in the case of Jammu & Kashmir as well. All provinces merged with India and it stripped the royals of all their special privileges. However, things did not fall in its proper place in case of J&K as it was expected. Even today, a major section of J&K’s population sees India as an ‘alienated’ country. In these conditions, it becomes easy for Pakistan to meddle into J&K’s affairs. The fire of separatism is being provoked in the name of ‘Kashmiriyat’. The way lakhs of Kashmiri pandits have been forced to flee Kashmir Valley, it can’t be ‘Kashmiriyat’. The so-called notion of ‘Kashmiriyat’ has got transformed into ‘Islamism’ and that is why at a time, when it’s being claimed that J&K is limping back to normalcy, Kashmiri pandits are still not in a position to return to their homes. It should be discussed in Parliament that for how long, just in order to appease the people of Kashmir, the state will be treated as special.

Those who are blindly advocating for Article 370 are forgetting to focus on this fact that the Article gets maximum support in a certain part of the state only, i.e., Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley. In Jammu and other Hindu-dominated areas of the state, there is no special ‘yearning’ for Article 370; in the same way, the people of Leh and Ladakh are also not interested to merge with Valley and are demanding autonomy for themselves. It’s clear that the collective viewpoint of Jammu and Kashmir related to Article 370 is yet to come out. It’s indeed a matter of surprise that the Article, which was imposed as a ‘stop-gap’ measure is yet to generate any discussion in the Parliament for the past six-and-a-half decade. Had this been discussed, the positive as well as negative aspects associated with this Article would have come out in a proper manner with added clarity. In spite of Article 370, the way separatism is gaining grounds in J&K, it should be major cause of concern for our policy makers.    

How long, the political parties of Jammu & Kashmir will keep on misguiding all by tagging Article 370 as a bridge between the state and rest of the India? This so-called ‘thread of unity’ is a nothing but mere eyewash and the rest of the nation is paying a heavy price for it. The political parties should not only indulge in serious talks and discussions over Article 370, but also should make an attempt to move towards a fruitful conclusion. It’s mainly necessary because the situation in Kashmir is being said to be alright. If the situation is stable then why troops are still stationed there? The deployment of security forces in any area is an indicator of instability prevailing in that particular area. It’s pretty natural for the people to feel uneasy due to the presence of troops in their area. It would be good if logical debate takes place over Article 370 and the issue of presence of troops is also taken up. This is mainly necessary because those areas, which are already infested with militancy and Naxalism or has got presence of troops, may stand up tomorrow and demand special status. The way, separatists and militants are being treated with varied attitude and approach is pretty inappropriate.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on December 8, 2013 translated by the English editorial. The author is the Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)