Gopalaswami Ayyangar, a minister in Nehru’s cabinet, a former dewan of Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu & Kashmir and who principally drafted the Article 370 argued in the Constituent Assembly of J&K in 1949 that unlike other princely states, J&K was not ripe for integration with India. The conditions were “unusual and abnormal” and part of the state’s territory was in the hands of "rebels and enemies”. So, Article 370, from its inception, was a ‘temporary provision’. However, it has continued for 70 years till it was nullified on August 5, 2019.
In a democracy, equality is a major component and ‘special privileges’ for certain people or for certain states are by definition unfair. But circumstances have led to endowing such privileges not just to J&K but to some other states as well. The removal of special privileges by scrapping Article 370 may have caused an uproar but it was inevitable, some day or the other – if we believe in democracy. That it took 70 years is unfortunate. Some are “more equal than others” can only be a rule for an authoritarian country.
Certainly, the removal of Article 370 from the Constitution is a historic move and even a number of the Congress leaders have appreciated the move, though some have questioned the way it was done. It was a move long overdue. Opposition has also raised the question as to why special provisions are removed for J&K only and not for other states who enjoy such privileges. But that is different argument which needs to be settled in a different context.
For the moment, Kashmir will continue to be a part of the international debate. The United Nations till so far is unwilling to interfere. The President of the US Donald Trump said that he has been requested by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to negotiate, which India has strongly denied. Kashmir is an Indian problem and the Home Minister Amit Shah was right when, while replying to the Lok Sabha, said why parts of Kashmir should remain ‘occupied’ by Pakistan or China. It’s a gutsy decision.
J&K is now a Union Territory, along with Ladakh. The Prime Minister explained that the move was taken for greater development of J&K and that statehood would be soon restored to it. Given the context of the temporality of Article 370 being extended for 70 years, the promise of an early statehood might be questioned; but it is highly desirable.
What is noted with concern is the revelation in the Lok Sabha by the only young MP from Ladakh. It has been a neglected area so long under the J&K government. It does not have a single university. Development funds were diverted to either Jammu or Kashmir and hardly anything was left for the Himalayan plateau Ladakh. Under the new circumstances, Ladakh has become a Union Territory for which, the young MP said, they had been agitating for so long.
Those who have protested against the way in which Article 370 was removed may not be aware that this constitutional provision has over the years have been diluted through several amendments. It was an anachronism which had to go. It was benefitting more the conspirers who were working against India with enemy help and a few families in Kashmir. In fact, with Article 370 in place, J&K was continuing more like a princely state in the colonial era.
What is desirable is lasting peace in Kashmir. And prosperity. Nature has richly endowed Kashmir; but the general people continue to live in abject poverty. It must change.