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Much ado about Little

Hollowing out of Article 370, which had become a shadow of its original self, doesn’t come as a surprise

The government’s decision to abrogate Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was duly rubber-stamped by Parliament. Provisions of Article 370 were used selectively to undermine the basic thrust of the Article, namely, regional autonomy.

Close observers of the Indian scene had anticipated this action for some time for a number of reasons.

First, this move has been part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s agenda since it was established in April 1980. It had also been a part of the founding agenda of its predecessor, the Jana Sangh, since Shyama Prasad Mookerjee launched it in 1951. The BJP, when in office from 1998 to 2004, was unable to implement it because it was part of a coalition, and other members of the coalition were averse to any such action.

Erosion began in 1953

Second, and more important, over the years, Article 370 had become merely a shadow of its original self and, therefore, largely redundant as far as the governance of Jammu and Kashmir was concerned.

The process of its erosion began in 1953 with the removal of Sheikh Abdullah from the office of Prime Minister of Kashmir by the Jawaharlal Nehru government on suspicion that he harboured secessionist tendencies. To stay in power, Abdullah’s successors, especially Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed and Mir Qasim, were more than willing to see the Centre expand its tentacles into the State by successively amending or distorting Article 370.

The Congress Party, which is shedding tears today at the abolition of the State’s special status, was primarily responsible for the attrition of its autonomy over six decades.

Even after Sheikh Abdullah returned to power in 1975 by accepting a watered-down version of the autonomy guaranteed under Article 370, Jammu and Kashmir’s special status continued to be more a myth than reality. This was demonstrated very clearly in the 1980s when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi forced the National Conference, led by Farooq Abdullah, into a shotgun marriage with the Congress Party.

The 1987 elections were allegedly rigged to deny the Muslim United Front a sizeable number of seats in the State Assembly that it was projected to win. The insurgency and terrorism in the Valley in the past three decades can be traced directly to this folly that turned peaceful opponents into violent adversaries. It played directly into Pakistan’s hands and provided it the opportunity to export terrorist groups into Kashmir to create mayhem and anarchy.

Article 370 had, therefore, become merely a symbol without any real content of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy and special status. New Delhi’s interference in the State was of a far greater order than was the case with any other State in the Union. The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo have merely removed the veneer of the State’s special status, thus exploding the myth that India’s only Muslim-majority State was being shown greater favour by the Centre in comparison with other States. This myth helped Hindu nationalist forces to mobilise not only against Articles 370 and 35A; it also contributed hugely to their propaganda that Congress governments were engaged in appeasing Muslims.

Jammu and Kashmir’s “special status” can no longer be used as a stick to beat Muslims from the rest of the country, who should distance themselves from this controversy for two reasons. First, the Hindutva propagandists will tout any opposition as “anti-national”. Second, Muslims in other parts of India owe nothing to Kashmiri Muslims who have in fact become an albatross around their necks by not unequivocally opposing the violence committed by terrorists among them and by raising “azadi” slogans. Further, Muslims from Kashmir have not exactly shown empathy when it comes to the vital concerns of Muslims in the rest of India.

Mohammed Ayoob is Senior Fellow, Center for Global Policy, Washington DC

The article originally appeared in The Hindu on August 8, 2019.