Although the bjp/nda 2.0 government’s swift and decisive August 5 initiative of abrogating Articles 370 and 35 (a) of the Constitution which had accorded the Muslim-majority state of Jammu & Kashmir special status among the 29 states of the Indian Union, and simultaneous bifurcation of J&K and its Ladakh district into separate Union territories, is not the best solution for free India’s 70-year-old Kashmir separatist problem, it represents some movement from the increasingly tiresome status quo ante position. The special status of J&K which implicitly acknowledged that it was disputed territory between India and Pakistan has cost us dearly. With the two countries having fought two and a half wars over J&K, India has had to maintain massive annual defence budgets with high opportunity costs in public education and human capital development. Therefore, the status of J&K was an onerous burden begging for backward or forward resolution.
In several earlier essays on this page, your editors had advocated trifurcation of J&K into the Kashmir Valley, and the districts of Jammu and Ladakh, and discharge of the promise made by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, of holding a plebiscite under UN supervision to determine the will — accession to India or Pakistan or azadi — of the Muslim majority in the Valley and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). We believe that inclusion of the tiny and peripheral Kashmir Valley in the Indian Union of states should be a privilege rather than compulsion. The foolish people of the Valley in the grip of regressive clerics and politicians hell-bent on using them as canon-fodder to serve their selfish interests, should (if they so desire) be left to fend for themselves. And if they vote to merge with the failed theocratic state of Pakistan, let them stew in a juice of their own making.
In his questionable wisdom, Nehru — a Hindu Kashmiri — hatched an elaborate plot with Sheikh Abdullah to replace the ruling Dogra dynasty of Kashmir with the Abdullah dynasty. To sanctify this agreement, Article 370 which allowed Kashmir its own constitution, flag and prime minister (Abdullah) was inserted into the Constitution of India. Moreover, under the concordat with Abdullah, Article 35 (a) prohibited non-Kashmiris from purchasing property in the state, or working for the state government except by invitation, to preserve its Muslim identity.
This prolonged period of J&K in purgatory has been ended by the new BJP/NDA government led by prime minister Narendra Modi revoking Articles 370 and 35 (a). Although this is not the preferable solution, it represents some traction on the long frozen status of the Kashmir impasse. It’s an audacious gamble to free the Muslim majority of the Valley from the inept rule of the Abdullah and Mufti Mohammed dynasties which essentially worked for their personal enrichment and aggrandisement, rather than for the people of the Valley or the state. It’s a big gamble with a small chance of paying off.