Sunday, 13 August 2017

India and J & K: Which One Supports the Other, Which One Rides on the Other?

What is troubling leading politicians in the Kashmir valley at present?  It is the durability of Article 35A of the Constitution of India.

Jammu and Kashmir is a part of India, as all know. India’s Supreme Court will hear petitions challenging the special rights the state of Jammu and Kashmir and their permanent residents have against the Indian government and other Indian people. Much of these special privileges are reflected in Article 35A of the Constitution, and the Supreme Court is slated to decide if they are valid to survive. The court might look at Article 370 too which speaks on the special status of J & K.

Let the Supreme Court debate and decide the Constitutional questions, as it sees best. But concerned Indians in the far bigger part of India outside J & K are not going to closely study the clauses of the Constitution, or even the Supreme Court's judgement when it comes. They will have some natural questions on the current special deal J & K and its people have in their relations with the rest of India, and will hope that fair and just answers are reflected in the law. So, what are the questions?

Article 35A of the Constitution, and a few other legal provisions, state that it is only the legislature of Jammu and Kashmir that may define the ‘permanent residents’ of that state.  They further provide that J & K’s permanent residents alone are allowed to settle in its territory, to acquire immovable property in that state, to get jobs under that state government, to contest and vote at elections for the state’s legislature and to receive scholarships or other aid from J & K.  Other persons, for instance people from Punjab or Kerala, cannot have those rights in Jammu and Kashmir. People from Panama and Kenya cannot also have those rights.  How does the law prevailing in these places treat people of J & K? Well, any permanent resident of J & K meets no legal bar in enjoying any rights in Punjab and Kerala on par with people of the two states. He cannot of course hope to enjoy rights in Panama or Kenya like the citizens of those countries.  But yet, people from Panama, Kenya, Punjab and Kerala are treated alike in J & K, deprived of some key rights that J & K’s permanent residents hold.  And whose army will protect the territory of Jammu and Kashmir, fighting militants and armed intruders from Pakistan?  Of course, India’s army – not of Panama or Kenya. Will any self-respecting Indian who is not from J & K accept all this, even as he wishes everyone in that state well?

       Look at this law which seems approved by India’s Constitution and says in essence: J & K’s legislature alone will define who its permanent residents are, the state’s permanent residents alone can vote for and get into its legislature, and they alone can own land and have other valuable privileges in J & K – while they enjoy all rights of a citizen in every other part of India. Heads I win, tails you lose?  If India’s institutions do not move to correct this dishonorable and unjust law, will the politicians and permanent residents of J & K ever surrender their dominant and unfair privileges - and why should India wait for it with false hopes and let a beautiful strategic state decay more and slip out of the nation?  

Assume that for some historical reasons, instead of J & K, Tamil Nadu or Bihar and its 'permanent residents' have been enjoying all such special rights. Then you will see all leading politicians of Tamil Nadu or Bihar protesting any move to dismantle those special rights while the rest of India would want them withdrawn.  Surely, J & K and its people will also object to the ‘permanent residents’ of Tamil Nadu or Bihar enjoying distinct privileges when other Indians don’t have them.  True or not?

Many politicians of Jammu and Kashmir, including chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, say that the state’s cultural identity must be preserved and hence the special rights of the state’s permanent residents have to be retained. This is not a genuine or valid argument.  Do Punjabis, Bengalis, Tamilians or Kannadigas – and people from other regions of India – have no cultural identity?  Or, have they lost it for want of a special protection in the Constitution like Art. 35A?

Also, lakhs of Asian Indians and their descendants live in the USA keeping to their cultural habits, without a special provision in the US Constitution.  It happens because all persons may carry their cultural habits and identities, without offending people of other cultures, wherever they reside in a democracy.  Then they will be largely accepted by neighbourhood people of other cultures. Not just Indians, an American too hosted a Diwali celebration in his home in 2016 to welcome the spirit of the Indian festival.  That was President Obama doing it in the White House.  If Indians and other nationals settle in the US, buy houses, acquire green cards, become citizens and get elected to the Senate and the House of Representatives, has American culture disappeared from the US?

J & K’s politicians and public men who ask for retention of special rights under Art. 35A, often criticise the role of India’s army personnel who patrol the state.  Countless Kashmiri men and women also daringly throw stones on Indian soldiers, knowing that their targets carry fire arms. These scenes of apparent audacity have a hard reality behind.   Kashmir’s politicians aiming to become or continue as chief minister or other ministers know that they can coolly ignore, or even decry, India’s army and yet its men in uniform won’t harm those netas.  But if the local leaders boldly condemn and call for action against insurgents and militants operating in J & K, those netas will face heat from those quarters and their security will be threatened.  So long as terrorists and their weapons hold sway in Jammu and Kashmir, the ordinary people of the state will also feel safe and secure under their armed militant masters, rather than under a law-abiding accountable Indian army. With this ground reality, the publicly expressed opinions of Jammu and Kashmir’s politicians and of its people, favouring Art. 35A and faulting India, may not be coming out of their free minds. 

If a nation confers huge special privileges on one group of people and imposes massive disabilities on another group, without an acceptable purpose, two consequences follow. One, the disadvantaged people are not going to accept their plight lightly. Two, the favoured ones are not going to give up their privileges easily. Here the nation itself puts one group of people against another. So long as a flashpoint is not reached the unfairness of this arrangement may continue, while rumblings keep rising.

We have witnessed the fallout of a similar state sponsored conflict.  That is often seen in the midst of a high and growing reservation of jobs in government and public sector organisations for some caste groups, without devising and monitoring programmes to upgrade their skill levels over a period.  Massive rallies and agitations by people of some castes and groups in many states are showing up, demanding that those people be elevated to the official 'backward' status so they would also be eligible for reserved jobs. This clamour is resented by members of other castes who enjoy long and entrenched advantages for themselves through reservation. The result is, an unfair law has pitted a part of the people against another. Art. 35A creates similar clashing attitudes between the people of J & K and the rest of India.

True, the Indian Constitution accords a few special rights to people of some North-Eastern states, for example Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. They are suitable for the nature and social habits of local people in those regions.  Further, in the same breath the Constitution confers special powers and jurisdiction on the central government for maintaining law and order in some of those states and for administering some areas – which are restrictions on the powers of state governments.  These special provisions help India’s strategic purposes too, in those border areas.  

The special rights for the locals of North Eastern regions are understood as given by India, with power in the hands of India to alter or withdraw them according to circumstances.  As for J & K, most of Kashmir’s political leaders and heads of its militant, separatist and sundry regional groups consider that the special rights for that state are their birth rights for all time and a legal limitation on India – implying that in J & K, the Union of India and the rest of the country will be regulated by that state for ever.  This is the difference between the special rights enjoyed by people in J & K and in North-Eastern states.  Also, J & K shares borders and LoC with a hostile and intruding neighbour.  With all this, India should have a firmer and stronger presence in J & K, rather than deal with that state from a respectful distance. 

Jammu and Kashmir has special rights in place for its permanent residents since about 1927.  This has not ushered in significant or speedy economic development to the state.  Thanks to the special provisions of law, local politicians in the state will love to have a tightly preserved territory to fight for office and power, with fewer players left in the arena.  If Indian army will endlessly fight militants and terrorists in J & K, while surely safeguarding the state’s available land area, it is good for selfish local politicians who keep silent about militancy and be faulting India’s jawans.  Poor residents of Jammu and Kashmir are the innocent and ignorant sufferers, kept in the false belief they are gaining. If India can manage to fiercely contain terrorism in J & K and remove the special privileges for permanent residents of the state, J & K will move on the road to better times.  Ultimately, people on both sides will accept enforced equality rather than enforced inequality.  When will India have enforcers doing it right?

Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2017