Monday, December 9, 2013

Demythifying Article 370



The Bharatiya Janata Party has clearly changed, or at least nuanced, it’s traditional stand on Article 370 by arguing that there should be a debate on the controversial constitutional provision. While Mr. Narendra Modi’s statement has provided us with an occasion to think about it, there are other equally important reasons why we must reflect on the Article. The most important of those reasons is that there are far too many myths surrounding it. Let me try and demythify some of them.
The myth about “special status”
The most prominent myth surrounding Article 370 is that as a result of its existence the J&K state has been “enjoying and benefitting from” some kind of special treatment.  It is widely believed that the special provision, which mandates that the Central Government cannot makes legislation for J&K except with respect to Defense, Foreign Relations and Communication, discriminates against other states. Is this the correct interpretation of Article 370? First of all, the Article today is a poor shadow of given the fact that New Delhi, in collusion with various government in J&K, has managed to chip away most of the provisions of the Article. So, in reality, the special status exists mostly on paper. What if the Article were to exist in its original shape and form today? Would it then mean that other Indian states are discriminated against? To my mind, that is really the wrong question to ask. Different Indian states are endowed with different historical, cultural, political and material realities which are part of their very essence and existence. Likewise, J&K has a special history in which it decided to join the Indian union. Article 370 is the result of that special history. It’s ironical that those who argue that since Article 370 is supposed to be “temporary”, it should therefore be done away with tend to forget another historical reality – the promise of plebiscite made to J&K by India. Is it not hypocritical then to talk about Article 370 and maintain a stony silence about the Plebiscite question?

‘Special provisions are only for Kashmir’ 
The other myth about Article 370 is that J&K is the only state with special status/provisions. There are many Indian states that have been given special provisions by the Indian constitution even though J&K can be considered as ‘enjoying’ the most amount of special provisions. Indeed, special laws/provisions are applicable to a number of states in India. If someone from Delhi or Punjab has to travel to Nagaland, for instance, he/she will have to first obtain an “inner line permit” to do so or will be denied entry into the state. In some parts of India, people from other parts are not allowed to buy land. Hence to argue that J&K is the only state that has been given special constitutional provisions is a factually incorrect argument.  

This leads me to a related point about why it is perhaps necessary in a country like India to have special constitutional or legal provisions for different regions, states and peoples. Some of those arguing against special provisions also point out that such provisions are inherently divisive and will create long-lasting problems in the achievement of national unity. Again this is a misleading argument for it privileges uniformity over unity: national unity does not require “uniformising” the country. More so, it’s the attempts at formulating uniform rules that can lead to problems in the country since most supporters of uniformity would insist that cultural, religious and other differences should be done away with. 

Those who worry about India’s integrity and the impact of Article 370 on it should take a look at China. While there is only one Chinese state, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan continue to have their own distinct economic and political systems. To my mind, it has only contributed to the national integrity of China. 

'Article 370 fuels separatist tendencies'
The other myth about Article 370 is that it has led to an increase in Kashmir’s separatist tendencies. Is that really the case? Is it the existence of Article 370 or it’s watering down by the Indian state that has contributed to separatist tendencies in Kashmir? Anyone with some familiarity with the history of J&K would know that New Delhi’s dubious, and successful, attempts at watering down Article 370 has been a major cause of disillusionment among the Kashmiris. In any case, those making the argument that Article 370 fuels separatism are conveniently forgetting the rampant violation of Kashmiris’ human and political rights that have most definitely increased the separatist tendencies in the state. 

'Poor people do not benefit from Article 370'
I don’t think all benefits are economic or material in nature, some benefits are political too. However, let me just say that a lot of poor people in J&K state would have lost their land by now had it not been for Article 370. Let me come back to the earlier point. It is dishonest to argue that only what benefits you materially and economically is useful. The point I am making is that everyone, poor or rich, equally deserves self-respect and political rights. To say that Kashmir’s poor do not bother with special political/constitutional rights is equivalent to saying that poor people are politically inadequate.

(Source: Greater Kashmir, December 8, 2013. URL:

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