Separate and unequal

Kashmir has been treated like a colony, a separate and unequal part of the Union ever since.

Jammu and Kashmir is a lightning rod in Indian politics. The very mention of the state invites hypocrisy. Kashmir is an integral part of India. But on the ground, the treatment of Kashmir by the rest of India is step-motherly. Where else in India would you make a fuss about MPs visiting a state within the Union? In Dandakaranya, the Army could not be deployed. We were told that this was because the Army does not wish to fire upon fellow citizens. In Kashmir, AFSPA rules. Mobile phones and Internet can be blocked on any occasion, including the Prime Minister visiting the Valley. Try that in Kolkata and see what will follow.

Predictably, Narendra Modi has brought up the issue of Article 370. The BJP wants to abolish it, but did not dare to do so during the NDA days. The Congress would not only leave it as it is, but also refuse to even discuss it. It is a taboo subject because Kashmir means secularism and secularism means Congress, at least for the Congress people.

Memories are short but the origins of Article 370 are in the ambivalence about the accession of J&K to India. The Pakistan army, disguised as tribal freebooters, attacked the Valley and nearly took it over much like India took Hyderabad. But luckily, Hari Singh signed up in time and the Indian Army saved his bacon. At that stage, a muddle followed with an appeal to the United Nations. The Congress had committed to popular consultation for any native state where the king was likely to be difficult. Shaikh Abdullah passionately wanted a referendum and was promised one.

Article 370 is the result of that promise to the Lion of Kashmir. But soon Jawaharlal Nehru changed his mind and never wanted to deliver on the plebiscite which was part of the UN settlement. When the Shaikh realised this, he tried to negotiate with Pakistan. In 1953, he was put in jail without trial. At that point, Article 370 became a dead letter, a totem of past promises and a fig leaf of India's faith in the UN. Kashmir has been treated like a colony, a separate and unequal part of the Union ever since. Chief ministers have been hired and fired from Delhi, the Shaikh was released as arbitrarily as he was arrested. He was tamed and the state was awarded as a hereditary jagir to him. But this was done only after several elections had been rigged. Only the 1989 riots made the government of India reform its behaviour.

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