Amrita Bhinder is a columnist for leading publications and a TV panelist. A lawyer with 15 years of experience in the legal arena ranging from Supreme Court, Tribunals to consultancy and corporate.
Amrita was the legal head for an American conglomerate when she decided to give up her 9 to 5 corporate job to take an active part in the change that India was undergoing. She forayed into politics and was the State’s Spokesperson for the Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), Chandigarh. Amrita is currently in the BJYM’s National Executive Team.
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, a temporary provision that awarded “special status” to the state of Jammu and Kashmir (often simply known as Kashmir), had gone on for seventy years by the time the Indian government cancelled it last week, despite having outlived its purpose decades ago.
The Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, which was a body of representatives elected in 1951, clearly stated within the Preamble to the Constitution of the state in 1956 that it was an integral part of the Union of India “in pursuance of the accession of this state to India which took place on the 26th day of October 1947.” But still Article 370 persisted, year after year, meaning the state was immune to national laws and victim to predatory local politicians, who transformed it a personal fiefdom. Meanwhile, separatist leaders ensured that the demand for azaadi (freedom) simmered endlessly.
All efforts to abrogate Article 370, and genuinely empower and integrate the state of Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian Union, were thwarted by autocratic local power-wielders who benefited from the frozen conflict, accruing power and wealth. Secularism is a central tenet of the Constitution of India, but the fact of a Muslim majority in Kashmir was used as a deterrent against majority-Hindu India absorbing the province properly. This not only kept alive the conflict; it ignored the significant minority populations in the area. Muslims dominate the Valley, but Jammu is predominantly Hindu, Ladakh is a mix of Buddhists and Muslims, and then there are the Gujjars and Bakarwals.
In 2018, for the first time, after over a decade of effort, the grassroots-level Kashmiri leaders got to take part in a democratic process: local body and municipal elections, under the Narendra Modi-led government, overseen by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The local body elections were, predictably, opposed by the states two biggest local political parties — the National Conference (NC) and the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP). It is telling how two former Chief Ministers of the state that headed these parties, Mr. Omar Abdullah and Ms. Mehbooba Mufti, called for the cancellation of the process that would otherwise truly empower the people, a policy in-line with the demands of militants supported by Pakistan and the separatist leaders.
Local factors are, of course, important, yet without the cross-border propaganda from Pakistan, targeting the local Muslim population, it is impossible to imagine the Kashmir crisis proving as intractable as it has. The “special status” of Kashmir, designed to dampen tensions in the state, has proven a gift to Islamabad in its campaign of disinformation and incitement in Kashmir, using the religious card to fuel separatist and terrorist movements against India.
Article 370 provided a framework in which corruption, terrorism, alienation from the state could flourish in Kashmir. It kept alive — even propagated as an ideal — the notion of separatism. This cause was easily manipulated by extremists, local and foreign, to alienate the youth and use them as fodder to wage war against India. This dynamic was at play with the February 2019 Pulwama attack, where a suicide bomber in a car — a local Kashmiri, indoctrinated by foreign propaganda — rammed into a convoy of para-military forces, killing 44 personnel and triggering a round of escalation between India and Pakistan on the eve of an Election in India.
The sense of power nourished in Kashmir by the “special status” of Article 370 was a false one. This arrangement was an impediment to equal application of the Rule of Law and a hurdle for development. The abrogation of Article 370 clears the way for the state of Jammu and Kashmir to finally take its rightful place as a real, integrated part of India.
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