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A Special Status…

It was all set to happen, today or tomorrow… the Special Status of the northern Indian Province of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) – given by Article 370 of the Indian Constitution – was not a Permanent Solution to the Kashmir Dispute! It was a Temporary Arrangement! The Temporary Arrangement was made for a certain purpose: to hold a Referendum. However, India has never shown any interest to hold the referendum! At the same time, it was not possible for the South Asian nation to continue with this makeshift arrangement. In that case, it could affect the people of Kashmir the most. They have already suffered a lot for more than six decades. So, the Government of India’s move to revoke the Special Status of J&K, and to bifurcate the province into two Union Territories (J&K, and Ladakh) on August 4 (2019) was a timely one and it would ultimately benefit the Kashmiri people!

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All of us know, may be in our respective fashion, as to how Kashmir had become a part of India. King Hari Singh, the then ruler of Kashmir, wanted the region to become a part of India without any ‘condition’. Diwan Bahadur Sir Narasimha Gopalaswami Ayyangar, the Envoy of Singh, was the chief drafter of Article 370 that granted local autonomy to J&K, although this Article was not mentioned in the ‘Instrument of Accession‘! Later, the Government of India decided to implement Article 370 and Dr Syama Prasad Mukherjee backed the decision! Like the Indian Government, Dr Mukherjee (too) wanted J&K to enjoy the Special Status till the end of the Kashmir Dispute. So, there is no reason to think that Article 370 and J&K are synonymous… the abolition of Article 370 was inevitable.

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Pandit Nehru with Hari Singh

The way the Indian Subcontinent was divided, and India and Pakistan were born; King Hari Singh was the ultimate decision-maker as far as Kashmir’s fate was concerned. When the Pakistanis attacked the monarchy, Singh sought help from the Indian Armed Forces. The then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, made it clear to Singh that the Indian Army would help him only if Kashmir would become a part of India! The monarch accepted Nehru’s ‘condition’ and Kashmir became an integral part of India. Some political experts advised the Nehru Government to know the opinion of the people of Kashmir through a referendum. However, India is yet to hold a referendum!

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Of course, to hold a referendum could have been the best way to resolve the dispute. At the same time, we have to admit that Kashmir required a permanent solution! Some may say that Article 370 could have been recognised as a permanent solution. No, that was not possible… the Article created a separate country within the territory of India! Apart from issues related to defence and foreign relations, the Government of India was unable to implement its decisions in J&K. The laws, formulated by the Indian Parliament, were applicable to the entire nation, except J&K! Moreover, the Indians were not allowed to purchase homes in J&K. As a result, business leaders were not ready to invest in the northern Indian province. In the absence of Heavy Industries, it became really difficult for the Government of India to develop the province. The Narendra Modi Government’s decision to revoke the Article 370 would certainly encourage Indians from other parts of the country to settle in J&K and to invest in the province!

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Map of India after Bifurcation of the Erstwhile Province of J&K

The situation in J&K was so complicated and sensitive, the Government had no other option, but to make the move, cautiously! That is why Prime Minister Modi and his Home Minister Amit Shah made a final announcement in this regard after taking all the precautionary measures (secretly). Perhaps, they have made a mistake by making the announcement without discussing the issue with the people of Kashmir… as India did not hold the referendum, it was necessary for the Government to take the consent of Kashmiri people before making such a BIG announcement! A surprise move might have been made, but it should not be one-sided. The Government’s ‘Kashmir move’ is bold, but has some risks, too. If the Government thinks that its radical steps are a magic bullet for all of Kashmir’s ills, then it is an incorrect assessment!

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Shah with PM Modi

Soon, we would be able to know whether the decision is a ‘justified’ one. At least, the Government of India has made an attempt to find a permanent solution to the Kashmir Dispute! Now, it must reach out to the Kashmiri people. The decision must not be painted as a victory or a defeat. The Government has tried to bring J&K to the mainstream by revoking the Special Status of the province. Now, we have to wait to see whether the gamble pays off…

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