Give hope a chance in Kashmir

Let us face it. The Government has virtually ramrodded the bills in Parliament stripping the State of Jammu and Kashmir of special status. No two opinions about it.

With the luxury of numbers in the Lok Sabha and the increasing support of smaller groups, for reasons which need not be mentioned here, passage of the Bills in the Rajya Sabha has posed no difficulty.

The triple talaq bill too was passed with the help of members from outside the ruling alliance. Ditto for the momentous bills virtually abrogating Article 370, or, more correctly, denuding it of provisions applicable to Jammu and Kashmir. It received an overwhelming endorsement in the Rajya Sabha.

What could be more shocking for the Congress Party tham its own whip in the House, Bhubaneswar Kalita, resigning in protest against the party’s stand against the bills. Quite clearly, the Congress leadership is not in tune with the national mood.

It is notable that after voting against the Bills in the Rajya Sabha, the Trinamool Congress bowing to the pressure from its own members chose to abstain in the Lok Sabha while verbally recording its protest.

The J and K Bills may be controversial, may have short-circuited laid down legal and legislative protocols and procedures, may have even bypassed normal processes of consultations with stake-holders.

Yes, all this might well be true. But if you were to coolly consider the special circumstances under which these were conceived and brought forward for parliamentary endorsement, it ought to evoke an appreciation of the extraordinary problems that they seek to grapple with.

In the ordinary course, the criticism that the normal political process was abandoned to steamroll the bills in Parliament would have been quite valid.

But if you concede that for several decades that very political process had only resulted in abject failure, with the menace of terrorism growing each passing day, you will have no problem concluding that the worsening crisis in the Valley called for an extraordinary prescription.

Besides, the prescribed route for abrogating the relevant provisions in Article 370 as applicable to J and K was hard to follow. Times change, situations change.

One cannot be a prisoner of laws framed by our forefathers in reference to the circumstances and conditions prevailing at the time. Therefore, there is no point quibbling over the seeming failure to keep to the letter of the law required for revoking the provisions of Article 370 which had become an obstacle in the fuller integration of the border State with the Union.

If it still helps, we can cite the example of the higher judiciary. All through the decades since the founding of the Republic, Article 377 was read to criminalize homosexuality.

However, without changing a comma or a full-stop in the same Article 377, the highest court in the land neutralized it, decriminalizing homosexuality with one judicial stroke. Therefore, all this talk of death of federalism, majoritarian tyranny, assault on diversity is so much hot air.

The truth is that the Congress bears a major share of the blame for several missteps in the years immediately before and after the framing of the Constitution.

It had an opportunity to stand with the Government on this major legislation which is probably a last-ditch effort to try and inject some sanity into the Valley.

Yes, Kashmiris feel alienated. But for a moment consider that only Muslim Kashmiris feel alienated, not the small percentage of Kashmiris of other religious persuasions. Pakistani mischief and the religious pull of Islam has unfortunately created a mental block between Indians and Kashmiris.

Anyone who has visited Kashmir would have experienced first-hand being asked by the locals “Are you from India… Hindustan…?” And not just in recent years. No, this has been going on for decades.

Kashmiri leaders like Sheikh Abdullah and those who came after him always played a duplicitous role, enjoying a special financial and political dispensation courtesy New Delhi, while providing oxygen to the separatist propaganda in Srinagar.

Of course, there will be protests in Kashmir once the curfew is lifted. It is a measure of the grim atmosphere in the Valley that though not house-arrested or detained, Farooq Abdullah has refused to stir out of his plush estate in Srinagar to participate in the debate on the Bill which immediately and intimately touches Kashmir.

Also, there are bound to be legal challenges to the legislations. Pakistan too will try and internationalize the revocation of Article 370. It may also think of a military misadventure. Without doubt, things might get worse in Kashmir before they actually get better.

But, in the end, the ultimate defence of the changes in the legal status of J and K, and its conversion into two Union Territories, is that when all else failed in the last seventy years, the Modi Sarkar chose to undo the mischief of the past. All this in the hope that the altered constitutional status of the troubled Valley would result in relative peace. Let us all give that hope a chance.

By S Sadanand

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