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Stories about the enduring violence in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir have been rampant since Independence; it being a major bone of contention between India and Pakistan. However, the ‘Kashmir issue’ has not only been about conflict between these two countries, but has, in fact, been marred by internal tumults as well. Since decades, the issue of the identity of the Kashmiris, which is referred to as Kashmiriyat, has formed one of the foundation stones of the undulating political terrain in the state, coupled with the aspirations of the people for autonomy.
The state as we had known earlier, comprised of three distinct regions, each characterised by its own social and political nuances; Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. However, on August 5, 2019, the Government of India, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, made yet another dramatic move in revoking the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, thereby splitting the state into two Union Territories. Before understanding the intricacies of the situation, it would be imperative to highlight the history of this state and know why it was granted special status in the first place.
Integration of J&K into the Indian mainland
Before India gained Independence in 1947, Jammu and Kashmir was a Princely State, under the reign of Maharaja Hari Singh. At this juncture, it was an extremely contested region, with both Pakistan and India claiming it as part of their respective territories. However, Hari Singh was not in favour of joining either Pakistan or India; he on the contrary wanted an independent status for the region, as the people considered their identity as Kashmiris to be above anything else. Matters escalated, reaching a boiling point when in October 1947, Pakistan dispatched tribal infiltrators to annex Kashmir, thereby leaving the Maharaja with no choice but to turn towards India for aid. The Indian military came to Kashmir’s assistance, but only after the Maharaja signed an ‘Instrument of Accession’ with the Indian Government, as a consequence of which, Kashmir was inducted into the Indian Mainland.
Although Kashmir consisted of a predominantly Muslim population, unlike other such states which joined Pakistan, it followed a different path in merging with India. It was thus agreed that Jammu and Kashmir would be given much greater autonomy within the Indian Union. It was conferred a special status under Article 370 of the Constitution, according to which the Union Government of India would have only limited powers with regard to the state, in that, the consent of the State Government would be mandatory for the exercise of powers mentioned under the Union or Concurrent Lists. It was given the provision of maintaining its own Constitution and flag, and all laws of the Indian Constitution would not be applicable to it. Simply put, laws passed by the Legislature would hold good only if the state approved of it.
Consequences of the imposition of Article 370
In practice, however, the theoretical provisions of the Article did not live up to their expectations. This conferring of a special status garnered two disparate reactions. On the one hand, most of the Kashmiris were of the opinion that the provisions of the Article were not enough. The first grievance was with regard to the fact that during the time of its accession, the people of Jammu and Kashmir were promised that their views about the future of the state would be taken into consideration, once the situation normalised. However, this never happened, which led to growing resentment and the demand for a plebiscite. Secondly, they felt that the essence of Article 370 was violated in practice, which led to a call for greater autonomy. Finally, there was also a feeling of alienation among the people, with the belief that the kind of democracy that was followed in the rest of the country was not established in Jammu and Kashmir.
There was a separate group of people, who felt that this special status granted to the state only deepened the fault lines of discrimination, thereby preventing the complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir into India. This group thus advocated the complete abolition of Article 370, bringing the state at par with all other states in the country.
The current scenario
In the number of decades following 1947, Kashmir witnessed a tremendous amount of chaos and upheaval, with the rise of insurgency and demands for separation. However, about a week back, the government radically altered the status quo in this region, with Home Minister Amit Shah publicly announcing the revocation of the special status granted to the state under Article 370. The Rajya Sabha passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019, resulting in a bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories- Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, the former with a legislature and the latter stripped of this provision as well. There have been instances of Union Territories being uplifted to become a state, but for the first time, a state has been relegated to the status of a Union Territory.
This move naturally sent shock waves throughout the country, leading to widespread condemnation and criticism by the Opposition as well as the citizens. The situation in the region is most likely to undergo a sea change, with its demographic fabric turning over a new leaf.
Several commentators have also pointed out an extensive violation of human rights in the region, as restrictions were imposed on freedom of movement, and communication lines were shut down, with internet and phone services being disabled. This led to a wave of panic in the Kashmir Valley, more so as the Bharatiya Janata Party dispatched thousands of troops to the region in the past week, stating security reasons. Kashmir has always been a hotbed of crises, and this particular measure has been predicted to exacerbate the already deplorable condition, leading to dire situations in the region, instead of facilitating betterment. The irony is that a provision which aided the integration of the state, consequently leading to the formation of a unified India seven decades back, has been used to bifurcate an already sensitive part of the country, and while the Government has promised a restoration of peace, the implications mostly seem grave.