India is celebrating seventy years of independence. Over the years, state borders have been changed or states carved from larger states as the need arose to meet the aspirations of masses.
The boundaries of J-K, the most diverse state of the nation, have remained unchanged, though it should ideally have been split into manageable entities. Arguments on accession versus merger are the main cause for this restriction. J-K is the only state which acceded to India, but did not merge.
Thus, the state continues to have its own flag, constitution and traditional boundaries. After seventy years of independence, it is time the state became a part of the union, like all others. Maintaining its status under the pretext of Articles 35A and 370 is an idea which has outlived its utility.
The initial reason for including these articles appears to be lost in time; however it can be safely deduced that the logic was to maintain the cultural identity of the state and that its citizens should not lose any advantage by becoming Indian nationals.
This logic has been twisted and turned to indicate a desire of the Centre to change the demography of the valley, which is unacceptable to the locals. This thought is wrong in many ways. The J-K high court had ruled in October 2015, that article 370 is ‘permanent, beyond amendment, repeal or abrogation’.
This was struck down by the Supreme Court within a short time when it stated that it can be removed by Parliament. This implies recommendations for the same flowing from the J-K legislature, an action unlikely in the near future.
Thus, the battle shifted to Article 35A. This article has been discriminatory in many forms even for its own populace. While women who marry outside the state lose their rights, men are permitted to do so.
Kashmiris who migrated to Pakistan remain citizens for two generations, while those who migrated from Pakistan are denied rights. By losing rights, they are unable to own property, seek government jobs, college admissions, aid and scholarships.
The battle is now in the Supreme Court, repercussions of which are already being felt across the state. Possible removal of Article 35A has created such fear within valley based political parties, that they have not only joined hands to fight the case, but have also threatened the nation.
Farooq Abdullah claimed that removal of the article would see riots of a scale never witnessed before, while Mehbooba Mufti stated that there would be no one to hold the national flag in the valley.
Omar Abdullah announced plans to begin an awareness campaign on the article in the valley. Pakistan has joined the chorus by stating India plans to change the demography of the region. All this to justify a wrong and brainwash the population of the valley. In seventy years of the existence of the article, residents of Jammu and Ladakh could always purchase land and property in the valley. There was no such movement.
The valley demography has remained unchanged. After the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pundits in the early 1990s, the properties of those migrating were bought by local Kashmiri Muslims, not by residents of Jammu. Thus, the demography changed in the reverse direction, rather than as being projected. The state has only witnessed migration towards Jammu. The valley refused to allocate land for returning Kashmiri Pundits, ex-servicemen of the state and migrants from Pakistan.
Large numbers from the valley have brought properties in Jammu, alongside Rohingyas and Bangladeshis and are migrating there, changing the demography of the Jammu region. Jammu desperately desires removal of the article as it also prohibits development and infusion of funds. Political parties presently threatening the government on the issue of Article 35A, represent the valley.
They are unwilling to even seek a consensus with their coalition partners, knowing that views are at variance. Thus, NC and PDP are taking a decision for the state, while representing only a small part of it, as the valley is far smaller in size and population in comparison to the Jammu region.
None of them have ever explained to the residents of the state the benefits of complete merger with the Union which include flow of capital, development, improvement of facilities etc. The issue is being converted into a religious one.
The valley is worried about a change in its Muslim majority status. There are also claims that only Hindus in the Jammu region desire its removal, not Muslims, a claim which is false.
By playing the religious card, the aim appears to be to stall the issue. Mehbooba Mufti even rushed to Delhi to seek the intervention of the Prime Minister. India is a democracy; hence the government must consider the will of the people before it takes a decision.
The state government cannot consider only the valley when it seeks to oppose court directions against the article. It must take the opinion of the rest of the state. This can be done by two options. The first is through an all-party meeting seeking to obtain a wider consensus. The PDP is avoiding it knowing that the BJP, with a strong hold on Jammu would never agree.
Further, this was also a part of the BJP election manifesto, hence it swept to power. The second option is to conduct a referendum across the state on the issue. Here again, valley-based political parties are scared as the chances of obtaining majority appear dim.
This fear riding deep within the PDP and NC is evident when enemies suddenly turn into allies. Thus, their actions are clearly prejudiced, politically motivated and illogical. There is clearly a need to seek a wider political consensus on the issue by opening it for debate across the state.
Ideally, solutions need to be found for meeting the aspirations of the people of different parts of the state who have varying opinions on the removal of the article.
The valley cannot hold the rest of the state to ransom, nor can valley-based political parties ignore the rest of the state for their own survival.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.)