From Kalhan’s Rajatarangini talking about Kings of Kashmir to the last ruling King of Dogra dynasty, Kashmir took a long path to democracy. The King signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947 officially merging his territory with India, so does the other 552 dynasties. Democracy remained elusive leaving some trails down the way.
Sher-e-Kashmir as they say about Sheikh Abdullah was at forefront to lead Kashmir to realise its dream, or it was hoped he would. The same leader along with common people stood with Indian Army against raiders from Pakistan who looted, raped and killed Kashmiris in 1947. Ambition has its own ways in life. A close friend and confidante of PM Nehru, then treaded a different path from Jamuriyat (democracy) to Kashmiriyat. Kashmir Conspiracy Case led to the removal of Sheikh Abdullah as PM of Jammu & Kashmir and his subsequent detention for around 11 years. (Britannica)
But Kashmiriyat for decades then, will remain feeding ground for political dynasties to manipulate Jamuriyat. The third most important word in Kashmir story is Insaniyat, which died a violent death when Lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits were forced out of their own land and several others killed, giving light to more exclusive nature of a religious movement which was shaded under Kashmiriyat and Indian Elite Secularism. This incident was preceded by rigging of elections in 1987, which itself is a different story and turning point of J&K’s polity, but still can’t justify the horror and tragedy faced by its people. Article 370 of Indian constitution remained bedrock of all these special and exclusive Kashmir Story.
Article 370 for Jammu & Kashmir was one amongst other specially privileged regions e.g. Article 371, Schedule V & VI etc. These distinct features provide asymmetry to Indian federalism. Asymmetry signifies ‘special’ treatment to various states to suit their own need of culture, history, geography and demography. In case of J&K, ‘special status’ was being misconstrued as ‘separate status’ feeding separatists and enemy states. Any change in status quo was a threat to federal structure of India and a threat to democracy. So the question comes what is federal structure of India.
Holding Together Federalism
Article 1 of Indian Constitution describes India, that is, Bharat as a ‘Union of States’ rather than a Federation of States. According to B.R. Ambedkar, it was because Indian Federation is not an agreement among states like American Federation. (Indian Polity -M Laxmikanth)
Article 3 further empowers Union to alter and adjust state boundaries. In this regard, Prior recommendation of President is required, but before that President must refer the same to state legislature concerned for their views. However , President is not bound by the views of state legislature and may either accept or reject them. This is one of the most powerful unitary features of Indian Constitution. India is rightly described as ‘an indestructible union of destructible states’. (Indian Polity -M Laxmikanth)
The provision of Article 3 with respect to reorganisation of state with little say of the states though seemingly undemocratic, remains a safeguard to democracy against majoritarianism. If Article 3 was not there, then linguistic rights of Telugu population will be at disposal of Tamil people who were not real to give up their claim on Andhra Pradesh. History again knocked the door when rights and developmental aspirations of people of Telangana region were at disposal of state of Andhra. The Union provides a dynamic equilibrium to all such endogenous forces, keeping sovereignty and territorial integrity at forefront. Jammu & Kashmir has different story where a temporary arrangement made it impervious to such changes. But, the concept of federalism discussed here, does give peek into the minds of our founding fathers and their artistic brilliance i.e Constitution of India. Constitution remains foundation stone for the most cherished ‘Idea of India’.
The Abrogation & Democracy
Abrogation of Article 370 may raise some concern about constitutional morality, and that too with respect to separate constitution of J&K. Terming it one of the most undemocratic steps in history of India is unjustified, coloured with shades of convenient truth to suit their narratives. This is because subjective representation of ‘Will of people’. Some section of scholar represent it as Hindu majoritarianism subjugating will of people of Kashmir. This definition of ‘Will of people’ has wilful bias in looking to the situation with the prism of Kashmir as Islam.
In representative democracy, will of people is represented through electoral process. There are misconceptions being spread that J&K has least participation in electoral process where people, by and large boycott elections. This is true for a very small region of Kashmir Valley, where there is trust deficit of people even with local leadership. But we cannot afford to look J&K with such narrow prism, as J&K also comprises of Ladakh and Jammu region in its fold which is being often ignored by our storytellers. People’s will of these regions don’t count in their story.
Let us have a look at 17th Loksabha’s result with respect to Jammu & Kashmir to understand where democracy stands in procedural aspect. When you search for voting percentage on J&K in Google, you will be flooded with news results of dismal voting just because Anantnag and Baramulla didn’t vote well. These regions being hotbed of extremists, suffers from threat and fear apart from trust deficit. Voting percentage on the other hand for Jammu constituency stands at 72.19%, Udhampur at 70.9 % and Ladakh at 71.08%. BJP fought and won all these three Loksabha seats with high margins and vote share of 46.39% in J&K. These are equivalent and many times higher values when compared to other constituencies of India. Where as, Parties who claims to be voice of J&K couldn’t even cater around 15% votes. Thus BJP does have claim as a democratic stakeholder in abrogation of Article 370. This justification comes from procedural aspect of electoral democracy which is well founded. (Reference: results.eci.gov.in)
The Abstract Democracy
Scholars refute electoral process as test of democracy. Real democracy is being referred under the principle of constitutionalism which represents limited government, rights of individual and check on majoritarianism. J&K never passed the test of real democracy. J&K represented exclusive idea of democracy where rights of women, Valmiki Community, settled descendants of Gorkhas, Settled refugees etc. were wilfully hampered at the cost of muslim majoritarianism without much check on government due to shield of Article 370. (Said in context of Hurriyat as the main stakeholder and only emphasis on talks with Hurriyat to solve kashmir Issue) Hindu community of Jammu region, Kashmiri pandits and Buddhist community were never part of dialogue process in Kashmir issue. Some scholars blame Hindu majoritarianism but look away when the perspective of Muslim majoritarianism is showcased.
Even in economic development terms, J&K despite receiving 4-5 time more funds per capita with respect to other states shows a laggard development indicators with near zero accountability to people or any institutions. Most of the acts and institutions such as RTI, RTE, CVC etc are not applicable to this region. J&K remained at low points in attracting investment and create jobs for its youth. Regional inequity was perfectly summarised by Sonam Wangchuk in an interview that if Kashmir has a headache then even Ladakh has to take headache pills even if there is a stomachache.
Will of people in case of Kashmir is thus subject to convenient truth and subjective representation. Some human rights activists do not count most of the minorities of this region as non human or non existent, and they fight for will of people where only a section of population is part of it. They either wilfully or in hate of ruling dispensation, become a cheerleaders of majoritarian democracy in disguise flourishing there. Therefore, the test of democracy doesn’t lie on turning a blind eye, but by safeguarding rights of individuals and religious & ethnic minorities. This time, Union government has passed the test.
Indian Constitution – Laxmikanth