On August 5, 2019, India awoke to a bewildering, unanticipated change of heart. The Modi government abrogated Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution, which rendered the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir ineffectual, revoked the state’s special status, and bifurcated it into two union territories: J&K and Ladakh, besides many other blatant measures.
Before I proceed, I’d like to clarify that I am not here to criticise what the government did, nor am I here to defend the Right against attacks by the Left, I am simply here to present the Right’s case rightfully, which yet remains undone and is long overdue.
The move comes off as unconstitutional to many, and in all fairness, it was. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's modern solution to the Kashmir problem was to turn the tables at a time when there was no state government to defy it. Critics of the move also reason that one cannot simply change the jurisprudence that governs a people, without them having so much as an inkling of the move. However, deep down, we would all concur, there is no other way in which this could have been enforced.
One might argue that indeed, there is no other way this could have been enforced because the move itself is groundless and insensitive, since it deprives the Kashmiris of their well-deserved rights. But I would like to point out that whatever has been taken away was never a right, but a privilege, for the humble reason that if it were a right, it could simply not be taken away.
LPG, 1999 and the Abrogation, 2019: a Parallel
To strengthen my case, I’d like to draw a parallel from the archives of our very own history, the New Economic Policy of 1991.
The NEP, to sum up in three words, introduced Liberalisation-Privatisation-Globalisation, contracted to LPG. Before LPG, domestic producers enjoyed what can be described as an era of protectionism, a euphemism for ‘privilege’. The affairs of the outside world did not concern them whatsoever, neither did they deem it important to step out of their comfort zone, and justifiably so. Mind you, when I use the word ‘privilege’, in no way do I try to imply that it has a negative connotation. Whatever growth we have come to witness over the past years, can be easily credited to protectionism, which stood sentinel for years, providing the necessary time and space for the Indian producers to stand, fall and get back up again. However, every wave of privilege offered comes with a period of validity, beyond which the privilege has a negative impact. And so came the reversal of protectionism in 1991.
Though a sensible move, the reversal was widely resisted by domestic producers, and with good reason, because no one would ever willingly forgo their privilege. As apprehended, it also brought in a wave of destruction, a creative one nonetheless. However, in hindsight, Indians embrace the move, despite its disruptive nature.
I submit that the abrogation of Article 370 is much like the NEP: a reform that was long overdue and will benefit India in the long run
While I admit that it is not my domain to decide what is and what is not right for the Kashmiris, I would like to highlight a rather obvious proposition - the Kashmiris would dissent even if the move is right, considering it is their privilege in question.
Secondly, given the history and trauma of Kashmir, it undoubtedly deserved the privileges conferred upon the state (a separate constitution, a separate flag, permanent residency, bar on foreign ownership of property in J&K among other benefits, now revoked). But what is worth noting here is that Article 370 was originally supposed to be a ‘temporary provision’. As much as we might like to ignore it, one cannot live in denial forever, and keep stalling the decision to open up Kashmir’s economy, given that the privilege period has long lost its validity.
The Good Part
Coming back to LPG, since 1991, the Budget of the Union government has grown 19 times in size, the economy has grown nine times, and your income, five times. Empirically, poverty has descended, standards of living have shot up, as have capital flows and foreign investment. Visibly, the country is more integrated with the world economy, which has led to increased opportunities for all. In the words of the former Indian Finance Minister the Late Arun Jaitley, “What decades of state hand-outs could not accomplish for the backward communities, economic opportunities have. Caste barriers are eroding and today we can speak of Dalit entrepreneurship in a way that would have been unimaginable decades ago and in a way that would have pleased Dr. Ambedkar. The geographical spread of opportunities and the increase in migration have contributed to nation-building.”
Now before I dwell upon the welfare the abrogation pours in, I’d like to elucidate how Articles 370 and 35A inadvertently entrenched Kashmir’s liberty and growth prospects. The former entailed rules defining permanent residency in the state of Jammu and Kashmir while the latter conferred certain privileges to the class so defined. A point worth noting here is that this residency does not necessarily cover all those who have thrived in J&K for the required period. To quote an example, West Pakistan Refugees, who came to India in 1947, could not enjoy the basic rights and privileges as enjoyed by the permanent residents, which is to say, being Indian citizens, they could vote in the Parliamentary elections, but being non-permanent residents of J&K, they could not vote in the local body elections.
Employment in public offices, admission in government educational institutes, access to government scholarship, rights of acquisition of property in J&K are certain privileges offered to and reserved exclusively for permanent citizens. After all these years, whether these privileges still hold significance or not is an issue open to deliberation, just like the incessant debate on whether Indians lower castes deserve quotas in government jobs and institutions. However, coming back to my first point, it is certain that these are not privileges one will conveniently dispense with. Besides, just like J&K has a stake in the rest of India, the rest of India deserves one in J&K too.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that these privileges act as an impediment in letting opportunities flow into J&K. The healthcare, education, and industrial sector reforms have stagnated, since there is no impetus driving the private sector to invest in the state, and it’s only natural, given the bar on land acquisition for non-residents. There is no competition-driven growth since children of non-state subjects cannot get admission to state colleges and skilled human capital would not permanently migrate to the state. Among all the states, Jammu & Kashmir had the highest monthly average unemployment rate of 15% between January 2016 and July 2019. New investments declined by over 19 per cent in 2018-19 compared to the previous financial year.
By rescinding the privileges offered to the chosen ones, the move will overturn the above-mentioned deterrents and bring peace and development, at least in the long run.
The Deciding Trials
It is completely valid and healthy to dissent and be concerned over something that renders your future uncertain, because the move is but a gamble. However, I don’t find it justified to judge something that may take decades to bring in the required change, within one or two years. This brings me to my last point - the issue of expecting concrete results to kick-in immediately. It has been less than two years since the revocation was effected, and while everyone is talking about how the tourism sector has been crippled and how the unemployment rate has been rising, what happened to patience? Everything takes time. And while there are contradictory sets of statistics available for both sides of the coin, I won't cite them, simply because it's too soon to judge.
Moreover, COVID-19 has been giving us company for the major part of the observation period. Yes, J&K’s statistics are saddening, but so are those of other states, some even worse off, and it is largely attributable to the pandemic. It all boils down to relativity.
Cons and Conclusions
Be it privileges offered and enjoyed, or the reluctance to give them up; the unpredictable nature of the action, or the uncertainty regarding the tenure one must wait out before it’s showtime - we have faced it all before, and we’re facing it again. Clearly, the Modi move is so much more than LPG, but in essence, both matters intend to place a frog out of its well, into the ocean, simply because it deserves to see and participate in what goes on beyond the wall.
In all objectivity, it would be unfair on my part, to not point out the defects of the move: it is far from perfect with regard to its unconstitutional implementation, clampdown on dissent (communication blackout, unforeseen curfew, internet shutdown), and most importantly, the reduction of the state of J&K to a union territory. However, while the move is far too complex to be labelled ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, it certainly deserves a moment of objective evaluation.
In the end, I’d like to ask you the same question I posed in the title, and while I don’t expect answers right away, I’d like you to think about it.
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