Extending Article 370 beyond Kashmir; Could this be a solution?

n 2004 my friend and mentor, Prasanna Lal Das, wrote an article called “Article 370 – a case to extend it beyond Kashmir“, and ofcourse as most Indians do, I was out of my wits on reading the title. To me Article 370 was clearly another case of appeasement of “kashmiri muslims”. I never read the article.

An article on Kashmir stating the problem

Today, I caught up on an article in the Indian Express titled “Beyond highway of peace” (http://www.indianexpress.com/story/349899.html; 18 August, 2008 ) which highlights a few points.

Separatist Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, however, said the mass protests have not surprised him. “We always saw it coming,” he said. “Amarnath land row might be the immediate cause, but the level of anger is the result of the long pent up disillusionment with New Delhi’s status quo policies,” he said.

…“New Delhi talks to us when the situation is really bad here. And when there is apparent peace, they ignore us,” he said.

It is a fact that the Centre and its various agencies on ground in Kashmir had been extremely complacent after the recent drop in militant violence and a surge in mainstream political activity.

My observations on the article

The article ofcourse like most of those appearing in media, states the problem superficially, and for that reason cannot, and does not, offer any solution.

The following few points, however, occur to me on reading this article:

  • The centre becomes complacent when things are going well, instead of constantly keeping on its toes, and regularly engaging people (or their representatives and leaders; elected or even self-appointed) in discussions and creating mini agreements
  • They are happy in finding simple answers to problems which are often coloured with their worldview (which can be rather outdated in the evolving human race) of how things *should be* instead of *how it is in reality*
  • These views are often “taught” to the politicians rather then based on *critical thinking*, *dialogue*, and *understanding people’s anxieties*

Liberating people; self-organising groups; moving beyond conventional and easy categories of success

As I have matured and grown in my spiritual pursuits, I have developed a somewhat different outlook to the reason for conflicts and in general ways of management. I have increasingly become a die-hard fan of democracy at workplace, which traditionally has been very centrally controlled and managed. Ideas of small self-organising groups of people working towards common “agreed” goals, have inspired me over the last few years. I have observed people, driven from their own collective self-interest, acting extremely responsibly and much beyond their normal abilities. I have noticed this at my workplace.

Yet, it is true that some people often are not mature enough to see the larger picture, and may not appreciate the values propagated in democratic and self-organising setups; or those who are unable to raise their mental make-up, and can remain stuck in shallow self-centered, and *taught* behaviour. These people are often not ones who can engage in *radical thinking*. Yet, these people are fewer in numbers, in my experience. Most people are not trained to think and question, in our society; however, most of these people can be inspired by greater causes of common collective long-term good.

This is the opportunity that the politicians have. They need to constantly work in liberating people, engaging them in inspired action, and training them radical thinking and questioning – doing all these things themselves. And this is where the problem lies – most of our politicians are not trained in experimenting, and in moving beyond their conventional ‘easy’ categories of answers.

Coming back to Prasanna’s article

On reading his article which presents a case to extend Article 370 beyond Kashmir to all of India’s states, is completely based on values of federalism, and liberating people, allowing them to self-determine their own rules, and how they would like to live their lives.

Gandhi ofcourse, was a big propagator of local self-determination, down to the village level, with complete ownership of local resources with the people of the region.

I feel, this is the answer to Kashmir’s, and in general, all of India’s problems; and the world’s as well.

Once again, the framework of this federalism must propagate some central core modern spiritual, humanist and civic values such as *liberty*, *equal opportunity*, *secularism* and *non-violence*. These values must be accessible and applicable to all citizens irrespective of race, religion or gender. The state must constantly train and engage leaders in dialogue and training, in action based on inspiration, and, in questioning and radical thinking. With these, the collective consciousness of people could be raised, and with it the risk of degeneration of federal values, and other motivated self-interests of local leaders taking over, is minimised.

Some quotes from Prasanna’s extremely inspiring article:

Article 370, unwittingly perhaps considering its historical circumstances, may be the brightest glint of federal expression in the Indian constitution, which otherwise remains largely unitary in character. Large sections of the Indian population (and regions that contain them) thus feel increasingly marginalized from the ‘mainstream’, and seemingly disparate phenomenon like recent disturbances in the northeast, the girding of heartland India by naxalites, the trivialization of the parliamentary process, and paradoxically enough, the continuing impasse in Jammu & Kashmir, may well be said to spring from the centralized nature of governance in India which concentrates power in the hands of a few organized interest groups and leaves the average citizen with only symbols of democratic participation like ritualized elections and awe-inspiring, monumental edifices where elected representatives apparently serve the people. Article 370, minus its current imperfections, may well be the harbinger of a ‘new India.’

it may be time to view the article in a larger national context. Does the article offer any guidelines to the governing system in the rest of India? Is there greater merit in the rest of India adopting some of the salient features of the article than in denouncing it largely on the grounds of ‘we don’t have it, so shouldn’t she’? Should we choose to be frogs in a well pulling each other down, or is it time to climb out of the holes we have dug for ourselves, and take a look at the larger world around?

The article recognizes that India is a diverse country and that a region may have special needs which may or may not be in consonance with the needs of the rest of the country. It thus leaves discretionary powers with the state and subjects all central laws/amendments to state approval before they can be implemented in a state. It transfers accountability and power to the state government in virtually all matters except those that deal with the integrity of the Indian union, and its international relationships.

Make no mistake; Article 370 was not formed to lay down the principles of center-state relationships or to directly solve the problem described above. It isn’t thus either exhaustive enough or extensive enough to cover the gamut of issues that go into center-state relations. It however does provide the springboard necessary to begin questioning the unitary model we have chosen to adopt in the whole country, bar Kashmir. And if it can work in Kashmir, why can it not work in the rest of the country too?

The other more fundamental problem with Article 370 is its state-centric, monolithic view of autonomy and local governance. In keeping with the overall unitary spirit of the constitution, the article does little to promote grassroots governance and concentrates all significant powers in the hands of the state government. The version of autonomy it thus creates is in essence a majoritarian one – it cloaks a centralized mode of governance under the garb of an autonomous one. Kashmir can thus never be truly autonomous unless it itself allows power to percolate downwards to the people. In its current avatar, Article 370 is largely a sham, and its fundamental centralizing proclivities must be given a thorough makeover before the article can truly become a template for other states.

He also puts in a word of caution, which I believe vindicates my stand of a framework which allows for common accepted civic, humanist and spiritual values of *liberty*, *equal opportunity*, *secularism* and *non-violence*, and also the need for constant training, dialogue and engagement in radical and critical thinking.

A more pertinent concern is perhaps the ability of the states to do justice to increased power, and handle it responsibly. Unfortunately, recent Indian constitutional history isn’t exactly littered with examples of farsightedness shown by states – their record is patchy at best, and downright shoddy in reality. In fact, a case may be made that but for central intervention and guidance, most Indian states, driven by narrow, parochial concerns, would have descended into anarchy a long time ago. Possibly the worst record in this regard is that of the Jammu & Kashmir legislature itself, which has shown a remarkable ability to shoot itself in the foot consistently. The recently proposed bill debarring Kashmiri women from property rights on marriage to ‘outsiders’, the legislature’s refusal to accept the amendment limiting the size of state ministries to 15% of the total elected strength, and its long standing refusal to recognize Anglo-Indians and other minorities in the state are just three examples of legislation which persistently refuses to look beyond the state. What guarantees are there that other states shan’t do the same, and perhaps worse?

The answer to both questions lies in the inchoate nature of Article 370, and in its flawed, single-state focused implementation. As stated earlier, the article is not designed to guide center-state relations, but in the case of Jammu & Kashmir, it does just that. Limiting the article to one state however produces one very significant consequence – it allows Jammu & Kashmir to create discriminatory legislation without fear of consequence (as no other state is in a position to answer it in the same coin).

And the recommendation to not seek easy answers, but to continually challenge our thinking:

At the end however, the question about India’s secular fabric will remain – will expanding the article to the entire country send wrong signals to minority communities in India? This is the most morally challenging part of the debate because like it or not, religion and religious emotions are inextricably tied to the history of the question. Needless to say, the government must be steadfastly secular in its implementation of federalism in India, and religious leaders must indubitably play an important part in the process, but there are no easy answers to the question. *The time may however have come to move away from the politics of easy answers.*

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: