The Janama-shtami Shobha Yatra taken out on the streets of Srinagar after 18 long years last week gives one some hope about the peace gradually returning to the valley and the security scenario showing signs of improvement albeit not enough so as to encourage Kashmiri Pandits, hounded out of the valley by insurgents and home grown separatists, to return to their homes and live there with dignity and in peace. The positive signs are more than neutralised by the worsening political scenario in the valley with voices of separatism heard from ?mainline? political parties in the state. They are talking of strengthening ?sub national entity? and ?shared sovereignty? and pushing their demand for ?greater autonomy? at the cost of national unity. This has exposed the separatist character of these parties, including the People'sDemocratic Party (PDP) that is a partner in the Congress-led ruling alliance. These elements with encouragement from the UPA are trying to put the clock back by half a century by raising demands based on the pernicious two-nation theory and the dangerous premise that unlike other states, J&K is not an integral part of India.
These voices have been raised during presentations made in the national capital last week to Justice Sageer Ahmed Committee on the Center-State relations in the context of J&K. This is one of the five Working Groups set up by the Prime Minister to examine various aspects of J&K issue and is expected to present its report to the Union Government in the coming weeks. Several of these outfits have shown no interest in strengthening institutions and streamlining policies to address the problems of infilteration from across the LoC, internal security, economic development, regional imbalances, citizenship rights to refugees from West Pakistan, rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits and sentiments and feelings of people of Jammu and Ladakh. They are more keen on exploiting the emotions and sentiments of a section of the people of valley by demanding autonomy, further weakening of the state'slinks with the Centre and return to pre-1953 status. None of these demands are in the interest of territorial integrity and national security and are in conflict with repeatedly expressed views and sentiments of the people of Jammu and Ladakh regions who are for complete integration of the state with the rest of India
Insisting that political instability was the root cause of all the problems faced by the state, the National Conference wants a political solution in the shape of ?autonomy? for J&K on the basis of the controversial State Autonomy Committee report. Reiterating its demand for retaining and strengthening Article 370, the National Conference argues that the Article is a ?bridge? between J&K and India and warns that the two shores of this relationship would drift apart if this constitutional provision were removed. It is a dangerous proposition. Article 370 is not a bridge, it is the gulf that separates J&K from the rest of the country and sooner it is removed the better it would be for the future of the state and the country. National Conference wants ?greater autonomy? and has the audacity to plead for ?equitable development and balance of power between the three regions of the state?; conveniently forgetting the gross discrimination its government perpetuated against Jammu and Ladakh regions.
PDP will be satisfied with nothing less than ?self-rule?. Any review of the state'srelationship with the Union, it says, must proceed from the ?fact? that India was a nation and J&K as a ?sub-national entity? that operates on the realm of ?shared sovereignty?. It wants a thorough review of the entire gamut of constitutional provisions related to the state to strengthen its ?sub-national? entity.
It argues that status of J&K is unique in the constitutional system as it is the only state of the Union that has a separate constitution, separate flag and dual citizenship. Instead of suggesting removing these archaic provisions, it is making demands like an elected Governor and non-application of Article 356 to the state so that its links with the rest of the country are further weakened. It doesn'tbother to clarify how the Union Government would deal with a situation in the event of a collapse of the constitutional machinery in the state or in the event of the state government disobeying Union Government'sdirectives issued in matters of country'sdefence and foreign policy. The CPM too supports the demand for the retention of Article 370, calling it a ?sacred? provision that needs to be strengthened if the relations between the state and India were to be improved. The CPM wants the Chairman of the Working Group to make his own recommendations to the Prime Minister, as there was no consensus among the parties on the sensitive issue of state'sstatus in the Indian Union.
The BJP is waging a lonely battle for national unity by addressing the basic issue of complete integration of the state with the rest of India. It wants that Article 370 – that was incorporated in the Indian Constitution as a temporary and transitory provision at the instance of Sheikh Abdullah – should be scrapped to remove the psychological barrier between the constituent state and the Union of India. This Article is responsible for creating an impression that the state was not fully part of India thereby sending wrong signals to both Pakistan and separatist elements within the state. The demand for making it a permanent feature of the Constitutional arrangement is to further weaken the relationship of a part with the whole.
Supporting the demand for greater autonomy for J&K is to ignore the vast and varied socio-cultural phenomena of J&K. Culture and personality of Jammu and Ladakh are quite distinct from Kashmir. The people of these regions have a long-standing grievance that the power structure has been tilted in favour of the people of the Kashmir region. Article 370 and its accompanying paraphernalia need to be abrogated as it serves as an instrument of pepetrating injustices and inequalities. It has facilitated the growth of corrupt oligarchies and feeds the forces of parochialism and obscurantism. It implicitly recognises the two-nation theory and breeds separatism. It gives rise to regional tensions and conflicts. As for the Kashmir'scultural entity, it can be safeguarded without this Article, as is the case with personality and cultural entity of other states.