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The BJP has closed the door for political engagement in Kashmir by curtailing Article 370

The passage of a statutory resolution and a Bill in Parliament — “abrogating” Article 370 which confers special political status on Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcating the State into two Union Territories — has robbed the Kashmir Valley of its political autonomy, or whatever remains of it after all these years. It may deepen the State’s trust deficit vis-a-vis the Centre. The “abrogation” of Article 370, being hailed as a “glorious” move, is itself a misnomer. “Amending” or “abrogating” Article 370 is a Constitutional improbability; the amending provision of Article 368 says no Constitutional amendments have effect in relation to J&K unless applied by Order of the President under Article 370 that requires the concurrence of the State’s legislature and ratification by its Constituent Assembly. The moves on Monday can be seen as an exercise in political optics, pandering to a certain majoritarian sentiment. What the Centre has done is to shred even the garb of democracy and spirit of dialogue that successive governments felt was important to engage the people of Kashmir. Through as many as 45 Presidential Orders, the most critical being the Order of 1954, Article 370 has already been divested of its spirit. Secessionist elements and some Indian Constitutional experts have cited this gradual advance of the Union as the conquest of the Valley by stealth.

What even this controversial process of assimilation, with Article 370 in place, has done is to achieve the growth of local political engagement. It legitimises a pan-Indian sentiment in the Valley where the secessionists would like to portray India as a mere occupational force. Indeed, there are several other provisions in the Constitution such as Article 371(A), 371(G), 371(B), 371(C) that validate indigenous political forces in States like Nagaland, Mizoram, Assam, Manipur et al. This asymmetric form of federalism has its global parallels in the substantial autonomy enjoyed by Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland within Great Britain. The protests in Hong Kong affirm the the relevance of democratic processes inherent in the one country-two systems followed even by China.

By robbing Article 370 of its special provisions, the BJP has undermined these nuanced and extremely critical democratic processes. Simultaneously, the State has been carved up into two Union Territories with J&K having a legislature and Ladakh without it. The unprecedented step of reorganising a State and divesting it of its legislative authority without even a semblance of consultation with the stakeholders sets a dangerous precedent underlined by several regional groups and political parties, particularly the DMK and the MDMK. It is possible that the BJP would reap rich political dividends for this muscular policy. But the Centre would be responsible for escalation of violence in the Valley where all doors for political engagement and democratic exchange seem to have been closed down for good. Without meaningful participation of the people, any such unilateral integration can remain at best territorial.

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