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Article 370 must apply to all states, not just J&K

Kiran Batni http://kiranbatni

Updated: April 8, 2014, 12:17 PM IST
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"In fact, the hundreds of states which acceded to the Dominion of India in the days and weeks after 15 August 1947 originally had the same autonomy as J&K today enjoys; they were quickly relieved of it by hook or crook. This process must come under review and even the Congress, which has always criticized the BJP for bringing up the topic of Article 370, must take a principled stand on the matter instead of giving a dry rendition of its history"

- On 2 December 2013, Narendra Modi questioned whether Article 370 has done any good to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and called for a 'rational and focused debate' on it. Yesterday, Omar Abdullah, the Chief Minister of J&K, went on record to say that when he invited Modi to debate about the Article, he got the reply that "he was too busy, and he is too higher level to talk" to him. In short, there is no sign of the debate which Modi called for, but the arrogance of power is already in sight - power that hasn't even been acquired. Not surprisingly, in its manifesto released after the elections have begun, the BJP has reiterated its commitment to the abrogation of Article 370.

When the BJP asks whether Article 370 has done any good to the people of J&K, what it really asks is whether liberty can do any good to people. The answer, of course, is a no-brainer. If, instead of liberty, central control is the solution to people's problems, there was really no need for India to have become free from British rule; they were very good at central control.

It's not that Article 370 has failed in doing good to the people of J&K. If anything has destroyed the state it is, undoubtedly, its transformation into a perpetual war-zone by the presence of what some analysts have described as the largest concentration of military troops anywhere in the world - thanks to the little power that has been given to the Centre as per the Instrument of Accession.

India's 'national parties' must recognize that liberty is a principle that doesn't apply to select states or peoples, or only where historical reasons can be quoted in support. It applies to everyone at all time, and no reasons need to be given. The people of India cannot be denied liberty for historical or other flimsy reasons. In fact, the hundreds of states which acceded to the Dominion of India in the days and weeks after 15 August 1947 originally had the same autonomy as J&K today enjoys; they were quickly relieved of it by hook or crook. This process must come under review and even the Congress, which has always criticized the BJP for bringing up the topic of Article 370, must take a principled stand on the matter instead of giving a dry rendition of its history.

The ruler of J&K was in a unique position while signing the Instrument of Accession, no doubt, but the principles of liberty and federalism embedded in Article 370 are worth generalizing and applying to all states. Really, there is no reason why the other states must not or cannot rule themselves when it comes to matters other than defense and external affairs (it's time to get rid of communications from this list). In fact, to believe that the Centre will do a better job than the states is not just disrespect for liberty, but also allows demographically advantaged diversity groups to assume power over all of India and abuse it for their own private gains. This is corruption by definition.

The question a true votary of democracy and liberty would ask is how to make Article 370 apply to every state of India without turning it into a J&K in terms of troop presence and the creation of a situation of perpetual war. Both the Congress and the BJP need to open up to this debate on bringing true federalism to India. Both must realize that any power lost by the Centre will not land in the hands of the British any more. Those days are gone and this excuse will no longer work. Any power lost by the Centre is going to go back to the states, and from there, to the people of India. That's the path to true democracy, true liberty, and the unity and integrity of India; not questioning whether liberty can do good to people on the one hand and building meaningless statues on the other.

First Published: April 8, 2014, 12:17 PM IST

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