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Last Updated: Mon, Aug 12, 2019 13:53 hrs
Shutdown paralyses life in Kashmir Valley

August 5, 2019 will be remembered differently by two sections of India’s non-Kashmiri population for the same reason – it was the day Home Minister Amit Shah fulfilled one of the BJP’s main promises, the scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution.

To some, it was proof that the BJP kept its word, and could be trusted with the sovereignty of the Union of India.

To others, it was a dark day for federalism and democracy, two of the pillars on which the idea of India rests.

As for the Kashmiris, let us not pretend to know how they feel.

The closest I can get to understanding their emotions is to imagine this – to imagine what it would be like for my state, Tamil Nadu, to lose its autonomy.

What if Hindi were to be made the national language and imposed upon my state?

What if, before this announcement was made, the internet and telecom services were removed?

What if tens of thousands of men in uniforms I had learned to dread were to descend upon my state?

What if all the mainstream politicians of the state, people whom I could trust to speak for me, were placed under house arrest late at night?

What if Section 144 were imposed so I could not even seek solace in the company of my friends?

What if all the tourists in the state were bundled out suddenly, as if to keep them safe while the Centre unleashed its plans on residents?

I would feel my state was occupied, not administered.

Most Kashmiris felt this even before the events of August 5.

There is widespread misinformation about Article 370. Most of mainstream India believes it gives “special powers” to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

But it would be far more accurate to say the only special powers enjoyed in the state are those conferred by the AFSPA upon the armed forces.

Technically, Article 370 allows the state to follow its own constitution and retain autonomy in all departments but defence, foreign affairs and communications – the areas in which the Maharaja of Kashmir promised to defer to India under the Instrument of Accession 1947.

The state was to be allowed to legislate through its own Constituent Assembly, which permanently dissolved itself in 1957, following the adoption of the state’s constitution. The provisions of the Instrument of Accession and Article 370 must be read with nuance.

Cunning interpretations of the Article, dating right back to 1952 when Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister of India, have weakened these provisions considerably.

Now, most of India understands the Article to imply that non-Kashmiris cannot purchase land in Kashmir, that industries cannot be set up in the Valley, and that this somehow impedes economic progress, which is the reason terrorism is rampant in the state.

I’m yet to hear of a terrorist who was drawn to his vocation thanks to a salary package and benefits.

People turn to militancy from despair, from the conviction that there is no other route, from loss of faith in conversation.

With its move, the Centre has just compounded these factors.

If the setting up of industries and the purchase of land were solutions to militancy, we would not have insurgent movements in the North East.

As close to the mainland as Darjeeling, people allege that the government does not care to improve infrastructure despite a potential increase in revenue from tourism.

Industry, far from creating employment opportunities, has depleted the resources of the north-east, ruining the natural beauty of the region by littering its rivers with megawatt dams.

But even if this argument were to hold water, we need to examine the way in which Article 370 was revoked, because the idea of India as a federation of states has essentially been dissolved.

Even to those who believe that Jammu and Kashmir is an undisputed part of the country and should bow to its sovereignty, surely the end cannot justify the means?

Article 370 was born of the trust enshrined in the Instrument of Accession that there would be room for conversation and negotiation. It was formulated over the next three years, and formalised on January 26, 1950. And yet, it has been removed with no time for debate or discussion, as is befitting of a police state.

The machinations of the Centre in interpreting this document read like a Birbal story.

Their first argument was that Article 370 is “temporary”. However, various high courts and the Supreme Court have upheld that in light of subsequent events, the provision must be interpreted as permanent.

The President does have powers to revoke the article, but there is a condition under which he can do so – he would need a recommendation from the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, which has been nonexistent since 1957.

The BJP got around this through a presidential order which adds a new clause to Article 367, allowing the Constituent Assembly to be interpreted as the state’s legislative assembly.

The problem is that Kashmir does not have a state assembly either, since the Centre has been repeatedly postponing elections in the state despite the wishes of the latter’s politicians.

The Centre has then interpreted the state assembly as the Governor, since Jammu and Kashmir is under President’s Rule.

It also seeks to bifurcate the state into its constituent parts, and further convert them into Union Territories, with no autonomy, thus rendering the orders of August 5 irreversible.

Has there ever been a historical record of a state being bifurcated with no such demand from within, with not so much as notice of such a plan by the Centre?

Have such crucial decisions pertaining to a state ever been made by a government when one of its own allies – in this case, the Janata Dal (United) – has walked out of the Parliament in protest?

Under these circumstances, can the provisions for revocation of Article 370 be said to have been fulfilled even in letter, leave alone in spirit?

The abstinence of most of the Valley from participation in the general election is testimony to how disillusioned its residents are. The unrest is at one of its peaks, with a manifold increase in incidents of terrorism, in deaths of security personnel and civilians, in horrible cases of maiming from pellet shots.

And yet, the government has made a move which its devoted followers term “bold”. No bold move ought to be executed through sneaky means.

Even if the change is reversed, its effects will be irreversible.

For decades, our textbooks have been celebrating the notion of “Unity in Diversity”. The abolition of diversity places our idea of India under threat, and we should be terrified.

More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:

The Delusionary Indian Intellectual

No one should be afraid to talk about religion

How Modi-haters became his PR angels

Why the Indian elections will always go wrong

When the people want a change

Abhinandan Varthaman: Hero, yes, but victim first


Tokenism won't stop terror attacks

Pulwama attack: When humans become symbols


The legislative dangers of election year

Priyanka and the inheritance of power

The G.O.A.T vote: When opinion offends

The hooligans in our homes

Why the Ambanis should rule India

Ten things the chowkidars failed to protect


Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com