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PARADISE LOST-PARADISE REGAINED?
Opinion

PARADISE LOST-PARADISE REGAINED?

Lt Gen.Zameer Uddin Shah,PVSM,SM,VSM,Dep.Chief of Army Staff(RETD)

‘A mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heav’n of hell, and a hell of heav’n’----Milton’s epic poems, circa 1671

Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal, was so enchanted by the beauty of the Kashmir Valley that he exulted,

“YA FIRDAUS BAR-RUHE ZAMAN AST, HAMINASTO-HAMINASTO-HAMINAST”

(If there be a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here)

At the time of Partition of India, the Kashmiris opted for India on being given an assurance, in a solemn agreement of grant of special status (Article 370) and protection of their territory from being usurped by outsiders (Section 35A). This choice was exercised despite the fact that Kashmir met the parameters, contiguity and religion, loosely followed by the Radcliffe Commission (tasked to draw the line of division) to be merged into Pakistan. Section 35A was not new. It had been enacted by the Dogra Rulers in 1920s in the form of a Law to prevent Punjabi Muslims from buying land and depriving, permanent residents of the Kingdom, employment opportunities within their own state. Article 35A gave certain benefits to the permanent residents of Kashmir in employment in the state government, acquisition of immovable property, settlement in the state and scholarships and other government aid. Several other states like Arunachal, Nagaland, Himachal Pradesh, and Manipur have restrictions on the purchase of land. There is reservation, too, on the basis of domicile in educational institutions.

Kashmir Valley remained a paradise on earth till 1989. Pakistan’s design of infiltrating its forces into the valley in 1965 was detected and reported by Kashmiri Gujjars and effectively repulsed by Indian Armed Forces. During my postings in Jaurian and Ladakh, between 1975-77, I travelled, by road, extensively across the state, without escort and in uniform, and drew in the beauty of the place and the warm hospitality of the populace. There were little or no anti Indian sentiments. The Kashmiris were certainly sensitive of their special status and jealously guarded it. Gradually over a period of time successive Central Governments began the erosion of Article 370 whose shell now remained, no more than a symbol of Kashmir’s Special status. In the Union List 94 out of 97 entries were applicable, 260 out of 395 Articles of the Constitution and 7 of the 12 Schedules of the Constitution of India had been extended to the State. Even though the core of Article 370 had been eroded, it did have huge sentimental value for the people of Jammu and Kashmir who view its abrogation with extreme misgivings.

The Supreme Court of India had attached the highest importance to an ‘agreement or compact between states’ as an essential characteristic of federalism which was recognized as the basic structure of the Constitution in the Keshavand Bharti case (1973) and reiterated in the SR.Bommai judgment (1994). An essential facet of Indian federalism governed the Centre’s relationship with Jammu & Kashmir through Article 370. The gradual erosion of a solemn constitutional assurance gave rise to growing resentment amongst the Kashmiris and was exasperated by interference and rigging in the state’s political process. In 1990 the state, with Pakistan’s support and connivance became the playground of secessionists. It was a slide, downhill, all the way. Paradise had been Lost.

The demand for abolition of Articles 370 and 35A was the rallying point for nationalists who welcomed abolition on the ground that the Articles had outlived their utility and the time had come for their abrogation. A mistaken impression was prevalent, across the country, that all states had just one, uniform kind of relationship with the Centre. Similar provisions, though not as stringent and all-encompassing, enshrined by Articles 371(A to I) reflecting the diversity of the country, were applicable to 10 other Indian states: -

Article 371 Maharashtra ( Vidarbha and Marathwada) and Gujarat (Kutch)

Article 371A (Nagaland)

Article 371B (Assam)

Article 371C (Manipur)

Article 371 D&E ( Andhra Pradesh)

Article 371F (Sikkim)

Article 371G (Mizoram)

Article 371H ( Arunachal Pradesh)

Article 371I (Goa)

Being a retired military officer, it does not behove well of me to criticize a decision taken by overwhelming majorities in the Lok and Rajya Sabha, though with minimal customary scrutiny and procedures. The important constitutional amendment was bulldozed through with bare procedural necessities. It was widely welcomed across the country. In fact, there was a sense of jubilation, almost gloating, much to the chagrin of the Kashmiris who now don’t have much choice but to accept it. The State has seen enough bloodshed and bitterness with a whole generation stymied by the last 30 years of violence. The onus is on the citizens of India to show maturity and magnanimity, not exhibit the crass messages being spoken and posted on social platforms, reflecting a great victory and time for the youth to get betrothed to ‘Gori’ Kashmiri maidens and for land sharks to buy land dirt cheap. The Kashmiris are to be reassured that their interests will be protected and they are equal partners in the country’s progress.

Article 370 was certainly not an issue of integration; it was an issue of granting autonomy or federalism. Those who advocated its deletion were more concerned with uniformity rather than integration. Uniformity and integration are not one and the same. Preservation of diversity and granting autonomy indeed lead to lasting integration. It must be ensured that the huge funds being spent on Kashmir are not siphoned off by greedy politicians and are used for development and creating job opportunities. An impetus must be given to education. All this will wean away the youth from the gun. It may be time to announce a general amnesty and a cash reward for terrorists who surrender with weapons. The Nagaland experience of creating para military units with surrendered insurgents may be a risk worth taking. The wounds of the last three decades must be quickly healed, the tourists must come flooding back to Kashmir, education must become universal and PARADISE REGAINED.

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The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.