Lt Gen Ghanshyam Singh Katoch, PVSM,AVSM,VSM (Retd) Writes: The introduction of two statutory resolutions that were introduced and passed on the same day in the Rajya Sabha on 05 Aug 2019 for abrogation of article 370 and reorganisation of the state of J&K, generated euphoria and unease depending upon the era from which one viewed it.
We often tend to forget the past. We feel that only what is happening in the present era is the norm and based upon that perception label events as regular/irregular, abnormal/normal, precedented/unprecedented and justified/unjustified. This is not surprising since the only times we see and live in—are our own; forgetting that there were eras before ours and there will be eras thereafter.
With an exaggerated importance given to ‘our’ era, it is common to think of actions in the present being unique and without precedent. This has been the perception in some quarters, about the decision to amend article 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution and at the same time divide Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories of Ladakh and J&K. These actions appear unprecedented in the ‘our era’ memories. In analysing the abrogation of Article 370, termed by many as a surprise, we forget certain obvious indicators. These are:
- The BJP has always viewed Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee as its inspiration. A minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s first cabinet he made integration of J&K with India his cause and was opposed to article 370 when it was being considered in the Parliament. On these and other grounds he left the Congress and founded the Bhartiya Jana Sangha the predecessor of the BJP. He was detained in J&K for entering J&K without a permit. His death while under arrest in Srinagar in Jun 1953 shook the nation and ended the system of permits to enter J&K which was in vogue prior to the State’s accession to India in 1947 and had continued thereafter.
- Strengthening the links of J&K as an integral part of the Union of India and the rights of POK refugees (both of which meant amending article 370), was part of the BJP’s election manifesto in 2014 and abrogation of Article 35A was part of the BJP’s election manifesto in 2019.
- Article 370 of the Indian Constitution is listed as a ‘temporary provision’ in the Constitution of India. It was meant for a period. If an elected democratic government with an overwhelming majority felt it was hindering the integration of J&K with India, then the time for this temporary provision to go had come.
So, were the events of 5 Aug 2019 a surprise? They were not. Those who feign surprise are missing the woods for the trees. The internal political reorganisation of a country is its prerogative. Sovereignty is the power of a state to do everything and anything necessary to govern itself. A state can break up its space into manageable units of administration. The internal divisions of a country into states/provinces are made based on population (numbers/ethnicity/religion/linguistics), geography and resources.
Many commentators some national and some international, are conveying that the Indian government’s actions in J&K are unjustified and unprecedented. To see this event in perspective, a peep into the history of the evolution of the Indian state of Punjab is educative.
In 1947 at independence and partition, the British Indian Punjab was divided into Pakistani Punjab and Indian Punjab. Eastern Punjab coming to India and Western Punjab going to Pakistan. At independence what we know as the Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh—of this era—were East Punjab and about eight princely states which had been clubbed together into new state called the Patiala and East Punjab States Union (PEPSU). The latter entity existed from 1947 till 1956. PEPSU extended up to Shimla since it included the Shimla hill states. In 1956 PEPSU was merged with the state of Punjab. In 1950 there had been a movement which started in Orissa, to organise Indian states on linguistic basis and that is how many states came into existence through the States Reorganisation Act 1956. This was not done in Northern India where Punjab was a state with people speaking Punjabi, Haryanvi and Dogri/Pahari (all these languages are of the Indo-Aryan family of languages originating from Sanskrit). The Punjabi Suba (Punjabi province) movement was a demand for Punjabi speaking state on the same basis as states such like Orissa, Bengal, Madras, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Gujarat had been formed, e.g. on linguistic basis. The secular Indian State avoided forming states on religious basis. An agitation for a state justified by Sikhism was understood by the premier Sikh political group—the Akalis, as not likely to be agreed to, hence the agitation was for a Punjabi speaking ‘Suba, which was eventually granted in 1966. This resulted in the formation of the present states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. The latter formed from 31 Princely states had been a union territory till 1966 and then became a state. The reorganisation of these three states 53 years ago has slipped from the memory of most Indians as 63% of them were not even born at that time. It is no surprise that for them reorganising J&K appears cataclysmic. Why do people find the formation of the union territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir so odd? In fact because of linguistic, religious, ethnic and geographic factors three separate Union territories has also been a demand.
The takeaway from this article is that we who are living in the present era should not feel that something unprecedented has been done in the political division of Jammu and Kashmir State consequent to abrogation of Article 370. Similar political divisions have happened many times in the past—one example having just been quoted. The country went through great churning and turmoil at that time. What emerged added to the stability and strength of the country. In the case of Jammu and Kashmir this change was long overdue as the state formed through the march of history was viable when a monarchy but politically fragile in a democratic paradigm. This had resulted in a political structure which compounded by geographic factors lacked cohesiveness and which could easily be unbalanced by Pakistani machinations. Article 370 gave J&K a special status for a different era. It was obviously a temporary provision as two constitutions and systems in one state create imbalance. We have seen in the recent upheaval in Hong Kong that its one nation two systems structure is perceived by the Chinese as incongruous and which imbalances their nation. Therefore, China feels it is justified in trying to hasten the process of bringing the two systems together, though as per their treaty with the UK this was to happen only in 2047. China justifies early application of mainland China laws to Hong Kong stating that the treaty with UK is an anachronism in the present era. The same logic can be seen in India’s actions. There is a difference in India’s actions; it is not violating a treaty made with another country. In any case whatever fig leaf of an international character of the Kashmir issue that Pakistan waves around crumbled when it did not withdraw its troops from J&K after 01 Jan 1949, a prerequisite for the recommendatory plebiscite proposal. Later, it effectively made the UN resolution 47 of 13 Aug 1948 irrelevant when it broke up Pakistan Occupied Kashmir into the two centrally administered units of Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas (the latter made a province in 2018) and stated that the Northern Areas were not a part of J&K.
05 Aug 2019 has ushered in a new era. An era which has the promise to douse the flames burning for the past 30 years and resolve a dispute going on for nearly 72 years.