Ranbir Singh Pathania
5th August, 2019 shall be remembered as a Red Letter Day in Indian history. A chapter of darkness, duplicity, deception came to an end. And a new sun has risen on the horizon of J & K.
Given the train of events that followed the morning of 5th August, people across the country pinched themselves to realize and finally believe that Article 370 has been reduced to a dead letter. The supreme sacrifice of Lt. Shyama Prasad Mukherji and valuable contribution of Pt. Prem Nath Dogra have born fruits finally. Rather ‘Poorna Vilay’ of J & K can safely be attributed to as a tribute to 80,000-odd people who had laid their lives in this conflict-laden zone and a sort of final victory for every rational Indian from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. It really sounded cynical and ironical too. Kashmiris can buy land and get employment or admission anywhere in the country. But no one from the rest of the country can buy land or seek employment or admission in a professional course anywhere in J & K.
How Article 370 harmed people of J & K: –
Let me quote Jag Mohan in his book, Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir,
“Article 370 is nothing but a feeding ground for parasites at the heart of paradise. It skins the poor. It deceives them with its mirage. It lines the pockets of ‘power elites’. It fans the ego of new sultans. In essence it creates a land without justice, land full of crudities and contradictions. It props up politics of deception, duplicity and demagogy. It breeds microbes of subversion. It keeps alive unwholesome legacy of two-nation theory. It suffocates the very idea of India. It could be epicenter of an earthquake in Valley – an earthquake, the tremors of which, would be felt all over the country”.
Legal wrangles apart, Article 370 has been a potent weapon in the hands of vested interests to block welfare and public friendly legislations from coming into force in J & K. The less-empowered Panchayats without the sting and sweep of 73rd amendment, absence of Nyaya Panchayat mechanism were a living example thereof. Students of J & K had nil access to ‘Right to Education’. Poor and downtrodden could not take benefit of ‘Right to Food’ in J & K. A lesser effective Right to Information Act, less efficacious anti-corruption and anti-terror laws, so on and so forth. All these had their legacy and roots in Article 370. Whatever suited the powers-that-be was all-welcome in J & K. And whatever suited the common man was opposed tooth and nail in J & K. Take for instance, the ‘land to the tiller’ movement. There has been a countrywide consensus on the principle after independence. And almost every State has a specific law enacted in this regard. In J & K, it came to have legal shape with the coming into force of Big Landed Estates Abolition Act and Agrarian Reforms Act. But I have, off and on, seen workers of National Conference fretting, fuming and thumping their chests almost fifty years after the enactment of the statutes in J & K, calling it as ‘Sheikh Saheb’s meharbani.’
Mehbooba Mufti had played all politics over safeguarding the rights of gujjars/bakerwals by issuing the controversial minutes of the meeting while she was the Chief Minister. But, unlike the rest of country, did she take pains in bringing in Forest Dwellers Act, which safeguards the rights of the forest dwellers (Gujjars , Bakerwals & Gaddis). Also the Land acquisition laws and procedures invoked in J & K are not as good as the legislations in force in the rest of the country. And when it came to applying the Central Delimitation Act, freezing increase of seats till 2016, in J &k, no Article 370 came in the way. Fact remains that despite having bigger area and more electorate, Jammu has lesser seats in the Parliament, State Assembly and Panchayats. But justice was delayed and rather denied to the people of Jammu while implementing the seat-freeze law in J&K in a pure hush-hush manner.
Let me go to the very inception of Article 370 in the Indian Constitution whereby Nehru-Gopalaswami duo carried it through,. Sardar Patel had went to the extent of offering privately his resignation to the PM against undue interference by Mr Gopalaswani, Minister without portfolio, in the Deptt of States.
It was perhaps Nehru who then advised Abdullah to seek the help of B. R. Ambedkar for securing the Special Provisions for Jammu and Kashmir. After giving a patient hearing Ambedkar said to Abdullah:
“India should provide all the money for the governance and development of your state. India should undertake to defend your state against Pakistan and other aggressors. Indians should die to defend your state. You will have a separate constitution, separate head of state, separate sets of laws and separate flag. Your people can buy and own land anywhere in rest of India but none who was not born in Jammu and Kashmir could reciprocally buy and own property in Jammu and Kashmir. Indians should be taxed to develop your land, to defend it from all aggressions and you have no obligation at all to the Indian Union. I can never agree to such treatment to any state.”
It appeared as if Lt. Sheikh Abdullah was out and out to create a Shiekhdom for him and his family. His priority number one was Lok Sabha membership for his wife, minister-ship for his son-in-law and future chief minster-ship for his son.
Mr Sheikh Abdullah never wanted the Comptroller & Auditor General of India and Supreme Court of India to come and exercise their powers in J & K. He wanted to rest and repose on a touch-me-not citadel while squandering and sapping the resources of the State as well as Central grants while accounting for nothing.
Today, J&K has breathed free. A host of public-friendly legislations have come into the state – may it be in field of ‘consumer Protection’ ‘Gram Nyayalyas‘, ‘Dowry Prohibition’, Free & compulsory education, better and fair land compensation, protecting whistleblowers, protecting wildlife and forests. And controversial and less effective laws – Resettlement Act, Transfer of Property Act, Sale of Goods Act, etc. – have virtually bid good bye to the State. The people of J & K can now bask and breed under the new legal framework, which seemingly has been very carefully crafted by the powers-that-be at the National Capital.
STs have got political reservation with almost eleven seats to be reserved for them. They have come under a legal umbrella with rights to dwell in forests. Employees have got better pay-bands and allowances and decent working conditions. Corrupt and deadwood could now be dealt with more appropriately.
The desperate and knee-jerk reactions of ‘Sultans of yesterday’ are really amusing. It looks as if they still to emerge out of an abstruse obsession of a Utopian belief that the Chief Ministership of J & K shall fall in their lap like a ripe apple one fine day.”
It is better if they come to understand the things more properly and call a spade a spade rather than construing politics in J & K as a family-centric flirtation rather than a serious commitment.
Unfinished agenda after 5th August 2019: –
‘Bones and blood of my forefathers still lie splattered in the hills of Gilgit, Baltistan, Skardu and Tibet”. I remember the last words of my grandfather, Lt Sh. Jagdev Singh Pathania, a decorated police officer who was posted as S.H.O. Pimber (in POK) when last orders came for evacuating the territory came.
The territory of J & K in respect whereof Maharaja Singh has signed the Instrument of Accession was having an area of 86,000 square kilometers. And today, only 41,000 square kilometers area is in the de facto control of India while 45,000 square kilometers is in illegal control and occupation of China and Pakistan. Reclaiming this area, re-uniting the separated families and doling out justice on other side of the line should be topmost item in the unfinished agenda post 5th August.
Justice has been meted out to West Pak Refugees, Valmikis, Gorkhas.
Nonetheless, will there be equity in constitution of administrative units so that baggage of past fallacies and misnomers is wiped. Although a full-dressed report of Wazir Commission had recommended four districts for Jammu division and one for Kashmir division. The report was made to gather dust in obscure shelves of Civil Secretariat and almost three decades after, in 2006, Azad-led regime created four districts each in Jammu as well as Kashmir divisions. Equality cannot be amongst inequals. Lesser square kilometers and population constitute districts/tehsils in Kashmir. It is in this very backdrop, let us explore, if new districts could come up at Ramnagar, Billawar, Nowshera, Akhnoor/ R.S. Pora and one out of Kupwara and another constituting parts of largely-spread Pulwama and Baramulla.
The letter and spirit of Finance Commission recommendations (Commission constituted in pursuance to Finance Commission Act, 2006) made by Sh. Swami Raj Sharma and Sh. Sonam Dawa was really an eye-opener. Reports of Gajender Gadkar Committee & Sikri Commission are still a dead letter. So, giving due space and weight to these recommendations should also be the unfinished agenda of the Centre?
The ‘Man of the Millenium’, Narendra Bhai Modi, with Iron Man of New India, Amit Shah, and ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas Sabka Vishwaas,’ as the very hallmark, seem to be in a combative mood. Let this be a fight for justice, once for all. Once they have been off-the-mark in an innate, impeccable style, let us hope and pray, the end of the story also inspires and instills confidence in the hearts and souls of people of J & K.
And last but not the least, there are some genuine apprehensions and concerns put on the carpet by people, pressure groups and political parties regarding the new legal/constitutional relationship of the Centre with the State. I hope they are given a thoughtful, on-merits consideration by the Centre.
(The columnist practices law at the J&K, High Court of Judicature)
Ranbir Singh Pathania