On 17 November 1956, when Jammu and Kashmir adopted its own constitution, no institution, Indian or the state’s own, was left with any power to extend jurisdiction of any Indian Union institutions to the state except in matters of defence, foreign affairs, and communications, says A G Noorani, noted Indian constitutional lawyer, in his book, Article 370: A constitutional History of Jammu and Kashmir.
“All additions to the Union powers since then are unconstitutional.”
Kashmir’s troubles today are mostly a consequence of New Delhi’s heavy-handed calibration of constitutional provisions, aimed at ‘integrating’ the region with India.
That twisted construction of constitutionality has inflicted an ‘unconstitutional’ relationship on Kashmir. The latest interlocutors’ exercise for a resolution was a non-starter, because it’s mandate kept it within the Indian constitution.
A careful reading of their report reveals the actual contest is camouflaged in equivocation. While Kashmiris would accept nothing less than Azadi, New Delhi promises little beyond administrative reforms in the center-periphery relationship. Or else the boot will continue to be in place to keep control.
Demilitarising the state is not on the horizon. Instead, a “rationalisation” of security installations can be achieved “through reducing their spread (not numbers) to a few strategic locations and creating mobile units for rapid response” – The cosmetic measure has already been initiated by the government forces by removing some bunkers and checkpoints in urban pockets.
This “rationalization” willfully ignores that the militarised conditions of Kashmir have atomised the population to the extent that community and civil society life, outside the elite circles, now remains limited to gatherings around marriage feasts. And if an estimated 700,000 soldiers for a population of 12.5 million was not enough to keep them under check, the interlocutors believe the state suffers a shortage of police, hoping that continuing local recruitment will solve the “problem”.
Today, Kashmir is a condition possible for the contesting sides to be described as anything from ‘peaceful and normal’ to a powder keg waiting to explode. Military and paramilitary camps are as endemic, so are unmarked mass graves, and endless tales of those killed, tortured, disappeared, arbitrarily incarcerated and entangled in police cases – and a staggering backlog of undelivered justice. A reality described as a ‘deep sense of victimhood’!
Unlike 2010, when much of Kashmir exploded in anti-India anger, this summer, like the last, is also witnessing an invasion-like rush by tourists from the blistering hot Indian mainland.
Kashmir is cool, calm and ‘normal’ again.
But mercifully, the interlocutors’ diagnosis of the situation seems to accept that Kashmir’s issues emanate from its ‘forced constitutional marriage’ with the Indian union. Yet, this is precisely what they would not recommend changing in any fundamental manner. Instead, they emphatically recommend putting to rest the controversy over ‘unconstitutionality’ of the extension of central laws to Kashmir.
“The clock cannot be turned back”!
In a somewhat colonial outlook, they suggest that Indian “Parliament will make no laws applicable to the State unless it relates to the country’s internal and external security and its vital economic interest, especially in the areas of energy and access to water resources”. This issue particularly feeds into a sense of ‘exploitation’ in the energy-starved state. An incipient movement is already on inside Kashmir against the operations of NHPC.
There is no suggestion of putting to vote any recommendations or imagined future agreements between Srinagar and New Delhi. The interlocutors retain all agency for themselves and New Delhi, and imagine none for the people of Kashmir. They claim having understood - or rather determined - the political aspirations of all the people of the entire state.
Similarly, they have attempted to redefine absence of certain ‘freedoms’ to fit them into the extension of New Delhi’s power over Kashmir, mindful of the unilateral parliamentary resolution of 1994, that declared Jammu and Kashmir an ‘integral’ part of the Indian union. Besides other systemic barriers to ‘freedom’, the popular desire for leading a life of ‘dignity and honour’ is imagined as freedom from all forces of “religious extremism”, “opaque and unaccountable administration” and “judicial delays that curb the space for legitimate dissent”.
A superficial scrutiny of the conditions in Kashmir will reveal that all the listed unfreedoms are a consequence of New Delhi’s own policies.
The outlook the proposed ‘New Compact’ reveals reminds me of a man who lives in Kupwara, close to many sites of unmarked and mass graves. Some years ago the army detained him, and allegedly tortured him so badly inside a camp that he lost one of his legs completely and drags another with the use of crutches. His hands, he alleges were burnt on a blue stove and he finally had to have a few fingers amputated. He was later selected by the army for a tour to Taj Mahal, under its hearts and minds campaign – ‘Operation Sadbhavna, or Goodwill’.
An expectation that such a journey could lead to any solutions belongs to the realm of the unfathomable.