Art 370 – The Ghost Who (Still) Walks

There is this commonly-used ploy to put tracking dogs off the scent (at least that’s the way they do it in spy novels!) by strewing pepper along the track. The much dragged and debated Article 370 of the Indian constitution which supposedly grants a special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir is being used in exactly the same manner in an attempt to confound the masses and distract them from other issues. Those who revile as well as those who defend this Article choose to ignore the fact that it is ultimately just a poor receipt for a contrived transaction that robbed this state of its autonomous character. A mere promissory note that the state got in lieu of a sell-out and one that did not even live up to its promise; born half dead it was further murdered in bits and pieces until what was left was just a ghost. The bizarre biography of the Article does not end there. It stands to logic that those who commit a murder would like a quick disposal of the corpse and wouldn’t like even the ghost to be around. But then logic is never an impediment so far as politics is concerned. In fact, politics thrives on twisted logic, logic that has been convoluted in a manner that it turns upon itself like a twisted serpent biting its own tail. In similar fashion, this ghost, rather than haunting its murderers, has ended up serving their interests!

All said and done, the BJP is at least sincere when it promises to altogether bury the corpse of this dead Article and this has been their stand since its very birth. It is the leaping to defense of this ghost by the other political parties that is bizarre. The Congress has been mainly responsible for both the gasping birth of this Article as well as its murder in installments. History stands testimony to the fact that the whittling down of this Article to its present form has all along been the handiwork of successive Congress governments. Be it the change of nomenclature of Sadar-i-Riyasat and Prime Minister to Governor’ and Chief Minister or the insidious extension of the hegemony of the Center by extending various statutes previously inapplicable to this state by virtue of the said Article, all modifications and progressive de-vitalization  inflicted on it, have occurred while the Congress was in power at the center. And yet, here we have the same party crying murder when the BJP talks of abrogating it.

Then again, the oldest regional party, the National Conference, which is also in the fore-front of the defence, has also aided in the attenuation of the Article by omission if not always by commission. Given its bonhomie with the Congress, it cannot resort to the plea of victimhood by the same party. Of course, it does not hesitate to do so, and there is even a prominent party member who seems to have been assigned exclusive charge of crying himself hoarse against the Congress, but all that is sheer hypocrisy considering that the party is pretty comfortable with its coalition partner to the extent that the coalition is increasingly looking like an amalgamation.  Reversal of the attenuation that Article 370 has faced over time due to the machinations of the Congress party is a definite no-no as far as the Congress is concerned. It naturally follows that there is tacit acceptance on this issue by the NC as well which effectively reduces its stand on the issue to mere posturing.

As for the other major regional party, the PDP, which served its stint as an interim arrangement in the manner of the Bakhshi regime and Sadiq’s DNP, its defense of the Article too does not hold much water. The party continues to exist as a coalition-in-waiting for the Congress and has been careful to keep its agenda free of any issue which is not in line with the policies of its potential benefactor. In fact, during its regime, this party even floated a proposal to lease out land to non-state subjects ostensibly to provide better infrastructure for that opium of the Kashmiri masses, the tourism sector. This, and the vocal espousal of the cause of right to own property in the state by Kashmiri women married to non-state subjects, are just two examples of how this party tried to further dilute the Article. However none of this clamor in ‘favour’ of the Article comes as a surprise. For politics – which is not all that different from a circus in which bears and monkeys are made to dance – can make even ghosts dance. So is it with the ghost of Article 370, come election time and this ghost is brought out of the closet and made to dance and play out its red herring role. It remains a recurring theme in the recurring farce of elections in this place.