Article 370 and the (Kashmiri) Cycle of Life

Kashmir’s mainstream politicians, especially those belonging to parties trashed in the recent parliamentary elections, must be full of gratitude to the BJP for having thrown a possible life line in their direction. The novitiate BJP parliamentarian from the state has indeed handed over a parachute to the NC and by extension the Congress as well in the guise of his talk of revisiting Article 370 of the Indian constitution which was supposed to given a special status to the state of J&K at the time of its merger with the Indian union. The NC particularly has been in freefall in since elections, having hitched its wagon to what turned out to be the wrong star. So the way it has clutched this parachute is understandable even if pathetic because it seems unlikely that the parachute will open.

          NC leaders may be eyeing this controversy as a proverbial shot in the arm but it is not going to make much difference in their favour. People are pretty well aware of the fact that the watered-down article is a poor substitute for what they really aspire for. Article 370 is the counterfeit currency for which the absolute autonomy of this land was sold which rather than making it a part of the solution makes it part of the Kashmir problem itself.  The conditional autonomy provided by the article was just a farce that did not last long. In fact the party that is crying itself hoarse on this issue mutely accepted the truncated versions of the article from time to time as it came sugar-coated with access to political power for them.

          For that matter, it remains a fact that for all the noises they make in its favour, local political parties have always been a party to the erosion of Article 370. Though these parties ridicule the BJP for calling for its abrogation, if the latter actually sets the ball into motion there is every apprehension that these very parties would willingly roll it along. Indeed, it does not have to be all that obvious as well for there certainly are subtle ways in which the article can be made redundant, as has been done in the past. The main opposition party, the PDP, which has every reason to feel smug at the moment, having had a successful run in the parliamentary elections, has shown in the past that it too is not averse to subtle measures against this Article. The party was all set to lease out famous tourist spots of the valley to outsiders and was in fact selling the idea to the local populace as a supposedly sure-shot means of progress and prosperity. The step, if taken, would have apparently not touched the Article but gone right around it, and without exactly spelling it out, have rendered it useless when it came to land ownership being restricted to state subjects only. It is not unlikely for something like this to be repeated in future as well, or some even more subtle measures which might be labeled as a big step towards the economic uplift of the local population and all that. It won’t be the first time either for exploitation to appear in the guise of development. It is not all that difficult to imagine that the poor native Americans who handed over their land to the European settlers in exchange of colourful glass beads must have felt sure that it was they who were getting the better part of the bargain.

          The political parties of Kashmir – both mainstream as well as other varieties (which can by no means be described by a single word or phrase) are like horses pulling in different directions stranding the people in the middle. The ‘disconnect’ that the NC is being blamed for is equally a characteristic of other parties as well. Even separatist parties which claim to represent the real aspirations of the people (though considering the diverse nature of these individual parties it has become pretty hard to guess what these ‘real aspirations’ are) are equally guilty of having failed to establish a connection with the local population. People have been reduced to being mere bystanders rather than participants, and any transitory participation invited of them is strictly need-based. No wonder then that the local populace has been reduced to a state of apathy and it is seen to be going sometimes in one direction and then again sometimes in the other which may be diametrically opposite.

          Meanwhile, the people of this valley are enjoying their sabbatical as they cheer the trashing of one group of oppressors and their ruthless collaborators. It won’t be long before the other group takes over and the hapless population of this land goes through another cycle of what they have been going through since ages and once again they will realize that they have again been mistaking a mirage for an oasis.