The history of legislation in Kashmir has been a relentless process of weakening the local political agency. The political parties, right from the days when the National Conference was almost the sole arbitrator of the fate of Kashmir to the period when the Peoples Democratic Party came into being, have not been able to resist the weakening of the ‘special status’ Article 370 conferred to the Jammu and Kashmir, despite their constant proclamations that they stand for ‘strengthening’ or restoring it. Constitutional experts and historians have described what is left of the Article as just the ‘husk’ of the original promise it contained for the people of the state. Now, the onslaught on the symbolic special status of J&K in the Union of India appears striking at the husk of the Article 370 itself. And apart from the verbal opposition to it while in opposition the pro-India Kashmiri political parties have actually gone along with what various dispensations in New Delhi wanted at different times in the course of the political history and the process of ‘full integration’ of the state into the Union.
Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party took power in New Delhi a discourse has been carefully sustained in which public resistance to the process of full constitutional ‘integration’ is being constantly tested. Numerous cases, as public interest litigations, have been filed in different courts that seek to attack the remaining vestiges of any ‘special status’ to Jammu and Kashmir. This has further energized the carefully concerted discourse particularly since the BJP got its first opportunity to share power in the state in alliance with the PDP. The latest in the series of seemingly individual actions of litigation directed against the state is the controversial issuance of some kind of domicile certificates to West Pakistan refugees living in Jammu and Kashmir since the days of Partition. Seventy years have passed for these refugees living in the limbo because of the restrictions disputed sovereignty of the state imposes on granting them full citizenship rights, but never has anyone entertained or discussed the idea that the same refugees could have been rehabilitated elsewhere outside the state without facing any legal constraint whatsoever.
Now, the state government led by the PDP in alliance with the BJP has started granting the WPRs some kind of identity documents which basically for the first time officially recognizes their domicile status. While technically this does not grant the WPRs the status of a state subject according to the specific state subject law of the state, but for many in the state it appears as a step towards what the BJP has promised them. The recent Supreme Court ruling on the implementation of SARFAESI Act in Jammu and Kashmir, despite contradictions with the state laws and the separate Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir is a clear example of where such matters are headed. The latest controversy, regarding recognition of a certain domicile status to WPRs, appears a part of the continuum of the history of erosion of the state’s political agency. Will the ruling class who seek votes to protect the state subjects go beyond their verbal opposition?