In a snub to the Modi government, the High Court in Indian Occupied Kashmir, has ruled that Article 370 of the Indian constitution that grants the state a special status, is “permanent” and “beyond amendment, repeal or abrogation.” It may be recalled that soon after assuming power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office had initiated a move to scrap Article 370, meeting stiff resistance from even the pro-India parties in Srinagar. Still, he has been trying various tricks to achieve his objective, such as seeking to alter the demographic composition of the state by inducting Hindu settlers and refusing to include Kashmir in any talks with Pakistan.
A division bench of the court ruled that “the limited sovereignty or special status stands guaranteed under Article 370-the only provision of the constitution that applied to the state on its own”. Furthermore, the bench observed that “the constitutional framework worked out by the Dominion of India and the state reflected in Article 379 has its roots in paras 4 and 7 of the Instrument of Accession.” It thus makes the important point that Kashmir did not merge with India and hence is not an integral part of it, as the Delhi government claims it is. Hence Jammu & Kashmir cannot be treated like any other state in the Indian Union. The court, of course, based its verdict on the Indian constitution. Interestingly, however, in so doing it referred to the Instrument of Accession, which is not accepted by Pakistan. Yet in an indirect way, the reference endorses this country’s position that Jammu and Kashmir is the unfinished agenda of partition and hence remains to be settled.
No amount of New Delhi’s ‘integral part’ refrain has changed the ground reality or the situation with the other party to the dispute, Pakistan. Since an armed uprising began in 1989, more than a hundred thousand Kashmiris have died, thousands of others have ‘disappeared’. Yet spontaneous protests against Indian rule continue to erupt. Just last Friday an AP photo showed a skirmish between protesters and security personnel in Srinagar. And as the former Pakistan foreign minister, Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri, reveals in his new book, Pakistan and India had reached war and near-war situations over the Kashmir dispute on nine different occasions, without reaching a conclusive end. Atal Behari Vajpayee, a former prime minister from Modi’s own party, BJP, recognising that the two countries needed to get the Kashmir dispute out of the way for the sake of progress and prosperity of their respective peoples had entered into a peace dialogue with Pakistan. In the same spirit his successor pursued the peace dialogue. Unfortunately, Modi has chosen a different path. He has been trying to alter even the existing status, only to suffer one setback after another at the home front. Under him, cease-fire violations across the LoC and the Working Boundary have also escalated causing a number of civilian casualties and resurrecting the danger of a serious conflict. Hopefully, good sense will prevail soon, and he will return to the negotiations table to resolve all outstanding issues of conflict with Pakistan, including the Kashmir question in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people.