While New Delhi has eroded it those in power in the State have misused it to deny people their democratic rights

Debate on Article 370
While New Delhi has eroded it those in power in the State have misused it to deny people their democratic rights
   
Narendra Modi is not the first to suggest a debate on Article 370 of the Constitution of India, a provision aimed at granting greater autonomy to Jammu and Kashnir as against other states of the Union. In fact the debate on granting of special position to J&K or greater degree of autonomy had started even much before Constitution of India was drafted and became operative. The Centre-state bickerings, if not open confrontation, had started soon after the Instrument of Accession was signed by the then Maharaja and endorsed by Sheikh Abdullah, as President of the National Conference, which enjoyed the support of the majority of the people in the Valley. While the erstwhile ruler could not reconcile to the idea of transfer of power to the people, which he was forced to do in view of the peculiar situation created with the raiders attack from Pakistan, he made every overt and covert efforts to interfere in the affairs of the governance. While the NC resisted the moves for diarchy the Maharaja backed by the home ministry tried to create all kinds of hurdles in the way of the Emergency government headed by Sheikh Abdullah. The introduction of the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act further sharpened the conflict between the Maharaja and the government headed by the Sheikh. The Maharaja patronized Praja Parishad, a political offspring of the RSS, backed by the erstwhile feudal elements who had been deprived of their landed estates, with the objective of eroding the authority of the popular government and opposing the reforms. The NC acted unwisely by rigging the elections to the State’s Constituent Assembly and capturing all the 75 seats. The Praja Parishad agitation that followed with the slogan of “ek vidhan, ek pradhan,ek nishan”, opposing the autonomy for the State, and was backed by the home ministry, contributed to great extent in creating walls of mistrust between New Delhi and Srinagar. With the undemocratic deposition as Prime Minister and arrest of Sheikh Abdullah on August 9,1953 the process of alienation of the people of Kashmir from the Indian mainstream started and along with it began the process of the erosion of Article 370 of the Constitution of India. 

Article 370 has helped the State to implement the NC policy of land to the tiller, without any compensation to the dispossessed landlords, and go for some other reforms. This Article fulfilled to a great extent the political urges and aspirations of the people of the State. Instead of further strengthening this constitutional provision and ensuring a fully democratic system of governance in the State, New Delhi eroded Article 370 to a considerable extent, unilaterally or with the connivance of its pliant governments in the State, thus failing to honour its commitments to the people of Kashmir made at the time of the signing of the Instrument of Accession. While New Delhi denied the people their democratic rights, including right to elect their government, the governments imposed by it in the state used all kinds of undemocratic measures to curb the voice of the people and suppress their geuine political aspirations.

New Delhi is to be blamed for eroding autonomy and the regimes foisted on the people in the state through elections misused autonomy in several ways including concentration of power by refusing to evolve a democratic decentralized system of governance and polity, resisting the demands for progressive and people-friendly laws which empower the people at the grass root levels and ensure transparency and accountability in governance. The autonomy provided an opportunity to the state rulers to opt for more people-friendly measures, enact more progressive laws, broaden people’s freedom and democracy. But those at the helm misused it to enforce a highly centralized and monolithic sysyem which stifles the democratic rights of the citizens. The failure to evolve a democratic and decentralized system has been responsible for inter-regional and inter-district tensions. Misusing autonomy the state rulers have denied the people their democratic rights by enforcing draconian and retrogressive laws. A classic example of misusing autonomy is the manner in which the term of the state legislative assembly has been extended from five to six years. Similarly the State government has been resisting the demands for the establishment of a truly democratic decentralized system of governance by amending the State Constitution on the lines of the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution of India.