360* on Article 370

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What Panun Kashmir couldn’t do in all its years in existence, Narendra Modi did with one Lalkar. He put Article 370 up for a national debate. Now it’s up to the community leadership to seize the initiative and take India’s case to her people.

A separate homeland for the Kashmiri Pandits has been a staple demand by the Panun Kashmir movement. Feasibility aside, a separate homeland still offers the most desirable of all options for the Kashmiri Pandits. To this day, they hold Article 370 responsible for their despair and destitution.

First thrust upon the Indian nation over six decades ago and ignored by the rest of India until now, Article 370 has survived in the annals of the Indian Constitution. The special status it accords to J&K state is an affront to India’s sovereignty and a deep-rooted conspiracy against its secular base. While Kashmiri Pandits - religiously imbalanced in the valley - are its most vociferous opponents, their feeble voice remains frozen beneath the callousness of Kashmir’s cold and calculating political establishment.

During the rally in Jammu, Narendra Modi pinched the raw nerve of the regional parties by mentioning gender inequality in the state. When marrying a non-state subject, only the women, not men, are at a clear disadvantage; children lose inheritance rights to their mother’s property in the state. This unequal treatment to women is social injustice but it’s officially protected by the state constitution, a constitution that draws its strength from Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

Misreading Article 370 as a free pass given to the state to act unilaterally, and in ways often hostile to the interests of the nation, the successive governments at the Center have failed to stem its fallout. Special status built around a reckless policy of appeasement has led to the rise of a plethora of anti-national activities, such as: militancy; insurgency; separatism; Islamization; state condoned terror tactics; religious intolerance for the state minorities; indoctrination of anti-India sentiment in impressionable minds and open support for the enemy, to name a few. Damaging consequences of the Article have affected not only J&K but also the rest of India, which carries the burden of supporting a belligerent state.

Dr. Mohan Krishen Teng, a leading authority on the subject, has produced one of the most lucid analyses of the Kashmir imbroglio in his publication, “Kashmir Article 370.” He writes: “At the revision stage, Article 306-A was [renumbered] Article 370 of the Constitution of India. On 25 November 1949, the Regent of the State, Karan Singh, by a proclamation ordered that the relations between the State and the Union of India be governed by the Constitution of India. According to the proclamation the Constitution of India superseded and abrogated all other constitutional provisions inconsistent with it which were in force in the State. On 26 January 1950, the Constitution of India came into force.” Dr. Teng’s vivid account of the fateful period in the year 1949 leading to J&K’s merger with the Dominion of India leaves little doubt in the minds of even its staunchest detractors, of its finality.

Obstructive provisions in the constitution of J&K are mere distractions by a few radicals attempting to wrest the state from under its constitutional protection. The constitution of J&K is deferential to the Indian Constitution and while Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and the provisions in the J&K constitution may limit the authorities of the President and the state’s constituent assembly respectively, neither can restrict the authority vested in the legislative body - the Indian Parliament, to retain or abrogate Article 370.

The Constitution of India is a living document. To stay relevant and responsive to the changing needs of the people, it must adapt to the changing times through legislation and constitutional amendments. In a functioning democracy, the power to amend the Constitution rests with the Parliament and nothing in the Constitution disempowers the duly elected representatives of the people from enacting new laws, amending the existing laws and abrogating laws that are outdated and deemed detrimental to the broader interests of the country.

Successive governments at the Center may have abdicated their responsibility by failing to negate the root-cause that has emboldened the militant, separatist and insurgent elements operating in the state. Negative effects of Article 370 have reached such profound levels that even the state administration - a political ally of the Congress - harbors, with impunity, the grand visions of “self-rule” in the state.

Rejection of the Congress party in the Assembly elections in four mainstream states is a testament to the rising popularity of Narendra Modi. Superb oratory and uplifting content in his message have captivated nation’s imagination of “better days ahead.” If elected, he represents the best chance to get Article 370 repealed but he may need an impetus from those who have suffered its consequences most - the Kashmiri Pandits. That will require a concerted effort by all Kashmiri Pandit organizations to come together, bury their differences and put up a joint front.

Is the community ready for that challenge?

You can view more articles at the author's Blog at: http://ravimunshi.blogspot.com

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