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Kashmir Crisis: What India Can Learn From UK’s Brexit Catastrophe

For India, Article 370, or a restored autonomy of whatever degree, is more like a Brexit WITH a deal. 

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Opinion
5 min read
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If you think the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution has created a mess over the future of Jammu and Kashmir, you can look at the confusion over Britain's planned, questionable exit from the European Union as a parallel. This week, with the British parliament seizing control of the Brexit process from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, things have reached a new stalemate.

Johnson increasingly sounds like a tough-talking lame duck in a divided Conservative Party in a state of flux. The saving grace is that unlike the Kashmir Valley, the British Isles are not in lockdown, and everything is more democratic, with Britons also being able to go out and protest.

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Drawing a Parallel Between Northern Ireland and Kashmir

But there are striking parallels albeit in a contrary sense — between the Kashmir imbroglio and the Brexit mess. This could hold lessons going forward for the Indian government. The biggest lesson: a simplistic solution to a complex political problem only increases the dimension of the problem to the level of a crisis. Sometimes, managing a difficult situation structurally may be better than a one-shot panacea. Brexit is no silver bullet. Neither is the end of Article 370 that granted a ‘special’ status to Jammu & Kashmir resulting in a Hindutva-driven ‘One Nation, One Constitution’ appeal, driving the seething Valley's crisis.

Those who favour the end of Article 370 (or autonomy in any dimension) draw a parallel between Northern Ireland and Kashmir — and this is indeed a fine way to hit at your former colonial masters for steering a messy Partition in 1947, which left a festering dispute over Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan. So the question is: If Northern Ireland can be blended into the UK, why not Kashmir into India?

India is More Akin to EU than UK

That is not so easy. Depending on who you are talking to, Kashmir can be the Scotland, Ireland or Wales of India. Those who fantasize about a UN-supervised plebiscite see Kashmir as the Scotland of India, with a potential to secede. Those wanting an end to violent separatism see it as Northern Ireland — to be treated with a mix of toughness and negotiation. Others believe it should be like Wales, a quiet part of the UK reconciled to staying under English hegemony.

However, it is wise to remember that India is much more multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural than the UK.

In that sense, it is akin to the European Union, and matches it in geographical size and cultural diversity. Those who speak of Bharatvarsha or Hindutva as the basis for Indian-ness, are more akin to those who see the Western civilization as having its roots in ancient Greece. It took the magnificent, practical genius of the then home minister Sardar Patel, under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, that created what is still referred to in the courts, as the Union of India — reminding one of the EU, rather than Great Britain.

Article 370 Should be Seen as an Act of “Kintegration”

It would be better to see Article 370 as an intermediate arrangement that smartly avoided force in a democratic way, while co-opting a significant region and population into the Republic of India governed by its citizens — not feudal kings.

In that sense, Article 370 should be seen as an act of "Kintegration" (Kashmir's integration into India) rather than a springboard of separatism. It has always been a work-in-progress to integrate Kashmir, but it is pertinent to remember that it is a democratic method in line with modern values, and is also in line with the Republic of India being a democratic union like the EU, rather than an ancient fancy unified by force.

You could say “Kintegration” is like Brexit in forward gear.

Much like the Brits retained their pound sterling to stay out of the Euro zone while joining the EU, Jammu and Kashmir retained a ‘special’ political status while being a part of India.

Whose fault is it if one sees a half-full glass as half-empty?

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‘Turning Unhappy Subjects into Hopeful Citizens’

When Patel integrated India, most parts had a situation where the kings were made to see reason in being part of a new republic. Kashmir's ruler Hari Singh, though he was a Hindu, did not readily accede to Hindu majority India. More importantly, he was not liked by a large section of his subjects.

Article 370 was actually a carefully crafted act of “Kintegration” in such a context, turning unhappy subjects into hopeful citizens.

As a modern republic that promised equality, justice and democratic governance, India offered through the ‘special’ status something close to "Kashmiriyat" and "Jamhooriyat" (democracy) to J&K — something right after the heart of former BJP leader and prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. That delicate walk to modernity is being bulldozed by the juggernaut that demolished Article 370.

The current Brexit mess has seen so many ups and downs since the referendum in which Britons voted to leave the EU that its homogenous, sustainable value is questionable. If a plebiscite were to be held in Jammu and Kashmir, it is likely to meet the same fate — like a messy no-deal Brexit. This is because much like today's Britain, Jammu and Kashmir is a diverse zone with multifarious interests — Jammu and Kashmir has many facets and changing moods. The other extreme, abolishing Article 370, could create a problem similar to the one Britain had before the Brexit referendum: a society facing economic threats, inequality and cultural anxiety.

Could an Election in New UT of J&K Throw Up a More Democratic Way Out?

One paragraph in a Reuters report on Boris Johnson's humble pie week is illustrative:

“The 2016 Brexit referendum showed a United Kingdom divided about much more than the European Union, and has fuelled soul-searching about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, empire, and modern Britishness.”

You can adapt that para for India on the following lines.

“The 2019 abolition of Article 370 shows an India divided about much more than its democratic unionist credentials, fuelling soul-searching on everything from separatism and religious and ethnic rights, to nationalism, republicanism and modern Indian-ness.”

Perhaps an election in the new union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, much like an expected poll in the United Kingdom, can throw up a more democratic way out of a mess.

But there is little doubt that both the UK and J&K have to find a careful way out of their respective crises.

For India, Article 370, or a restored autonomy of whatever degree, is more like a Brexit with a deal. You could call it calibrated “Kintegration”. It is more likely to gain wide acceptance and help India keep its head high as a modern, diverse democracy. Forcing the pace, be it of unity or exit, is sometimes less optimal than a carefully-crafted solution.

(The writer is a senior journalist who has covered economics and politics for Reuters, The Economic Times, Business Standard and Hindustan Times. He tweets as @madversity. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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