A Guide to Kashmir Conflict ft Air Vice-Marshal (Retd) Kapil Kak
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
"The Kashmiris have not let down India, India has let down Kashmir. And this is the result of virtually stripping away at the autonomy, which has been constitutionally guaranteed to the Kashmiris under the grand principle of India's federalism."
That's what former Air Vice-Marshal Kapil Kak had to say about the Modi government abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution. Air Vice Marshal (Retd) Kak served in the Indian Air Force for 35 years, and took active part in the 1965 Indo-Pak War. Apart from his personal experience of being born and spending his childhood in Kashmir, Kak is also a senior expert on Kashmir, defence, national security and international security for the last twenty years. Drawing from the complex history of the Kashmir conflict, he gives us insight into how the Kashmiri identity is intrinsic to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and why the effective revocation of Article 370 goes against the spirit of India's Constitution.
(The answers have been edited for clarity.)
Click on the player below for the podcast.
How did Kashmir accede to India? What’s the significance of Article 370?
In 1947, Kashmir acceded to India, it did not merge with India. When it acceded to India, on 26 October 1947, following the raid by Pakistan into Kashmir to annex it, the ruler appealed to India, acceded and after the armed forces landed there, retrieved what they could, and the rest remains under the illegal possession of Pakistan, where it remains till today. But the key issue here, historically, is that the ruler only acceded to India for defence, current affairs and communication. And he said all other matters, I will be self-governing. I will lay down the law, I will implement the law. In other words, this gave Kashmir, the so-called, which is a common term today, the “special status.” And this special status was incorporated in the Constitution of India, from 1947 onwards till it was entered into force on 26 November 1949. So, there was a perfectly legal basis for Article 370. This is what was included in the Constitution, and therefore no laws could be applied to J&K without the permission of the J&K legislature, or before that, the Constituent Assembly of J&K.
So, what’s happening today? What about the abrogation of Article 370?
We are today witnessing a situation, I make no bones about it. I am an armed forces man, I am not a political animal, my assessment is that there is a certain element of savagery by the government in mutilating the state of Jammu and Kashmir, possibly because it’s a Muslim-majority state, possibly also because the Centre wants to ram down its own beliefs and value systems, I am talking about Centre in terms of the political party currently in power, it wants to ram down. So for a state in the first time in the history of India has become a Union Territory. Normally, logically, morally, ethically, a Union Territory is elevated to a state, I can give many examples, but in a very perverse turn of events, a state has been made into a Union Territory. Which means a mutilation of the grand concept of federalism, which is incorporated in our Constitution. We are not a unitary state, we are a unitary and a federal state, that again has been distorted beyond measure.
But wait, why is Kashmir’s special status important?
Now, what these three things have done – democracy, federalism and the Constitution – in written and oral form, guaranteed to Kashmiri people. And when I am saying Kashmiri people, I am including the people of Jammu and Ladakh, that they will have a certain element of identity protection. Kashmiris have a sense of identity, very strong, you can say it’s sub-nationalism, you can say it’s suppressed nationalism, but they have done all that they needed to in terms of agreement with the government of India at that time, that their autonomy will be respected. That autonomy is acknowledgement of the fact that there is something special about the self-belief of the identity amongst the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Now, if Jammu believes that it has no identity, it wants to be part of the rest of India, and doesn’t want Article 370, it’s a democratic exercise. If Ladakh believes the same, it’s a fine democratic exercise. I would then think that there are ways to ascertain the wishes of the people in democratic terms – do you want Article 370 or do you not want it? The way to do it is to elect a government every five years, ask the people of Kashmir through a special referendum – the part which is our control – do you want continuation of Article 370 or not.
Finally, what does abrogation of Article 370 mean for India?
The Kashmiris have not let down India, India has let down Kashmir. And this is the result of virtually stripping away at the autonomy, which has been constitutionally guaranteed to the Kashmiris under the grand principle of India’s federalism.
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