Kashmiri political leaders not only cheated the local people but also used Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to secure their personal interests

In 1972 when Indian freedom fighters were granted a pension by the government, Kashmiri leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was in prison in Delhi in what is known as “Kashmir conspiracy case.”

Many Kashmiris who qualified for the pension and belonged to the National Conference – the only party that existed as Muslim Conference back then - were directed not to file their claims before Delhi.

A tailor living in Srinagar’s downtown who had taken part in 1946 Quit Kashmir movement against the monarchy on the lines of Quit India movement had told me that he had followed his leader’s directions and taken Delhi as the enemy of Kashmiri people. However, three years later when he saw the Sheikh return as Chief Minister and live happily with Delhi, he felt cheated.

“I could have got my due honour and a source of livelihood as well,” he told me while sitting in his rickety shop located in one of the narrow by-lanes of Srinagar. A subsequent request by him didn’t elicit any response either from NC or the government. Such was a subterfuge used by Kashmir’s leaders to manipulate public sentiment and usurp the rights of people from the beginning.

The political class not only cheated the public but also used Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to secure their personal interests.

Take this example: As the Sheikh returned to power with Delhi’s blessing in 1975, Indira Gandhi announced the emergency. Her regime changed the tenure of Lok Sabha from five to six years; all the State Legislatures including Jammu and Kashmir followed the suit. However, when in 1977, the Lok Sabha and legislatures switched back to the five-year term, the Jammu and Kashmir government looked the other way.

As a result, till August 5, the term of Jammu and Kashmir legislature was six years. This was in blatant disregard for public interests as the Sheikh regime had decided to give the elected representatives pay and perks for an extra year and his son Farooq Abdullah, grandson Omer Abdullah and the Muftis perpetuated. It involved siphoning off of public funds thanks to the protection offered to the oligarchs by Article 370.

Under the cover of autonomy, the ruling elite in Jammu and Kashmir have deprived Scheduled tribes of political reservations all these years; successive regimes didn’t take cognizance of the landmark central laws like Right to Education and Prevention of the Domestic violence Act.

Despite Mehbooba Mufti becoming the first woman chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, it never ever thought of adopting these historical laws meant for empowering the weaker sections of the society.

For the rulers, democracy was no priority is evident from the fact that Jammu and Kashmir state had its first general election in 1967, good twenty years after India was free. Though the State was one of the first to have its Panchayati Raj law yet it held elections to PRIs only five times so far.

The recent elections under the Indian law that saw enthusiasm among local youth were mocked by mainstream Kashmiri-based parties like the National Conference and PDP.

Right from the beginning of Jammu and Kashmir as the State of India, a conspiracy to maintain its Muslim-majority state was at play.

The Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly, for example, had abolished the clause that enabled the outsiders to become permanent residents of the state after living there for 10 years. It was done to keep professionals, workers and others deprived of their basic rights.

The most blatant violation of the Constitution was allowed when Jammu and Kashmir set separate laws for Hindus and Muslims for grant of PRCs (Permanent resident certificates).

Only those non-Muslims who had entered the state before April 1944, were entitled to PRC status. For Muslims, the law said anyone who had left the state after April 1947 can come back and reclaims his citizenship anytime.

This effectively kept the doors for Muslims who had left for Pakistan during the partition open while closed on Hindus who came after the partition. It’s under this clause that the West Pakistan refugees and Valmikis of Punjab were kept in a state of deprivation for seven decades.

According to Sant Sharma, author of the Book Article 370 and delimitation in the wake of partition, Sikhs and Hindus who came to Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of the partition-related violence were settled in Nagrota on Jammu outskirts and the bigger group of 8400 families was shifted to Yole camp, Himachal.

“They were disowned later under the provisions of a discriminatory citizenship regime,” Sharma said. As against this Tibetan Muslims were settled in Kashmir surreptitiously. Many of them have managed to get a PRC.

It was the same mindset of leaders that paved ways for discrimination against Jammu and Kashmir women who married outsiders. They were deprived of their jobs, admission in professional colleges and debarred from inheriting property. After a long struggle and a Supreme Court order the women got their rights but not their children.

The biggest scam involving the government allotting land to one religious community at the cost of state exchequer called the Roshni Scam is before the court. The scheme that involved regularization of illegal land to its occupants to raise 25,000 crores for funding power projects ended with 90 per cent allotments to Muslims on the outskirts of Jammu city. It was finally scrapped by governor S P Malik two years ago as the scheme had managed to raise less than one Rs 100 crores.

(The writer is a veteran journalist with expertise in Kashmir and Pakistan; views expressed are her personal)