I have been distressed by the fierce controversy that has broken out in the press and electronic media with regard to Article 370, flowing from an avoidable statement by the Minister of State (MoS) in the Prime Minister's office (PMO). The whole question is extremely sensitive and must be handled coolly and in a mature fashion. The sort of statements issued from both sides will only create further turmoil and tension in the Jammu & Kashmir state.
Let it be recalled that my father Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession in October 1947 under unusual circumstances when a full scale war was raging due to the Pakistani based tribal invasion. It is true that that Instrument was exactly the same as the document signed by all the other former provincial States. However, whereas the other States later signed merger agreements, the relationship of Jammu & Kashmir with the rest of the country was governed by a special set of circumstances, and hence given a special position. The Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir, which I signed into law in 1957, is still in force.
Certainly J&K is an ‘integral part’ of India, but that does not necessarily mean that it has to be treated exactly on par with other States. Hong Kong is an ‘integral part’ of China but has been given a special dispensation. There are in fact numerous examples around the world in which, due to special circumstances, certain areas or regions have been given a special dispensation. Though all talk of secession is totally unacceptable and uncalled for, the steam-roller approach is also not appropriate.
Let us not forget that 50 percent of the area of my father’s 84,000 sq miles State is in fact not in our possession. It has been under Pakistan control since the UN’s brokered ceasefire on 1 January 1949, and Pakistan has leased a considerable portion of this land to China. An interesting point also is that in the three regions of the State that are with us—Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh—the bulk of public opinion differs sharply on this issue.
My appeal to all concerned is to kindly tone down the rhetoric and not let the Minister’s statement plunge the new government almost immediately into a complex and difficult situation. The whole question of Jammu & Kashmir has to be looked at in an integral fashion, including the international dimension, the constitutional position, the legal aspects as well as the political aspects. Such an integral review is overdue, but it has to be done in a cooperative rather than a confrontational manner.