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Volume 2, No. 2 - July 2002

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The Magic of Autonomy
Editorial Team

In recent weeks, the drumbeat of "greater autonomy" for Jammu and Kashmir has migrated from the many editorials, op-eds and analyses in Indian media to the editorial pages of major news outlets of the United States. One recent Indian op-ed even resurrected a statement by a long-retired politician who had promised that "the sky was the limit for J&K autonomy". Last week, PM Vajpayee himself hinted that additional autonomy was being considered for the state.

Of all these write-ups and comments, none has suggested where or how greater autonomy would fit into a comprehensive roadmap for peace in the state. Furthermore, none of these articles discuss the pre-existing autonomy that the state has already enjoyed over the last five decades under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. And more importantly, nowhere do these articles explore the strong correlations and links between various aspects of autonomy that the state was granted, and its various woes since independence.

Under Article 370, Indian laws on corruption and penal code were not applicable to Jammu and Kashmir. The state's bureaucracy and political leadership abused this situation to their benefit and to the detriment of the common resident of J&K. Thus while India pumped up to 14 times more financial aid to the state, compared to other states, the largesse never found its way down to the economically deprived. The provisions of Article 370 were also
used by the state's leadership to exclude people from other parts of the nation, thus impeding a free flow of economic progress and effecting an accelerated mentality of segregation from the rest of the country.

The "autonomy" under Article 370 was also used by Kashmiri Muslims, who form a minority in the state, to establish political and economic hegemony over residents of Jammu and Ladakh, as well as the Hindu and Sikh residents of Kashmir valley itself. A disproportionate scarcity of political representation, job and educational opportunities became increasingly evident for those who were not Kashmiri Muslims, driving many of them to emigrate from the state to other parts of India. The resultant decrease in the non-Muslim population of the state contributed to a vicious cycle, which fueled by the rampant corruption and lack of economic opportunities, made the state a fertile ground for Taliban-style fundamentalism exported from Pakistan.

If autonomy has been misused to such an extent in the state and resulted in its economic and social decay and contributed towards it becoming the nuclear flashpoint of the world, why would greater autonomy result in a more suitable outcome? This question is what needs to be asked by all those that are blindly following the magical road of "greater autonomy". Wouldn't closer integration with the rest of India, resulting in rapid economic progress and
a steady erosion of the fundamentalist mindset that has infested much of the valley's population, be a more sensible solution to the vexed issues of J&K?

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