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From Unthinkable to Policy: An insight into the revocation of Article 370 with the idea of Overton Window theory

For a political idea to become 'unthinkable' from 'policy' or a 'policy' from 'unthinkable', it has to go through the aforesaid steps in the public discourse which will eventually measure it as 'less free' or 'more free' accordingly
For a political idea to become 'unthinkable' from 'policy' or a 'policy' from 'unthinkable', it has to go through the aforesaid steps in the public discourse which will eventually measure it as 'less free' or 'more free' accordingly

After long seven decades of affray and fuss over the Jammu and Kashmir’s dispute, it recently saw a major turn of event that has made the populace and experts on the issue shocked. The netizens and citizens have different arguments about the government’s move of revoking the article 370 along with 35A; many claim it to be injustice and undemocratic, while many find it as a permanent solution of the controversial Kashmir issue.
Article 370 of the Indian constitution gave special status to Jammu & Kashmir that ensured a separate constitution, a state flag, and autonomy over the internal administration of the state. Along with Article 370, the government of India also revoked article 35A that provided special rights and privileges to the legislature defined ‘permanent residents’ of Jammu and Kashmir.
Scrapping the article 370 was once unthinkable, but the latest development shows it has been turned into a policy. Remarkably, the nativity of socio-political ideas and their acceptance among commoners is a topic of research. An idea that existed by no means is now an idea that is voted, approved and then rejoiced. How this outright journey of rare socio-political idea has made it to the apex of what they claim to be political attainment? How did it become a policy which was once unthinkable in all its manner?
To this intricate question, it is better to have an outlook on how the relevant and related political concepts define it. The political concept called ‘Overton Window’ which is named after Joseph P. Overton is apt in order to chew it over and elucidate the revocation of article 370 and tracing back from its history to present by delineating it as a political idea that prevailed in the mid-40s.

Illustration of Overton Window

Overton construed a range from ‘more free’ to ‘less free’ with the connection to government intervention followed by certain political idea, concept or issue. As the range moves forward, an idea or issue may become more or less politically adequate among the public. The steps of the window (range) include in its serial form – unthinkable, radical, acceptable, sensible, popular and policy. For a political idea to become ‘unthinkable’ from ‘policy’ or a ‘policy’ from ‘unthinkable’, it has to go through the aforesaid steps in the public discourse which will eventually measure it as ‘less free’ or ‘more free’ accordingly. However, It can be noted that Overton used the concept of ‘more free’ and ‘less free’ in order to pertain it to both left and right-wing political perception and status. Therefore, Overton’s concept can be fitted with both left and right-wing political narrative in relation to a certain idea. There are political ideas like animal rights, women rights can be examples to relate to Overton’s concept. Preserving animal rights became a policy, women’ rights movement became relevant – and these rights are much acceptable now, but it certainly went through stances when it was unthinkable to cherish these rights or political ideas. Therefor article 370 holds a similar narrative that can be deduced with Overton’s concept.
After the creation of India and Pakistan in the month of August in 1947, the first major altercation that came within months in between the two newly formed countries’ was the Kashmir issue. From one side, Pakistan occupied a part of Kashmir that is known as ‘Azad Kashmir’ or Pak occupied Kashmir (PoK). Along with this, Maharaj Hari Singh, ruler of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir executed a legal document – the instrument of accession with India on 26 October 1947 following which he agreed to accept the dominion of India. While the conflict was still not over, United Nations Security Council’s commission for solving the Kasmir conflict proposed for a referendum that said that the referendum will decide the fate of Kashmir, but this has not been done till date.
The article 370 that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir was however described as temporary and transitional. But later development deemed to have made it a permanent feature of Indian constitution as the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir dissolved itself without recommending the abrogation of Article 370 in 1954. From that time, the presence of article 370 became a ‘savior’ for Kashmir with special status in hand. It was in all the way said to be impossible and unthinkable to scrap the article 370. It can be mentioned here that Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, while speaking about it, said, ” Article 370 is the only link that connects Jammu and Kashmir to India.”
While scrapping the article 370 was unthinkable back then, it gradually turned into a radical perception in mainland India. Many right-wing organizations had the viewpoint that the Kashmir is an integral part of India. There were rallies and political participation while raising voice against article 370 that was termed as a ‘Historical wrong’. No matter what, the conflicts between the two countries make a political impact among its people. It can be a rage that may fuel it to acceptable perception followed by a political idea. And the same is nearly applied to the political impact and outcome in both the country – India and Pakistan.
The most substantial factors that worked against article 370 was after the rise of Bhartiya Janta Party in 1980. It was for the first time in 1984 when the Bhartiya Janata Party made its stand clear by mentioning the disagreement to article 370 in its manifesto. Even in 1989 manifesto, BJP did not turn back rather continued to stick to its altercation in connection to article 370 of the Indian Constitution. In the same manifesto, The Bhartiya Janata Party further stressed on what they described as Pro-Pakistani element and hate campaign in the conflict-prone state of Jammu and Kashmir. Even in 1991 manifesto, BJP opposed article 370. However, from 1996 to 1991, the party did not mention about the article 370 in its manifesto. It is to be noted that, In 1991 after the Hindu exodus from the valley BJP promised to take on the pro-Pakistani elements in the valley. By that time, the political narrative about 370 turned into opposing argument among the masses. This clearly implies that it started becoming a ‘sensible’ narrative among the masses.
Starting from 2004 to 2019 Manifesto, Bhartiya Janta Party again made its stand clear by opposing article 370. With Bhartiya Janta Party’s rise and grand victory in 2014 Lokshaba election, the message was clear. India stood strong against Pakistan. In many of his election campaigns in 2014 and 2019 elections, Mr. Narendra Modi of Bhartiya Janta Party often spoke against Pakistan alleging the country of fuelling terrorism. While the argument was against Pakistan, it was more related to Kashmir and the narrative of Kashmir to be an integral part of India became more popular. And to this popularity, article 370 became a major political issue, scrapping of which is often supported and advocated by masses.
A political idea that gradually became more popular from 2014, the 2019 election became a factor that made its vision coherent to turn it to a policy by scrapping article 370. The government of India eventually scrapped this special status in August 2019 through a Presidential Order and the passage of a resolution in Parliament. While addressing the parliament on the issue, the Home Minister Amit Shah said, “Article 370 is the root of terrorism in Kashmir.” When the article 370 was revoked, the whole Jammu and Kashmir was in information blackout and it still continues.
Now as the Overton Window’s concept says, this is how an unthinkable political idea became policy after seven decades. From granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir through article 370 to scrapping it, the journey of unthinkable to policy is relevant here. While it can be perceived in both the ways of left and right-wing narrative in connection to Overton Window’s idea of ‘less freedom’ and ‘more freedom’. While for many Kashmiris (or the left) it is less freedom, and for the right-wing, it is more freedom. Similarly, for the ‘left’ it can be a transformation from Policy to Unthinkable, while for ‘right’ it is Unthinkable to Policy.

Written by Mahmodul Hassan

Mahmodul Hassan writes on Human rights, Politics, and Social Justice. The author can be contacted at: email.mahmodul@gmail.com

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