The bus is the thin edge of the wedge
India gave in to Pakistan’s demands that the travel documents required for the journey from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad across the Line of Control should fall short of official passports and visas — permits issued by local authorities were to be used instead. Pakistan agreed that this facility would be open not only to Kashmiri people, but also to all citizens of India and Pakistan.
Although this meant that India could claim that its Kashmiri citizens are treated no differently from the rest, in theory at least, the Kashmir bus arrangements created a loophole where Indians and Pakistanis could bypass the normal visa regimes. To prevent this, the Indian government would have counted on bureaucratic measures — permits would be issued only to residents of Jammu & Kashmir state. But a resolution passed by the rubber-stamp parliament of ‘Azad’ Kashmir removed even this fig leaf, when it opposed allowing citizens of India and Pakistan to use make the journey. Whatever may be the case, it is difficult to shake away the impression that the travel permit process will end up sitting uncomfortably against India’s constitutional provision for equality of all citizens.
Next, comes the issue of currency. The Daily Excelsior of Srinagar reports that the passengers will need to use US dollars for the trip. There is another assault on Indian institutions, with the promise of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India not being redeemable in parts of India.
In its haste to get the bus up and running, India has made several compromises that, instead of better integrating Kashmir people with the rest of India, have only served to distance them more. The agreement to start the bus service has come at the cost of insidious compromises on India’s basic principles and institutions. In a country with a constitutional framework and rule of law, these precedents are likely to create undesirable consequences elsewhere across India.
Where are the public interest litigations when they are most needed?