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2019-08-17

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Indian Polity
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The recent decision by the government to abrogate Article 370 has resulted in a countrywide debate on the subject. The general perception is that a vast majority of people in the country feel that the abrogation is a welcome step. They also feel that the abrogation should not be viewed through a narrow political prism as it centres around the unity and integrity of the nation. In fact, it is also seen as a major step towards ensuring an inclusive India.

Before delving into the issue, one should understand the essence of Article 370; it was only a temporary, transitional arrangement and was never intended to be a permanent provision.

Under Part XXI of the Constitution of India, which deals with ‘Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions’, the special status was conferred upon Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) after Maharaja Hari Singh signed The Instrument of Accession on October 26-27, 1947.

However, an important nugget of history is that Article 370 was not incorporated at the time of accession. It was included in October 1949 at the instance of Sheikh Abdullah, who was a member of the Constituent Assembly that drafted the Constitution. It became operative only in 1952.

Under Article 370, Jammu and Kashmir State was allowed to have a separate Constitution and a Flag. Its Constituent Assembly, initially, and the State legislature, subsequently, were empowered either to adopt or not to adopt any law passed by the Indian Parliament. Except for matters such as ‘Defence’, ‘External Affairs’, ‘Communications’ and matters mentioned in ‘The Instrument of Accession’, the Indian Parliament had no jurisdiction on extending its legislations to the border State without the concurrence of Jammu and Kashmir.

While considering the proposal to incorporate it in the Constitution, Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru advised Sheikh Abdullah to convince B.R. Ambedkar, who apparently was not in favour of it.

In the book, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Framing of Indian Constitution, by Dr. S.N. Busi, Dr. Ambedkar was cited as saying: “Mr. Abdullah, you want that India should defend Kashmir. You wish India should protect your borders, she should build roads in your area, she should supply you food grains, and Kashmir should get equal status as India, but you don’t want India and any citizen of India to have any rights in Kashmir and Government of India should have only limited powers. To give consent to this proposal would be a treacherous thing against the interests of India, and I, as the Law Minister of India, will never do. I cannot betray the interests of my country”.

Even Pandit Nehru had pointed out in Parliament on November 27, 1963 that “Article 370 is part of certain transitional, provisional arrangements. It is not a permanent part of the Constitution. It is a part as long as it remains so.”

History shows that instead of bringing people of Kashmir closer to the rest of India, Article 370 has only widened the chasm. This schism has been systematically widened by vested interests. While Article 370 has failed to benefit the people in a meaningful way, it was used by separatists to drive a wedge between those living in J&K and the rest of India. It was used by a neighbouring country to spread terrorism.

The demand for abrogation of Article 370 has been under consideration for a long time. In fact, Parliament had discussed this way back in 1964. A discussion on a private member’s bill seeking abrogation of Article 370 found near-unanimous support back then.

It would be pertinent to point out that the non-official resolution moved by Prakash Vir Shastri in the Lok Sabha was supported by leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia and K. Hanumanthaiya, a senior Congress leader.

Hanumanthaiya not only pointed out that the members, irrespective of party affilations, wanted the abrogation of Article 370 to be made into law but also went on to say: “To go against or to say anything against this unanimous opinion in this House is to disown constitutional responsibility in a convenient manner. Article 370… stands in the way of full integration.”

Of the 12 members who favoured its abrogation, seven belonged to the Congress including Inder J. Malhotra, Sham Lal Saraf (from J&K), H.V. Kamath, Socialist, Sarjoo Pandey (CPI) and Bhagwat Jha Azad, former Chief Minister of Bihar.

The country felt that this provision needed to go sooner or later. As Jawaharlal Nehru’s colleague and then Home Affairs Minister Gulzarilal Nanda had told Parliament decades ago, “Article 370 is nothing more than a shell emptied of its contents. Nothing has been left in it; we can do it in one day, in 10 days, 10 months. That is entirely for us to consider.”

Parliament and the Government have now come to the conclusion, finally, that such a dysfunctional provision has no relevance in the current context and that the time has come to integrate Jammu and Kashmir fully into the rest of India. Without having improved the lives of people in any way, Article 370 had become an impediment to the very development of the State.

The people of the country also need to know, as pointed out by the present Home Minister, Amit Shah, in the Lok Sabha recently, that key Central laws made for the welfare of citizens of the country could not be implemented in J&K due to Article 370. With its abrogation, a total of 106 Central laws will now be extended to J&K. Some of the key pieces of legislation include the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Land Acquisition Act, the National Commission for Minorities Act, the Right to Education Act and those relating to empowering local bodies.

With Article 35A becoming void, the decades old discrimination against the women of J&K has been eliminated. They can now purchase and transfer property to their children, even if they get married to a non-resident.

In my view, the abrogation of Article 370 is indeed a step in the right direction to safeguard the unity and integrity of India.

The State of Jammu and Kashmir has been an integral part of our country. It will always remain so. So, the action to remove Article 370 is purely an internal matter. It goes without saying that India will not allow outsiders to meddle in its internal affairs. People should guard against false and mischievous propaganda by a section of the Indian and western media, which probably still believes in the colonial mindset of ‘divide and rule’.

Parliament has carefully considered and taken a decision that this transitory provision needs to go and that J&K must be fully integrated with the rest of India. The naysayers who are alleging that constitutional impropriety has been committed must know that the Bill was passed by two-thirds in the Rajya Sabha and four-fifths in the Lok Sabha after an elaborate discussion.

I am sure that this integration fulfils a long-standing demand of many sections of the people in J&K, including Ladakh. The speech of the Ladakh MP, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, in the Lok Sabha recently, was truly noteworthy, where he pointed out that Ladakh was not just a piece of land but a precious gem of Bharat. I am also confident that the status of a State would be accorded once things improve and total normalcy is restored in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Government’s decision would facilitate greater investments by both individual entrepreneurs and major private companies in different sectors including hospitality, tourism, education and health. It would naturally generate much-needed employment for local youth. It would also enable greater scrutiny of the implementation of the schemes of the Government of India.

In conclusion, it should be noted that the abrogation of Article 370 is a national issue involving our country’s safety, security, unity and equitable prosperity. It is a step in the right direction that the Indian Parliament has taken with an overwhelming majority. It is a step that opens up new vistas for the all-round development in a State that was relatively neglected. It is a stepping stone to enable an improved quality of life for the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.

M. Venkaiah Naidu is the Vice-President of India

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