On August 6, Article 370 was revoked by the Union government, which provided special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir ( J & K). There have always been scattered opinions in favour of abrogating this provision. At the time of the conception of Article 370 itself, initially brought in as Article 306A, B R Ambedkar had categorically opposed it because it hampered with the unity and integrity of India.
The draft Constitution, which was handed over by Ambedkar, the drafting committee chairman, to Constituent Assembly Chairman Rajendra Prasad on February 21, 1948, did not contain the provision granting special status to J&K. Jawaharlal Nehru strongly favoured special status as well as Sheikh Abdullah’s prime ministership of the state. During the meeting with Sheikh Abdullah, Ambedkar opposed the provision, which would lead to breaking the fabric of national unity and integrity. He turned down the demand for special status and advised that “You want India to defend Kashmir, feed its people, give Kashmiris equal rights all over India. But you want to deny India and Indians all rights in Kashmir. I am a Law Minister of India, I cannot be a party to such a betrayal of national interests.”
Reacting to Ambedkar’s misgivings, Nehru entrusted his close confidante, N Gopalaswami Ayyangar, Minister without Portfolio in the interim government and former diwan to Maharajah Hari Singh, with the responsibility of preparing a draft for the necessary legislation to grant special status to J&K. On May 27, 1949, Ayyangar introduced a motion which contained an alternative method of selecting the representatives from J&K for the Constituent Assembly. Ayyangar recommended that all four persons from the state be nominated by the ruler on the advice of his prime minister. After a brief debate, the measure was adopted by the members of the Constituent Assembly. The interim government led by Abdullah nominated Mirza Mohammed Afzal Beg, Maulana Mohammed Syed Masoodi and Moti Ram Baigra, in addition to Abdullah himself. Ayyangar came up with the draft of Article 306 A in consultation with these four National Conference leaders.
On October 17, 1949, Nehru was in the US and Ayyangar was entrusted with the motion for the insertion of Article 306A in the constituent assembly. After the introduction of the motion, Maulana Hasrat Mohani tried to oppose the special provision, but he didn’t get much time. The motion was adopted on the same day and Article 306A was renumbered Article 370 at the revision stage. Ambedkar’s opposition to this move is evident from the fact that he had refused even to attend the session that passed the motion.
From time to time and on various platforms, Ambedkar had opposed the policies of the Nehru government related to J&K. In 1951, the election manifesto of the Scheduled Caste Federation, a party formed by Ambedkar stated: “The policies if continued will lead to perpetual enmity between India and Pakistan, and the possibility of war between the two countries.” It was his farsightedness that his words became reality and there have been three wars between India and Pakistan. While criticising the Nehru government on the J&K issue on the floor of the House during the Budget (General) 1952-53 discussion, Ambedkar meticulously made the point confronting the additional Rs 50 crore in the defence budget because of the Kashmir imbroglio. Ayyangar was the defence minister during this time and Ambedkar reminded him that a permanent solution to the Kashmir problem was related to the abrogation of Article 370. Under Nehru’s influence, the government did not pay any heed to this advice. In another instance, during a debate on Article 370, Nehru told the House that it is a temporary provision and its erosion will happen gradually. But Article 370 did not erode. It became stronger, making the lives of common citizens difficult in the erstwhile state of J&K.
Ambedkar realised that J&K’s special status would create another layer of sovereignty within sovereign India, which can be detrimental to the unity and integrity of the Republic. Article 370 led to the creation of a separate flag and separate constitution, which engendered feelings of separatism and regional autonomy, misleading the youths and ultimately gave birth to terrorism, corruption and misgovernance. The state had to face isolation from mainstream development programmes and policies brought in by central governments.
Ambedkar and Syama Prasad Mookerjee were the two non-Congress ministers in the interim government (1947-52) led by Nehru. It is important to note that on the issues related to J&K, the concurrence in the views of both intellectuals is clearly visible. During the first general election (1951-52), the Praja Parishad and Jana Sangh, led by Mookerjee, adopted a stand similar to that of Ambedkar — to bring J&K fully under the Constitution of India by repealing Article 370. In 1964, a few Congress parliamentarians also supported the move to abrogate Article 370.
Now, with the scrapping of Article 370, the country has taken a historic decision and a new era has begun in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. It appears that the measure taken by Narendra Modi to correct a historic blunder is a humble tribute to Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar.
This article first appeared in the August 20 print edition under the title ‘Babasaheb and Article 370’. The writer is Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises
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