Article 370 had to go for the benefit of Jammu and Kashmir’s (J&K) common people. We need to applaud the courage of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the determination of Home Minister Amit Shah, who ensured that a 70-year-old problem became history in less than 70 days of their assuming office.
Article 370 was inserted in the Constitution as a temporary provision under unfair circumstances. More than 560 former princely states became part of India without any provisional arrangement like Article 370. People of all communities with great cultural diversities lived in these territories. Yet, the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution, who were leaders of great wisdom and foresight, did not accord any special provision for these princely states. The only inference one can draw is that, except J&K, all were handled by Sardar Patel and they all are today a proud part of India. J&K was handled by Jawaharlal Nehru, much to the embarrassment of Patel, who, as the deputy prime minister handling the ministry of home and princely states, ought to have handled it as well.
For more than 70 years, the problem of J&K has been lingering. Nearly 42,000 lives have been lost. Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave their homes at gun-point. The so-called special arrangement led to separatism. Sheikh Abdullah was imprisoned for 11 years by the Congress government at the Centre. Between 1990 and 1996, the Valley remained under curfew on an average 200 days in a year. In retrospect, Nehru’s emotional attachment clouded an objective assessment about J&K.
Who benefited from Article 370? Obviously, the common people of J&K did not. The Shia community, Gujjars, Bakkarwals, Gaddis, other Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes and people living in Ladakh and Kargil did not get any substantial benefit either.
There was a thinking in New Delhi that if a few families of J&K are handled well, then problems of the entire state will be taken care of. These few families perpetuated their power, indulged in rank corruption and whenever accountability was sought, they took shelter behind Article 370. How can anyone justify that the Prevention of Corruption Act — which lays down elaborate legal provisions that insist on criminal accountability against authorities, both political and bureaucratic, for abuse of power and corruption — was not made applicable in the state? Why were laws like the Right to Education, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, the Right to Information Act and the law prohibiting manual scavenging not made applicable in that state? Article 370 was abused to deny the people of the state free and fair elections. People still remember one of the fairest elections held after a long time was when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister.
Most importantly, when many brave Kashmiri Muslims like army officer Ummer Fayaz, rifleman Aurangzeb and many others were killed by terrorists in the most gruesome manner, those speaking aggressively against Article 370 maintained a conspicuous silence.
We need to recall that the constituent assembly of the state of Jammu and Kashmir enacted the constitution of the state in 1956. Under Part II, Article 3, it was specifically provided, “the state of Jammu and Kashmir is and shall be an integral part of the Union of India”. Article 147, under Part XII, provided for the amendment of this constitution, where it was clearly stipulated that no Bill or Amendment inter alia seeking to make any change in the provision of Section 3 (J&K shall be the integral part of Union of India) shall be introduced or moved in either House of the state legislature. Once the constituent assembly of J&K enacted a constitution, which proudly declared the state to be an integral part of India that shall remain unalterable, then in many ways Article 370 lost its relevance.
Article 370 was deliberately kept as a temporary provision and the prime minister rightly observed that those supporting it never had the courage to make it permanent. It is significant that once the Constituent Assembly enacted the Constitution, it served its purpose and any further amendment as per Article 147 of the state constitution was given to the state legislative assembly. In this light, it was perfectly justified to declare by a presidential notification that the expression constituent assembly under Article 370 (3) shall be read as state legislative assembly and since the state was under President’s Rule, its power was constitutionally exercised by the Parliament under Article 356 (1) (b) of the Indian Constitution.
During the debate in the two Houses of Parliament, voices from all the regions of Jammu and Kashmir were heard. This fact also needs to be stressed that the BJP had received a resounding mandate from the people of India on its promise to remove Article 370. The arguments that like Article 370 other special provision dealing with welfare of Northeastern regions and tribal areas may also be removed is completely misplaced. Article 371 (a) to (j) are special provisions and not temporary provisions and will remain. After creation of new states, special provisions have been incorporated for the development of a particular region or for particular tribes. These, being special provisions, are permanent in nature.
There are many cases of young Muslim girls from the Valley getting married to people outside the state and losing all their rights. Recently, I met a young officer of the All India Service from Jammu and she was a Hindu, who told me that she lost all her rights in the state because she married a civil servant from outside her home state. With moist eyes, she expressed her gratitude towards PM Modi for abrogating Article 370.
With the developmental initiatives of the Government of India, BPOs are operating from places like Srinagar, Sopore, Budgam, Bhaderwah and Jammu; 3,158 Common Service Centres are functional in the state, working as a window to deliver digital services to citizens. Whenever I meet them, I see sparks in their eyes. Some of these young boys and girls told me that they should get more opportunities to make a better future for themselves.
Surely, this is a new dawn of development and inclusion for Jammu and Kashmir, which will give a voice to those who were deprived and marginalised. Obviously, the patrons of terrorism and separatism are unhappy but this is not an India where they will find a place.
The writer is Union minister for Law & Justice, Communications and Electronics & IT
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