In a significant and widely noticed move, our Home Minister and BJP president, Amit Shah, flagged Article 370 in his opening speech in Parliament on June 28. “Article 370 is not permanent,” he declared, “We have not changed our stand on it.” He also moved two bills, one approving the extension of President’s Rule in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) for another six months, and another, the Jammu and Kashmir (Reservation) Amendment Bill 2019.
Sketching the history
The latter extends the 3 per cent reservation in educational and job quotas to border areas of Jammu. These quotas are meant to compensate the victims of cross-border turbulence and firing. On July 2, the Rajya Sabha also approved these bills.
Shah’s remarks are noteworthy: “Talking about history, we still maintain that India should not have been divided on the basis of religion, but it was not our fault. One-third of the Kashmir is not with us, who is the reason for it?”
Blaming the Congress for this mess, Shah reminded the country of how the founder of Jana Sangh, the BJP’s precursor, died for the cause of Kashmir: “In 1953 when Syama Prasad Mookerjee was protesting two governments and two Prime Ministers, he was put in jail where he died, but his death was never investigated.”
Keeping in mind the cultural aspirations of the people of J&K, Shah added, “Kashmiriyat does not mean shedding blood, it means staying with India, protecting the culture of India and Kashmir …We will protect the Kashmiri culture.”
Though Shah didn’t go so far as to announce the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, he underscored that they are not “permanent.”
Over a year back, on June 23, 2018, in my article titled A New Kashmir Initiative: Time to Scrap Article 370?, written in the wake of the snapping of the tenuous ties between the BJP and the Mehbooba Mufti-led Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). I had called the alliance “impaired and injurious.” Issuing a terse statement, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav himself acknowledged that it had become “untenable”: “Keeping in mind the larger national interest of India’s integrity and security… it is time that the reins of power in [the] state be handed over to the governor.”
The BJP had to swallow the bitter pill that this short-lived and opportunistic, if optimistic, the alliance had not furthered the cause of peace in Jammu and Kashmir. Nor did it serve the BJP’s avowed larger goal of full and complete integration of the state with the Union of India.
Waah Kashmir: Amit Shah is steam-rolling a new approach to the Kashmir issue. (Photo: PTI)
Worse, it was evident that much of “mainstream” Valley politics was covertly supportive of soft separatism and very much in favour of retaining J&K’s “special status.” Why not?
The state had been reduced to a fiefdom of a few families, with some thousand odd members of the small state elite benefiting from the massive injections of funds from both sides of the International Border.
Valley’s first families
Worse, Valley separatism, it was increasingly clear, was underwritten by various shades of Islamism, ranging from carefully couched apologetics to nakedly aggressive jihadism.
What was the way to counter the debilitating internecine conflict in the Valley? How were we to defeat the relentless and vicious anti-India narrative unleashed by our enemies to capture the minds and hearts of the Kashmiri youth?
The “only” logical solution, I had argued, was the abrogation of Article 370, which lays down temporary provisions with respect to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, with its obnoxious and retrograde sub-clause 35A, so obviously and flagrantly in violation of the very spirit of our Constitution.
With the thumping mandate of 303 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP is today in a better position than ever before to act on Article 370. After all, the party has unequivocally opposed it in its election manifestos of 2014 and 2019. Shah’s signalling that he considered the article “temporary” is, therefore, nothing short of momentous.
Time’s up for Article 370
Shah has, once again, triggered debates on how Article 370 and subclause 35A may be altered, if not scrapped. One method, repeatedly advocated by several experts, including senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, is that they can be deleted, even without the concurrence of Parliament, by a Presidential Notification.
Shah's tactics may just hold the key to resolving years of unrest in the valley. (Photo: PTI)
Another possibility proposed by others is that a constitutional amendment should do the trick.
The Constitution, we must be clear, differentiates between “transitory, temporary and special provisions.” If the Constitution itself regards 370 as “temporary,” why should Supreme Court judgments rule that it is virtually permanent be taken as gospel truth? We also need to note that 35A has been amended repeatedly in the past and can easily be modified again or even removed by a Presidential Order.
Ultimately, however, the issue is not only legal but political. The government and the BJP must demonstrate the political will to eliminate Article 370. As the adage goes: “Where there is a will, there is a way.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)