Rajya Sabha creates history as it passes bill abrogating Article 370 governing Jammu and Kashmir
Once Lok Sabha approves the bill, the state can be split into two UTs— Jammu and Kashmir, which will have a legislature, and Ladakh, which won’t have one
New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government on Monday revoked the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir, fulfilling a promise made by his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but drawing protests from some opposition parties.
Later in the day, the Rajya Sabha approved the scrapping of Article 370, a status the state had enjoyed for over 65 years. The Lok Sabha will likely approve the changes when it takes up the bill on Tuesday.
The step, the first ever in India’s history that a state has been reduced to a Union territory, is likely to reframe the Kashmir debate, particularly with respect to the dialogue with Pakistan and also within the country.
The Upper House approved the resolution that scrapped all the clauses of Article 370—which provided special status to Jammu and Kashmir—and simultaneously approved a bill that bifurcates the state, wherein Jammu and Kashmir will be converted into a Union territory with a legislature, while the region of Ladakh will be carved out as a separate Union territory without a legislative assembly.
Effectively, the people of Jammu and Kashmir will be governed by a new administrative set-up in which the power of law and order will rest with the Lt Governor, who is appointed by the Union government. The importance of the passage of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019 can be understood from the fact that Prime Minister Modi, who was present in the House, rose to congratulate home minister Amit Shah after the government successfully piloted the bill through the House.
While the issue was being discussed in the Rajya Sabha, India simultaneously launched a diplomatic offensive, briefing key diplomats of countries comprising the UN Security Council to contain any adverse reactions.
The briefing comes against the backdrop of Pakistan condemning India’s move to bifurcate the state. Article 370, enacted in 1954, lays down that except for matters related to defence, foreign affairs, communications and finance, and issues specified in the Instrument of Accession of Jammu and Kashmir, Parliament needs the state government’s ratification for all other laws.
The move, part of a long-standing poll promise of BJP, was passed after nearly eight hours of debate, in which the opposition, particularly the Congress, found itself in a corner—several opposition parties including the Bahujan Samaj Party and Aam Aadmi Party voted for the amendments.
The move to change J&K’s status came against the backdrop of a steady build-up. The buzz had grown in recent weeks, especially after 30,000 additional security personnel were despatched to the state. The scheduling of a Union cabinet meeting in the first half of Monday reinforced the perception that the government was poised to go ahead. The die was cast after Parliament was informed that Shah would be making a statement in the Rajya Sabha.
Interestingly, the step taken by the BJP leadership comes just two months after it returned to power with a majority, winning 303 seats on its own and 353 as part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). A resurgent BJP-NDA has since managed to push its legislative agenda.
The decision is significant because it is part of the three core items on BJP’s agenda—revocation of Article 370 is an electoral promise since the formation of the Bhartiya Jana Sangh, the earlier version of BJP. The two other promises are construction of Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya and implementation of the uniform civil code.
Addressing members of the Rajya Sabha, Shah said “Repealing Article 370 is the only way out to resolve the crisis and deadlock in Kashmir. It will take some time, but this is the only way."
Shah said the changes were above legal scrutiny and were needed to eradicate terrorism from the region.
“Because of Article 370, democracy has never percolated, corruption was at its peak and poverty was entrenched in the area. There are people of different religions in the valley and we are not politicizing on the basis of religion. The people of J&K want democracy and if you see clearly, you will know how much Article 370 has harmed J&K," he added.
Although the ruling NDA does not have a majority in the Upper House, the government once again demonstrated its deft floor management and political instincts.
Among the parties that played a crucial role in getting the bill passed were the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
“In a real sense today, Jammu and Kashmir has become a part of India. My party supports this resolution. We are a regional party but for us nation is first," said Prasanna Acharya, BJD’s Rajya Sabha member.
Among other parties that have supported NDA are YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
“Our party gives complete support. We want that the bill be passed. Our party is not expressing any opposition to Article 370 bill and the other bill," said Satish Chandra Mishra, BSP’s Rajya Sabha member.
Speaking in the Rajya Sabha during the debate, members of YSRCP termed the government’s move as historic. “The government will be remembered for this for all time to come and Jammu and Kashmir will see a new change," said Vijay Sai Reddy of YSRCP.
However, NDA was divided on the issue as Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) opposed the move in the Upper House and said that Article 370 should not be revoked.
“Our chief Nitish Kumar is carrying forward the tradition of J.P. Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia and George Fernandes. So, our party is not supporting the bill moved in the Rajya Sabha today. We have a different thinking. We want that Article 370 should not be revoked," said K. C. Tyagi, senior leader of JD(U).
“Through this move, they (BJP) have aimed at multiple targets including Article 370 and the promise of making J&K like the rest of the country. Wider ramifications like how will courts react to it and how the people in Kashmir valley will react to it will unfold in coming weeks and months," said Sandeep Shastri, national coordinator of Lokniti Network, the research programme of the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, and pro vice-chancellor of Jain University based in Bengaluru.
However, the success of NDA in the Upper House met some resentment from a handful of political parties, primarily the Congress which chose to vote against the Bill with its 46 MPs along with Trinamool Congress which staged a walk out with its 13 MPs. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has two MPs who were removed from the Upper House because of their protest, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) with five MPs and Samajwadi Party (SP) which has 11 MPs voted against the Bill.
The Opposition also lashed out at the Centre for destroying the equilibrium in the region and “dismembering the state."
Senior Congress MP P. Chidambaram said, “Momentarily you think you’ve scored a victory. Our foremost duty is to protect rights of states and the people of those states. I genuinely fear you are pushing thousands of young men from this column to join the other column of a few hundred. If it happens, you will rue this day when you repealed article 370."
At the same time, Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said, “Today BJP has murdered the constitution as well as democracy through the scrapping of Article 370. The very article that gave special status to J&K and linked it to the country, has today been done away with mercilessly."
Former J&K chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti, who was placed under house arrest on the intervening night of Sunday and Monday, took to Twitter and said, “What did J&K get for acceding to India? Another partition along communal lines? Our special status isn’t a gift bestowed upon us. It’s a right guaranteed by the same Parliament. A contract entered into by J&K leadership and India. Today the very same contract has been violated."
National Conference (NC) vice president and former J&K CM Omar Abdullah said that the “decision will have far reaching and dangerous consequences."