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Article 370 in Parliamentary Debates: Abrogation was Long Overdue
9/22/2019 11:26:26 PM
Dr. Rajeev Kumar

On August 5, 2019, the NDA government, led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), created history by dismantling Articles 370; ushering in a paradigm shift in the political landscape of the country. The presidential order, coming into effect immediately, has removed the special status accorded to the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) under Article 370 in Part XXI (Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions) of the Constitution of India. By extension, Article 35A has also been repealed, as it stems from Article 370, having been introduced through a presidential order in 1954.
Article 370 was a 'temporary provision' included in the Constitution on October 17, 1949. It exempted J&K from the Indian Constitution and permitted the state to draft its own constitution. Its abrogation has done away with all of the erstwhile state's special powers, including that of the state legislature to draft its own laws on all subjects other than communications, defence and foreign affairs. Thus, it has also put a full stop to J&K's own constitution, flag and penal code.
Did it happen all of a sudden? Was the abrogation a decision made one fine day? The answer is: NO. It took 70 painstaking years of perseverance and continued efforts in the direction. Even while talking of the current government, Amit Shah, the architect behind this historical catharsis, had said in 2017 that, 'the only solution to the J&K problem is removal of Article 370. It will be one bitter dose, but it will solve multiple problems in one stroke'. In fact, the general feeling amongst majority of Indian citizens echoed similar spirits ever since its inception. It was seen as an obstacle to Kashmir's development, keeping people backward and making certain political families prosperous. It can also be gauged from the fact that politicians across party lines supported this historic move. The Congress party also stood divided and many senior leaders openly called the move a masterstroke which will help in dealing with J&K in a much needed and phased manner.
A close perusal of the deliberations and discussions on Articles 370 in the Indian parliament establishes the fact that the voice for its abrogation is not new, though they had little effect until now. There was a lot of hue and cry over Article 370, which provided J&K a separate status under the Indian Constitution, right from the beginning. Article 370 had, indeed, been seen as the cornerstone of almost all the looming confusion that surrounded J&K. Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee of Bharatiya Jana Sangh had questioned this provision in the Lok Sabha on June 26, 1952. He had said: 'Today, Sheikh Abdullah speaks about Article 370. What is the history of Article 370 under the Constitution… it is necessary to re-read the speech of Mr. Gopalaswami Ayyangar and find out with what objective we accepted this inclusion of Article 370 in our Constitution. Let us know clearly what is in our minds first of all, as to what we want. If you just want to play with the winds and say, "We are helpless and let Sheikh Abdullah do what he likes", then Kashmir will be lost. I say this with great deliberation that Kashmir will be lost'.
Even N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar, who drafted Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, envisaged the disappearance of this article in due course of time. Questions over the abrogation of the Article 370 were raised for the first time in the Rajya Sabha by B.D. Khobragade of the Republican Party of India and A.M. Tariq of the Indian National Congress on December 3, 1963. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, however, ruled it out by simply saying that it was out of his power to remove it and mentioned about the act being implemented by the President. But, at the same time, Nehru also brought forth, for discussion, the resolution sent by Praja Parishad for the repeal of Article 370. This was a clear indication that there were differences of opinion regarding Article 370 and many section wanted it to be repealed.
Not only did the Members of Parliament (MPs) hold contrary views but even some Cabinet Ministers also joined the league supporting the abrogation of article 370. Distraught by the quality of arguments in favour of continuation of Article 370, a debate was initiated by the Minister of Education M.C. Chagla on February 24, 1964 in the Rajya Sabha for its abrogation. He said: 'The Prime Minister the other day spoke of the gradual erosion of article 370 of the Constitution. I only hope that the erosion is accelerated and I also hope that very soon that article will disappear from the Constitution of India. After all, it is an article which is transitional and temporary. I think the transitional period has been long enough'. Thus, article 370 found many contrary voices which supported the total integration of J&K with India, i.e. through abrogation of the same.
On September 11, 1964, Bhupesh Gupta of the Communist Party of India put forth an excellent observation regarding article 370 that it 'had not been discussed between the Kashmir authorities and the Government of India representatives', and added that the article remained as an incongruous part of the Constitution and that as such it should be abrogated at 'the initiative of the Central Government'. The year 1964 was, in fact, a year of great aspiration as far as J&K, Articles 370 and 35A were concerned. Parliament members across party lines demanded the abrogation of the constitutional provisions that gave the state special status in the Union. On September 11, 1964, during an inconclusive discussion on a private Member's Bill in the Lok Sabha it was urged that Article 370 be done away with in the interest of complete integration of the state with the rest of the country. Hindustan Times reported that 'the Bill found unexpected support from Congress members who, together with members of the Opposition, pleaded that the time had come to end the uncertainty about the State's future. One way to do so was to scrap Article 370 which had outlived its utility'. Ram Manohar Lohia, Sarojini Mahishi of the Congress, and Kashmiri leaders Abdul Ghani Goni and N.H. Samnani were among the votaries of the abrogation of article 370.
Speaking during a motion in the Lok Sabha, on March 3, 1975, Atal Bihari Vajpayee remarked about Article 370 in poetic fashion. He said: 'It is said that Article 370 is a bridge. A bridge is made to connect two far-off things. When J&K is a part of India what is the need to take the bridge for going to J&K'. It was, thus, clear that unwillingness on the part of the Centre was behind the hiatus in timely resolution of the imbroglio. In fact, the imbroglio was itself the brainchild of the early dispensation which believed in keeping J&K on a separate footing from the other states which merged with the Union of India. Kushok Bakula from Ladakh complained that Sheikh Abdullah had not paid required attention towards Ladakh and that was the reason people from Ladakh were demanding Centre's rule. Talking of the discrimination under Article 370, he said: 'I want to say that people of Ladakh are not happy with Article 370 of the Constitution. We have been lied about many things but nothing substantial was ever done'.
In the Rajya Sabha on August 26, 1995, Sikander Bakht questioned the validity of Article 370 candidly. He questioned the very existence of article 370 saying it was something dangerous for the very meaning of the Union of India. He said: 'The historical commitment in relation to Article 370 was that it would itself wither away in two or three years. What are you trying to prove by this Article 370; whom are you making stronger? If Kashmir is an inalienable part of India, why is it cut off from the mainstream and other parts of India viz. UP, MP, Rajasthan? Is Kashmir really a part of India then? What and to whom are you signaling by this Article? Why cannot this Article be scrapped? In fact, by removing Article 370, you would be sending a strong signal to everyone that no one can separate Kashmir from India'. Though he opined that in spite of all the rationale and argument behind the abrogation of Article 370, the reasoning had failed to carry the meaning all across India; he was vociferous about the national interests and clearly saw Article 370 as the biggest hurdle in the Union of India. Satyapal Singh of BJP called it an obstacle to the Indian spirit of nationalism in Kashmir. He remarked in the Lok Sabha on December 11, 2015: 'Article 370 is an irritant for this nation, a blot on Indian nationality. A Kashmiri can go, settle, trade and buy land anywhere in India but a non-Kashmiri cannot do so in Kashmir. This is ironical. The spirit of nationalism would not be there all across India till Article 370 is there. The spirit would not be there in Kashmir till this provision exists. That is the reason it must be abrogated'.
It was, thus, amply clear right from the beginning that Kashmir was an integral part of India. On the question of autonomy, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee went to the extent of saying that 'such an allowance could not strengthen Kashmir but would surely hurt India'. The BJP, right from the beginning, had been proposing the abrogation of the Article 370 of the Indian constitution.
The BJP had been of the view that the domestic disturbances in the State and from across the border had rendered the status of Kashmir as questionable and hence the only solution to stabilize its status and protect the national security was the abrogation of Article 370.
Article 370 was, thus, a temporary provision proposed by the then government but opposed by many including B.R. Ambedkar and Vallabhbhai Patel. It was supposed to stay in place till the conditions ceased to be aberrant. But it had gone on far too long and many baseless arguments were being provided whenever the issue of its abrogation was raised. J&K is an integral part of India and, thus, there was no reason to persist with such a provision which challenged the very concept of national unity. In the debates on Article 370, reactions indicated towards its being viewed as playing a greater role in alienation, underdevelopment, and lack of industrialisation and investment.
Article 370 had contributed to fissiparous tendencies in the Indian Union. 'Let us give them a separate status, it will please the people' proved to be a wrong vision. Article 370 came out, in the debates, as the primary cause behind the feeling of separatism and alienation in Kashmir. Special status had only taken Jammu and Kashmir towards more and more isolation and, thus, the only solution to stabilize the status and to secure the national interest was the abrogation of Article 370. It was, therefore, high time that a serious reconsideration needed to be given to the matter of prime national importance. And, finally, on August 5, 2019, the day came when the present government took a bold step in this direction by eradicating the evil in the shape of Article 370.
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