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There's An Elephant In The Room
Oho! Who got in the hair of Mr.Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir(J&K) to make him go ballistic? It was none other than Mr.Jitendra Prasad, BJP M.P from Udhampur who is MOS in the Prime Minister's Office. Mr. Abdullah saw red when Mr.Prasad pitched for a debate on the issue of repeal of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, which granted a special autonomous status to J&K. The proposal for debate was in keeping with BJP's avowed policy of abrogation of the contentious Article.
What does Mr. Abdullah do when he is livid? Tweet furiously, of course. He tweeted, protesting against all talk of repeal of Article 370 and issued a dire warning that should the Modi government go ahead and do the unthinkable, namely repealing the Article, his state would no more be a part of India.
Genesis of Article 370
The Article was drafted by Shri N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar, Minister without portfolio in the first Cabinet of Jawaharlal Nehru, at the request of the Prime Minister, after Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, principal architect of the Constitution of India, refused to draft it. According to Balraj Madhok of BJP, Dr.Ambedkar had clearly told Sheikh Abdullah, "You wish India should protect your borders, she should build roads in your area, she should supply you food grains, and Kashmir should get equal status as India. But Government of India should have only limited powers and Indian people should have no rights in Kashmir. To give consent to this proposal, would be a treacherous thing against the interests of India and I, as the Law Minister of India, will never do it."
The Article thus came about subsequent to an understanding between Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah and not as an integral part of the Constitution, originally drafted with the active participation and approval of Dr. Ambedkar.
Constitution Of India
Salient features of Article 370:
- The Article provides temporary provisions to J&K and grants it special autonomy.
- The Article was drafted in Amendment of the Constitution section, in Part XXI, under Temporary and Transitional Provisions.
- The Article says that the provisions of Article 238, which was omitted from the Constitution in 1956 when Indian states were reorganised, shall not apply to the state
- Except in matters of External Affairs, Defence, Communication, and ancillary matters, the Indian Parliament needs the concurrence of the state of J&K to make its laws applicable to the state.
- The Indian Parliament cannot increase or reduce the borders of J&K.
- A state of emergency could be imposed on the State only in the event of a war or external threat. Financial emergency cannot be imposed.
Constitution of J&K
It may come as a surprise to the uninitiated that J&K has its own Constitution. It was signed by Dr.Karan Singh, then governor of the state (and son of Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir who had signed the instruments of accession) and is still in force.
As per Art. 5 of the Constitution of J&K, the executive and legislative power of the state extends to all matters except those with respect to which Parliament has power to make laws for the State under the provisions of the Constitution of India as applicable in relation to this state.
Repeal of Article 370
According to some, the President may, by public notification under article 370(3), declare that Article 370 shall cease to be operative; no recommendation of the Constituent Assembly is needed as it does not exist any longer.
Others believe it can be amended by an amendment Act under Article 368 of the Constitution and the amendment extended under Article 370(1). Art. 147 of the Constitution of J&K.
The question of repeal of the Article is evidently a matter for examination by constitutional and legal experts.
Argument Against Repeal of Article 370
Mr.Abdullah's National Conference is not the only party against repeal of Article 370. Mehbooba Mufti's PDP and Congress too have slammed BJP's position in the matter. Their argument is that the Article is the only constitutional link between the J&K and the rest of India; therefore, if the Article were repealed, J&K would no more be a part of India.
If one said that any state which is an integral part of the Union of India would no more be a part of the country, I should imagine that the guy was talking sedition and inviting trouble for himself. Here you have a guy who holds the office of the Chief Minister of J&K and has said loud and clear that his state would cease to be an integral part of India under certain conditions without prejudice to the political, constitutional and legal correctness of the conditions. Since no punitive action has been taken against him for his infamous statement, one would surmise that the kind of profound statement made by Mr.Abdullah does not per se fall under the pale of relevant law on sedition. That being the case, what was so awful or sinister about merely talking about repeal of the Article in question? Why get flustered and go red in the face when a Minister, that too one who represents a constituency in J&K, proposed a mere debate? Evidently, Mr Abdullah jumped the gun and shot himself in the foot! Even though the major political parties in the country, which have been summarily rejected by the people, have been making politically appropriate noises against BJP's proposal for a debate, people of the country do not approve of or condone Mr.Abdullah's uncalled for violent reaction. It appears he was only waiting for an opportunity for J&K to cede!from India.
It is an unfortunate political reality that till recently, the people of India were not averse to family rule. It was only with the advent of Mr.Modi that the family rule at the Centre was successfully brought to an end. Now, what is happening in J&K? We have a third generation Chief Minister from the same family since the State's accession to India in 1947. Between him, his father Farooq Abdullah and grandfather Sheikh Abdullah, Omar's family has ruled the State for a total of nearly thirty years. During this period, Sheikh Abdullah had held the post of Prime Minister of J&K (this post was subsequently abolished and converted into that of Chief Minister) for over five years. Call it service to the State by a dedicated family, if you will! Besides, Omar and his father have served the nation as ministers at the Centre for a combined period of over six years!
Mr.Modi comes along and BJP walks away with three out of the six Lok Sabha seats in J&K. Mr.Farooq Abdullah who had vociferously exhorted all those who voted for Mr.Modi to have a running jump into the sea, was beaten fair and square at the hustings. The voters of his constituency did not take his words seriously. For one thing, there was no sea around!
With the political base of the Abdullah family slipping from under their feet and elections to the J&K Legislative Assembly round the corner, National Conference must be thanking their stars for getting the issue of Article 370, which is of some emotional value to the people of the state, as their main poll plank.
How Has Article 370 Helped?
The Article has not helped the people of J&K in any way. It has only helped the mealy-mouthed wastrels with a feudal mindset among the politicians in the state to strengthen their stranglehold on the governance of the state. J&K has regretfully remained a backward and corrupt state, with no economic development and a high incidence of unemployment. Cut off from the mainstream India thanks to Article 370, the state has become a hotbed of terrorist activities. Fight against terrorism in the state has been made more complicated, with the obtrusive neighbouring Pakistan generously exporting terrorism. The state has witnessed a lot of violence and bloodshed besides an exodus of an estimated 700,000 Kashmiri pandits.
At A Cross Roads
The state of J&K is at a cross roads. Winds of change have been blowing all over India, heralding better times for the Indian economy. People of J&K should wake up to the new reality, shun their self-serving politicians and latch on to the new resurgent India so as not to get further left behind in India's march to progress and prosperity. It is high time they realized that fibbing over legal and technical aspects of an Article of the Indian Constitution, which had, in any case, been created on a very temporary basis and has outlived its purpose, would be an exercise in futility. Besides, why keep an elephant in the room?