Article 370 is dead. The article that gave special rights to Jammu and Kashmir has always been a bee in the bonnet of the political right. Whether it was RSS, Hindu Mahasabha, Jana Sangh or the party currently in power, Bharatiya Janata Party, they always wanted the provision to go. “Remove Article 370” has been the battle cry of these outfits for long. The demand has constantly figured in their manifestos, discussion forums and charter of demands.
Article 370 has been the pet peeve of the right. It has been seen as an extraordinary concession given to the minority community (read Muslims) to curry favour. Kashmir being the only state with Muslims in majority, it was seen as something which is discriminatory and against the Hindus, who otherwise were in majority all over the country.
India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was the architect of Article 370, was seen as the villain of the piece. Whenever Nehru’s legacy came under fire, his creation or rather insertion of this article in the Constitution through a presidential order was considered a downer. He has come under fire ad nauseam for this.
While Sardar Patel is credited with the fabulous job of integrating various princely states into India—especially Junagadh and Hyderabad, Nehru always comes under fire for his “mishandling” of the Kashmir issue. The then narrative was when the rest of the provinces were being integrated, Kashmir being a border state had special problems. It was India’s only Muslim majority state but had a Hindu King- Maharaja Hari Singh at the helm who agreed to integrate with some concessions and the prominent one was in the form of Article 370.
In defiance of special norms
Article 370 had special provisions that safeguarded the unique identity of the state. Except defence, foreign affairs and communications, all other laws must have the concurrence of the state Assembly. It meant that whenever a certain law is passed by Parliament, it has to be referred to the Assembly and can’t be implemented straightaway.
All that has gone in four to six hours of Parliamentary proceedings on August 5. Two resolutions and a bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha and Article 370 was made ineffective. Interestingly some say Article 370 was not abrogated, but its provisions were removed by “reading down”. Surely the legalese would be challenged and discussed in the courts, but the deed is done.
Shockingly AAP, BSP, TDP, BJD, YSRCP, and AIADMK — all regional parties who till yesterday were strong backers of the concept of federalism supported the move. Some of their leaders spoke glowingly in Parliament. Of all the parties the real surprise in the pack was Aam Aadmi Party. After remaining in the wilderness the Delhi-based party seems to have finally admitted or rather realised that it was at best a regional force and for most regional outfits, the first ideology has been opportunism and therefore AAP was no different.
The demolition of Babri Masjid in the eighties was a turning point for the BJP. Its agitational politics took a decisive turn and from being a party with two seats in 1984, it phenomenally grew in the following years to capture power at the Centre. The Modi-Shah combine is reaping the benefits of that agitation. But striking down Article 370 is altogether a different, but an important milestone for the party and those who strongly believe in right wing ideology.
Is Indian politics taking the right turn?
As is with the rest of the world, Indian politics too is taking a sharp rightward turn and perhaps the Modi-Shah combine thought the timing was right for the BJP to take such a decision. Shah on Monday advised Rajya Sabha members to have a peaceful sleep in the night and said when they open their television sets next morning, they should feel “nice” as people at large would be welcoming the decision.
He is obviously right in his observation which is electorally laced, but constitutional niceties or parliamentary procedure be damned. The resolutions are moved first in the Rajya Sabha and then taken to the Lok Sabha the next day. The order was reversed as the BJP perhaps wished to get the issue cleared first in the Upper House which it thought had more opposition as compared to a brute majority in the Lok Sabha.
House proceedings began noisily. Congress, Trinamool and Left leaders staged a dharna in the well of the House, they raised slogans and tried to obstruct the proceedings. But the House continued without a break. A member tried to point out from a parliamentary rule book that proceedings should not be held when there is “disorder” in the House. Nobody heard his point of order. The speeches continued, the lunch break was cancelled and the resolutions were literally steamrolled. Sensing the inevitable, the Opposition decided to participate in the debate and voice their objections in the second half of the day.
Shah held Article 370 responsible for corruption in the Valley. He said the state was unable to witness development, had low levels of education, high incidence of poverty and was unable to emancipate Dalits and women as well as do other such things as compared to the rest of India. He said the state was denied fruits of development because Article 370 came in the way.
Shah’s narrative is seductive, as holding the torch of development for Kashmir is an alluring idea. Who won’t like Kashmir to be developed as well as the rest of India? But the narrative that rest of India is all flowing with milk and honey is questionable. Article 370 is major step in the deconstruction of the Nehruvian model. The “New India’ built on the new model of development steeped in right wing politics is deepening in Modi 0.2. Today’s “surgical strike” in Parliament is manifestation of that phenomenon.