New Delhi: Article 370 of the Constitution that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir was on Monday scrapped, along with Article 35 (A), as Rajya Sabha passed a momentous bill that bifurcates the state into two Union Territories in far-reaching decisions taken by the BJP-led central government executing a long-held saffron agenda.
A resolution removing the special status of the state under Article 370 was approved by the Rajya Sabha on Monday with Home Minister Amit Shah saying the constitutional provision was the "root cause of terrorism" in the state, and the Modi government was committed to making the state the most progressive in the country.
The Jammu & Kashmir (Reorganisation) Bill, 2019, which strips Jammu and Kashmir's status of a state and converts it into a Union Territory with legislature and carving out Ladakh region as a UT without legislature, was passed in a division pressed by the opposition with 125 votes in favour and 61 against, and an NCP member abstained. After the passage of the bill, Prime Minister Narendra Modi went up to Shah and congratulated him.
Taking opposition by surprise, the reorganisation bill and the resolution to repeal Article 370 were tabled in the House amidst uproarious scenes with major opposition parties stiffly resisting it. The opposition complained that they had not got advance information about the bill. Shortly after Shah tabled a resolution to this effect in Rajya Sabha, President Ram Nath Kovind came out with a notification -- The Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 2019 that will come into force immediately.
The abrogation of Article 370 has been long on the agenda of the BJP and its predecessor Jana Sangh, but the earlier BJP-led governments in 1998 and 1999 had kept the issue along with other pet issues like Ram temple and uniform civil code on the backburner citing lack of a majority. Even the Modi 1 government did not resort to tinkering with the status of Jammu and Kashmir. Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu waived the mandatory procedures for the introduction of the bill and unfazed Shah went ahead with tabling the bill and the other resolutions.
The Union Cabinet had met in the morning to approve the bill. Ahead of its introduction, the government had made elaborate security arrangements in the Valley, had shut down schools and put senior political leaders under house arrest. Jammu and Kashmir is under President's Rule at present. The House also passed a bill to provide ten per cent reservation to the economically backward sections in Jammu and Kashmir. Repeal of Article 370 will also lead to the scrapping of Article 35 (A), which bars people from outside from buying land and property and settling down in the state. It also confers special rights for "state subjects."
Like in the case of several bills recently, the reorganisation bill was passed with support from several opposition parties, which, surprisingly, included AAP, BSP and TDP. Members of BJD, AIADMK, and YSR Congress also supported it. TMC walked out before passage of the bill with its leader Derek O'Brien saying the party was against constitutional immorality and procedural harakiri from 11 AM. BJP ally JDU expressed strong opposition to the measures in Jammu and Kashmir and walked out during the debate.
There was wide consensus on the bill to extend reservation benefits to the state. Describing the decisions as catastrophic, Congress leader and former Home Minister P. Chidambaram said history will prove this decision as a "monumental blunder" and future generations will realise what a great mistake this House was making. Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad accused the BJP-led government of "murdering constitution and democracy" by abrogating Article 370 and making some other changes in relation to Jammu and Kashmir.
Responding to concerns of members about the bifurcation of the state into Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, Shah said the government had no objection to restoring statehood once the situation in the militancy-torn state gets normalised. "I want to assure the House that whenever normal situation returns, right time comes, we have no objection in making it a state," Shah said amidst thumping of desks by the ruling side members.
Shah said Article 370 was the biggest obstacle to ending terrorism and due to it, democracy never took root in Jammu and Kashmir, corruption flourished, poverty sustained and no socio-economic infrastructure could come up. He said five years of the Modi government without Article 370 should be judged with the situation that prevailed during 70 years under Article 370. He also said Kashmir is the "crown" of India and would remain a "heaven" while asserting that the Modi government would take the state on a new path of development.
Talking about terrorism, Shah said that the youth has been misguided to pursue jihad on Pakistan's nefarious designs. "Thousands of civilians have died. Why?" he asked. He said it has been a stated policy of Pakistan to support Article 370 and keep the youth away from getting into the mainstream of development and brainwash them into jihad.
"All political parties with separatist ideology have vested interests to continue Article 370. Their children do not get killed in the bloodshed caused due to terrorism and they support it. Terrorism began in Jammu and Kashmir and reached its peak. Now we are on the path to eliminating it," he said.
Shah said Article 370 holds no benefits for the youth of the state and is discriminatory on the basis of gender, class, caste and place of origin. He also said the provision was temporary and asked if it should have taken 70 years to repeal it. "It only required political will, which only the present government had," he said. Shah referred to political dynasties in the state and said they helped those they wanted to and did little for the common man.
"It would only benefit a few elite people who want to keep the youth poor forever and corner all benefits for themselves. The youth is being taken for a ride by the political elite. Despite so much funds being provided by the Centre, where are the educational and health facilities? Those who support Article 370 must know that this article prevents professionals from outside the state to settle down in the state and hence no one wants to go there."
"Now, the moment this resolution is passed and Article 370 is removed, each child would get right of education and each patient would get free healthcare under Ayushman Bharat. It has to go in the larger interest of the people of Jammu and Kashmir," he said. Shah said it has been a stated policy of Pakistan to support Article 370 and keep the youth away from getting into the mainstream of development and brainwash them into jihad.
"All the political parties with separatist ideology have vested interests to continue Article 370. Their children do not get killed in the bloodshed caused due to terrorism," he said. He said the bill was historic and politics of vote bank has looted the youth of the state for over 70 years. "Politics of religion must be avoided at all costs. Article 370 is equally harmful to people of all religions," he said.
"It is only and only political propaganda that has blinded the youth of Kashmir into believing it for 70 years. I assure the youth of Jammu and Kashmir that give this government five years and it will become the most progressive region in the country," the Minister said. Referring to Article 35 (A), Shah said daughters of the state marrying outside the state lose their rights to property. "It is so discriminatory to the women and their children." He said the path to a solution to all the problems of Kashmir goes through the repealing of Article 370.
Shah rebutted apprehensions that removing Article 370 would destroy Kashmiri culture and said that all states have preserved their culture and language after becoming a part of the Union of India. Shah said that post the repeal of Article 370, doors to private investment would be opened, which would, in turn, increase the potential for development there.
"Increased investments would lead to increased job creation and further betterment of socio-economic infrastructure in the state." Remembering the sacrifice of civilians and soldiers, who lost their lives during 1989-2018, Shah said had Article 370 not been there, these people wouldn't have lost their lives. He said refugees who came from Pakistan after partition did not get citizenship till now and tribals did not have political reservation. "As opposed to this, in the rest of India, two Prime Ministers - Manmohan Singh and I K Gujral - were elected from those refugees," he said.
He said Article 370 impedes people from outside the state to do business there. "Absence of economic competition has prevented development and corruption flourished. Land prices are at rock bottom because no one can buy land there. No industry, including tourism, is allowed to flourish there. People remain poor in perpetuity despite the presence of abundant economic opportunities for the local populace," he said. "We want to embrace the youth of Jammu and Kashmir and give them flourishing opportunities for employment. Even a separate bill for reservation for economically backward classes would not be required if the resolution is passed in both houses as the provision will get automatically applied to Jammu and Kashmir, as in rest of India".
Shah said there was no need to amend the constitution in repealing Article 370 and under Article 370(3), there is a provision that the President, on the recommendation of the Parliament, has the power to amend or cease the implementation of Article 370, through a public notification. In all, the House approved two resolutions and two bills.