Kashmir is not a state anymore. In an unprecedented Presidential ordinance passed on Monday morning, the BJP-led NDA Government revoked Article 370 of the Constitution that provided special status to Kashmir. The state is now all set to be bifurcated into two Union Territories — Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir.
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It all began in 1947 – when Kashmir’s then-Maharaja, Hari Singh, signed the Instrument of Accession and gave over his princely kingdom to the fledgling Republic of India. The much-discussed Article 370, which came into effect in 1949, exempted Jammu and Kashmir from the Indian Constitution except in areas of Finance, Defence, and Foreign Affairs and Communications. Article 35A, which was introduced in 1954, dealt with territory regulation and defined the permanent residents of the region.
The J&K Reorganization Bill, that passed after intense debate in Lok Sabha on Tuesday, revoked all these above-mentioned pieces of legislature. Noteworthy among the speakers on Tuesday was Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, the MP from Ladakh, who mounted a spirited defense of the Centre’s decision. 351 lawmakers voted in favour of the motion, while only 72 voted against. Rajya Sabha had already passed the Bill on Monday.
Prime Minister Modi termed this as the beginning of a “new dawn”. “Jammu and Kashmir is now free from shackles”, he said. A number of political leaders across spectrums — including Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati, Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal, Congress’ Jyotiraditya Scindia, and Samjwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav — have spoken out in support of the Central Government.
Needless to say, this surprising move has also faced intense criticism from different quarters. Some have argued that this move is unconstitutional, since the law forbids the President to “alter the words of the Article” in any way. National Congress leader Omar Abdullah, who is still under house arrest, deemed the Central Government’s actions “deceitful” — especially since it was pushed through after the Valley was shut down, Internet and phone lines cut, and political leaders placed under house arrest. Punjab Chief Minister, Congress’ Amrinder Singh, termed this move “unlawful”.
“It is a dark day for the Indian democracy,” Amarinder said, adding that the Constitution of India has been rewritten without following any legal provisions.
“This will set a bad precedent as it would mean that the Centre could reorganise any state in the country by simply imposing President’s rule,” the chief minister said in a statement here.”
According to Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, “The false pretence of terrorism to get people out of Amarnath Yatra, the use of utter secrecy, the deployment of overwhelming force and the arrests have revealed a certain disdain, a certain contempt for liberty of people, for the rule of law, and the very conventions of democracy that have sustained us for 70 years.”
A plea has already been filed in the Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of this Presidential order.
So, what next?
The world is watching. Pakistan has already summoned the Indian High Commissioner over this decision. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan also warned India of the possibility of increased violence in the valley.
(Note: 6 Things was unable to access reactions from ordinary Kashmiri citizens since the Valley has been under military lockdown since last Sunday. All communication lines have also been down since then. Here is what independent India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had to say about this issue in 1952: “I say with all respect to our Constitution that it just does not matter what your Constitution says; if the people of Kashmir do not want it, it will not go there. Because what is the alternative? The alternative is compulsion and coercion…We have fought in good fight about Kashmir on the field of battle… (and) …in many a chancellery of the world and in the United Nations, but, above all, we have fought this fight in the hearts and minds of men and women of that State of Jammu and Kashmir.”)