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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 34, New Delhi, August 8, 2020

Abrogation of Article-370: A Monumental Blunder | Praveen Davar

Friday 7 August 2020

• It was exactly one year ago the Modi government abrogated Article -370 and bifurcated the state of Jammu & Kashmir into two union territories -J&K and Ladakh.The bill to do so was rushed through both Houses virtually within last two days of Parliament leaving no time and opportunity for any discussion.That many smaller parties,including those not in the NDA, voted in favour of the bill, was indeed shocking. These parties, though having no stake in J&K, have not realised the disservice they have rendered the nation by succumbing to the strong arm tactics of Home Minister Amit Shah.

Speaking in Parliament ,and outside,both the Prime Minister and Home Minister claimed that the two steps -abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation - will put an end to cross border terrorism and a New Kashmir will usher in peace and an unprecedented all round development. Sadly, the opposite has happened. While there has been a spurt in incidents of violence and infiltration, the economy of the erstwhile state has been shattered so badly that it will take atleast a decade to recover. It is estimated that in Kashmir valley nearly 5 lakhs people have lost jobs and 40,000 crores has been the loss of production. Tourism which is the backbone of the valley’s economy has been badly crippled along with carpet, garment, fruit and transport industries.

Dr Farooq Abdullah, former CM of J&K, recently stated in Jammu that ’the abrogation of the special status has neither ushered in development nor put an end to terrorism as was being narrated by some vested interests in New Delhi.’ The ’tallest’ political leader of the erstwhile state also expressed surprise at that the narrative being sold by the government: "J&K would now become part of India." This is the most ridiculous claim as J&K, like other states, has been part of India since its accession on Oct 26, 1947. It only enjoyed a special status because it became an integral part of India in circumstances totally different from other princely states. According to AG Noorani, a constitutional expert "Article 370 records a compact between the State of Jammu &Kashmir and the Union of India.It was negotiated for five long months from May to Oct 1949 by Nehru, Patel, Sheikh Abdullah and Mirza Afzal Beg." In fact when it was finally adopted in the Constituent Assembly on 17 Oct 1949, PM Nehru was on tour to USA and Sardar Patel was the acting Prime Minister presiding over Cabinet meetings and approving all the important decisions of the government. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who later founded the Jan Sangh, as member of Nehru cabinet, was also privy to the decision on Article 370. It was only two years later that he did a U-turn on the issue after forming the Jan Sangh. On 4 February 1953 , Sheikh Abdullah wrote to Mookerjee: ’ This arrangement (Art 370) has not been made now but as early as 1949 when you happened to be a part of the Government....The Constituent Assembly of India took note of the special circumstances obtaining in the State and made provisions accordingly. But if the basis of this relationship is sought to be altered, certain consequences are bound to follow for which all of us must be prepared.’

Though the passage of time many provisions of Art 370 were diluted, no Prime Minister after Nehru, not even Atal Behari Vajpayee from the RSS stable, thought it wise to nullify Art 370 for they knew what the repercussions will be. Even PM Narendra Modi followed the beaten track in his first term and surprised everyone by having a BJP- PDP coalition government in the state. But the moment he returned to power with a huge majority in 20l9, he took but a few months to change colour to impose the RSS agenda upon the nation. Abrogation of Article 370 has of course been part of the BJP manifestos in all the Lok Sabha elections. An election promise had been fulfilled, but at what cost? While the whole country is suffering from the economic and social consequences of the pandemic, for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, especially the valley, the suffering is many times more because of the stringent measures in place since August 5, 2019.

What former finance Minister P. Chidambaram recently wrote in his weekly column in a popular daily is heart touching: ’" The rest of India understands a total lockdown- no movement outside one’s home...The rest of India should imagine a lockdown without free speech and expression or access to newspapers, television, mobile telephones, Internet, hospitals, police stations, courts and elected representatives That is the situation today."

It is unfortunate that people of rest of India are not showing any concern or sympathy for the plight of Kashmiris, especially the youth and students whose curriculum and
careers are adversely effected by lack of facilities and opportunities. With the nation wide attention on the proposed Ram Mandir on Aug 5 ,the first anniversary of abrogation of Article 370 is likely to pass unnoticed. But the problems of the people just cannot be pushed under the carpet.The completion of one year is an opportunity to examine the shortcomings and take urgent measures for redressal of grievances and alleviate the sufferings of the people.It will be ideal if an all party delegation of MPs visits all the three regions - Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh- and after assessing the ground situation recommends steps to be taken by the Central government to alleviate the sufferings of the people. The long term and lasting solution, however, is reversal of abrogation of Art 370 and reunification of the State as it existed before 5 Aug 2019. But now the ball is in the Supreme Court. Will it muster the courage to undo the damage done by a hasty,short sighted and unethical decision of the government which has created avoidable internal and external problems. Any delay will only aggravate the situation.

Praveen Davar
The writer,an ex Army officer, was member of the National Commission for Minorities and is a Delhi based political analyst.

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