India’s Modi-led government took a giant step on Monday to resolve the decades-old Jammu & Kashmir tangle by scrapping two articles that gave the state special status.
Playing a masterstroke, Union Home Minister Amit Shah got Article 370 and Article 35A abrogated through a presidential decree.
Article 370 of the Constitution had guaranteed some degree of autonomy to the Muslim-majority state for 72 years while Article 35A ensured special rights and privileges to its citizens.
The presidential decree also bifurcated the state into two union territories, Jammu and Kashmir with a legislature and Ladakh without legislature and ruled by the central government.
Although the 2019 election manifesto of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had made it clear that Article 370 and Article 35A would be scrapped if the party retains power, opposition were surprised by the speed and manner in which it was executed. Some even questioned it.
President Ram Nath Kovind promulgated the constitution order on Monday in “concurrence” with Governor Satyapal Malik who is in charge of Jammu and Kashmir administration after the dissolution of the government led by former chief minister Mehabooba Mufti late last year.
The Rajya Sabha or Upper House of Parliament, above, approved a resolution late on Monday abrogating Article 370 and a bill to bifurcate the state. It was passed with 125 votes in favour and 61 against.
Even parties that usually oppose BJP’s every move such as AAP, BSP, BJD and YSR-Congress supported the bill.
The bill will be put to vote in the Lok Sabha or Lower house on Tuesday.
Replying to points raised by opposition MPs during a long debate ahead of the vote, Shah said Article 35A gave special rights and privileges to the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir (read Muslims).
The abrogation of Article 35A guarantees property rights to a Kashmiri woman who marries a non-Kashmiri man.
It will help thousands of Kashmiri Hindus and others, who were driven out of the state in 1990, to return, buy property and live there without fear as law and order of the territory now comes under the central government, Shah said.
Article 370 is the biggest hurdle to normalcy in the state. Since it has been scrapped now, the central government will help Jammu & Kashmir emerge as one of the most developed states in the country, he said.
The government’s extraordinary step is expected to ensure complete integration of Jammu & Kashmir with the rest of the territories under the Indian union, remove discriminatory provisions against women and Dalits (oppressed and underprivileged), wipe out corruption and usher in development.
With its special status withdrawn on Monday, Jammu & Kashmir is no more an entity having own constitution. All union laws will now apply to the state.
Non-Muslims living in Jammu and Ladakh and those who were forced to flee the state in the 1990s celebrated the presidential decree by bursting crackers, dancing and distributing sweets.
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Leaders of two mainstream political parties in the state, who are under arrest for fear-mongering on military build-up and Article 35A, denounced the decree.
Mehabooba Mufti, former state chief minister and leader of
People’s Democratic Party, called it the darkest day in Indian democracy.
The presidential order will have catastrophic consequences, she said.
Omar Abdullah, National Conference leader and former chief minister of the state, said the government’s “unilateral” decision is a betrayal of the trust the people of Jammu & Kashmir had reposed in India when the state acceded to it in 1947.
Abdullah may challenge the presidential order in the Supreme Court.
Former union home minister and senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram called the bifurcation of Jammu & Kashmir a cardinal sin adding that the government is reducing states to mere colonies.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, another senior Congress leader, said integration of Jammu & Kashmir is possible only through the passage of heart and not law.
It was, however, a day of celebration for BJP leaders.
Former finance minister Arun Jaitley called the move to end the autonomy of Jammu & Kashmir a monumental decision towards national integration.
Former foreign minister Sushma Swaraj described it as a bold and historic step.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said the government was reversing the blunder of late prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
BJP spokesman Shahnawaz Hussain said the scrapping of Article 370 has put the state on the path of development.
The landmark decision came days after the evacuation of tourists and Amarnath pilgrims from the state due to security threat posed by neighbouring Pakistan and terrorists.