The Modi government has revoked the special constitutional status of Kashmir in a move that’s drawn protests in Parliament and risks worsening its already fraught security relationship with Pakistan in the disputed region. It took Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government just a couple of hours to erase seven decades of autonomous state government in Kashmir, which analysts say is aimed at integrating a region at the centre of its acrimonious relationship with Pakistan. President Ram Nath Kovind signed the law and Minister for Home Affairs, Amit Shah, announced the government’s plan in Parliament soon after. Lawmakers are now debating a proposal to split the state in two Union territories -- Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. The special status given through the constitution to Kashmir has ended. Jammu and Kashmir will be one Union territory with its own legislature, like Delhi; Ladakh will be the other but without its own assembly.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Monday proposed to scrap Article 370 of the Constitution which gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir and said the state will be split into two Union Territories: Jammu and Kashmir with an Assembly and Ladakh without one.
Making a historic announcement in the Rajya Sabha that triggered bedlam, Shah said: “I am presenting the resolution to revoke Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir except the first clause 370 (1).”
Following his speech amid opposition protests, at times drowning his voice, the House was adjourned. It later resumed business.
In a separate statement, Shah said the government has proposed to reorganize Jammu and Kashmir carving out two separate Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.
He said this had been done in view of constant threats of cross border terrorism.
“There has been a long pending demand of the people to give it the status of a Union Territory to enable them to realize their aspirations,” the statement said.
“Further, keeping in view the prevailing internal security situation, fuelled by cross-border terrorism in the existing state of Jammu and Kashmir, a separate Union Territory for Jammu and Kashmir is being created,” he said.
Shah’s announcement came after days of escalating tension in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly the Kashmir Valley, where panicky residents have been buying up essential goods amid a security build-up.
Also in the Rajya Sabha, Shah — whose BJP had made scrapping Article 370 an election pledge — denied that it was 370 which linked Jammu and Kashmir with India.
“Opposition leaders are saying that Article 370 brought Jammu and Kashmir to India. But the fact is that the Maharaja Hari Singh signed on October 27, 1947 (the Instrument of Accession) while Article 370 came into existence in 1949.
“So this is wrong to say that Article 370 brought Jammu and Kashmir with India,” the Minister told the Rajya Sabha in response to Congress leader and former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad who condemned the decision to axe Article 370.
Leader of Opposition Azad said: “By revoking Article 370 that accords special status to Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP government has murdered the Constitution of India.”
He underlined that it was the historic Article 370 which linked Jammu and Kashmir to India.
Shah said Article 370 was used as “vote bank politics” and those earlier governments lacked the political will to revoke it.
“But the Modi government has the political will and we are not bothered about vote bank politics.”
He asked the opposition members to have a debate on the resolution and said there should not be a delay “even one second” in revoking Article 370.
In Parliament, two members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Nazeer Ahmed Laway and Mir Mohammad Fayaz, were told to leave the House after they tore up copies of the Constitution.
But besides the treasury benches, the BJP won the support of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and YSR Congress supported the government move.
On Sunday night, the Jammu and Kashmir government-imposed restrictions under Section 144 of the CrPC in Srinagar district and placed the top leadership of the state, including former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, under house arrest.
Internet services were shut down in several parts of the Valley and educational institutions were ordered closed. Earlier, tourists were asked to leave Jammu and Kashmir while the Amarnath Yatra was curtailed.
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah called the decision “a betrayal of people’s trust” and amounted to “aggression”.
PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti dubbed the decision to scrap Article 370 as “the darkest day in Indian democracy”.
“Decision of J&K leadership to reject 2 nation theory in 1947 & align with India has backfired. Unilateral decision of GOI to scrap Article 370 is illegal & unconstitutional which will make India an occupational force in J&K,” she tweeted.
“It will have catastrophic consequences for the subcontinent.”
The government said removing Article 370 was necessary as it had led to terrorism and came in the way of hampering corruption in Jammu and Kashmir.
The government slammed the Kashmiri political parties represented by former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti for constantly speaking against abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.
In a detailed booklet explaining the rationale behind the revocation of Article 370 and provision of 35A, the government said that anti-corruption provisions like Right to Information and Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) were not application in Jammu and Kashmir because of this article.
The Article was the elephant in the room, the government said.
The government said the state will prosper after axing Article 370, the social amalgamation will reduce the threat to militancy, Kashmir will become one of the top tourist destinations and it will also prove to be good diplomacy to deal with Pakistan over territorial disputes.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is expected to visit Jammu and Kashmir to take stock of the security situation even as all the three services are on high alert to deal with any fallout of the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories and withdrawal of special status to the state.
In the run-up to the decision to reorganize the state, Doval had reviewed the situation and additional troops were sent to the Kashmir Valley following his meetings with state administration officials. After Doval, Union Home Minister Amit Shah is also likely to tour the area after the end of Parliament session.
Informed sources said the Army, Air Force and Navy were in a high state of alert.
Though firmly of the opinion that it was India’s internal matter, New Delhi is closely watching reactions from Pakistan and the responses of the Pakistan Army on the Line of Control (LoC) and other areas.
The LoC witnessed heavy shelling in the past few days and the Indian Army also foiled a Border Action Team (BAT) raid on its posts, killing at least five Pakistan Army commandos.
The forces were expecting some retaliation and officials said they were prepared to meet any eventuality.
There were no reports about the situation on the ground in the Kashmir Valley as communication lines were down.
Some legal experts said the move will give more room to the Centre to control the Valley.
Describing how Union Territories with an Assembly function, the experts said two Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir will get the benefit of a partial state such as Delhi and operate somewhat differently from Ladakh, a proposed Union Territory without legislature.
Union territories are federal territories governed directly by the Union government through its representatives.
Welcoming the decision, senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi said now the Centre can govern the Valley directly through Lieutenant Governor as the administrator.
“The Centre will have stronger control over Kashmir valley now. Parliament can make laws with all subject matters concerning the Valley,” said Dwivedi.
India has seven Union Territories — Delhi, Puducherry, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Chandigarh. Among these, Delhi and Puducherry have elected assemblies while the rest do not have a legislature.
Former judge SN Dhingra said that Union Territories with an elected legislative assembly and an executive council of ministers have partial state-like functions.
He said the elected Assembly will have a similar kind of functioning like Delhi and Puducherry, which have their elected members and the Chief Minister, as these have been granted powers of partial statehood, but there is a certain restriction on some issues.
“In some issues, elected representatives required to take the approval of the Lieutenant Governor,” he said.
In the case of Delhi, issues related to land, police and public order fall under the domain of the Lt. Governor, a Central representative.
In a Union Territory with an Assembly, the elected representatives have got some power to govern the land whereas Union Territory with Assembly, the Centre controls the land through its representative.
However, a Union Territory with an Assembly will require approval from the Centre in certain issues as it happens in Delhi.
Senior Advocate Dwivedi said a Union Territory without a legislature will be similar to other Union Territories including Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
These Union Territories are governed by an administrator appointed by the President under Article 239 of the Constitution. (IANS)