Threats of mayhem and disintegration are not going to impress the people any more. The need of the hour is to debate and discuss Article 370 and not ride a feudal high horse.
New Delhi. In a seminar held at the Constitution Club in New Delhi, on June 27, on Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that supposedly confers special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the Union of India, witnessed some incisive articulation on the sensitive subject. It was the first occasion when Jugal Kishore Sharma, recently elected Member of Parliament from the Jammu constituency of J&K addressed an audience on the subject in the national capital. The second prominent speaker was Jagdeep Dhankhar, former Union Minister and senior advocate, Supreme Court of India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during an election rally at Jammu in December, 2013, sought debates and discussions on Article 370. The statement drew a stringent response from the Kashmir based political parties. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah led the charge with a vitriolic challenge to the then prime ministerial candidate of the BJP to hold an open debate on the subject.
The matter resurfaced after formation of the new government when Dr Jitendra Singh, member of parliament from Udhampur, J&K and Minister of State, Prime Minister’s Office, Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), during his first interaction with the media on taking charge of DoPT reiterated the posture taken by his party leader in Jammu and elicited an equally stringent response from various quarters.
The fact that seminars on the subject are being arranged across the country indicates universal acceptance of the proposal mooted by PM Narendra Modi.
While highlighting the manner in which even a mention let alone a discussion on Article 370 has been suppressed over many decades all speakers expressed happiness at the prospect of the subject being openly and vigorously debated. Jugal Kishore narrated how Article 370, instead of connecting J&K to India is creating barriers and is negatively impacting important parameters like health and education, and is restricting political empowerment at the level of Sarpanch and Panch. And of how, it has not been able to empower people by denying them opportunities that other citizens enjoy in our country.
Jagdeep Dhankar stressed on the temporary nature of the Article and narrated the manner in which the first Prime Minister of India, Jawahar Lal Nehru, absented himself from parliament when the legislation was passed and later attempted to put the blame on Sardar Patel, all to please his good friend – Sheikh Abdullah. Jawaharlal Nehru had gone on record to say that the Article would wither away in time which, sadly, has not happened.
The logical arguments put forth by the two main speakers leave an impression that this legislation is redundant in the present context, and is, in fact, standing in the way of overall progress, development and prosperity of the state and its people. Has caused political, social and economic damage to the people; And, that the most affected are the West Pakistan refugees who reside in the border areas of Jammu and are without identity even sixty years after independence. They can vote for parliamentary elections but not for state elections, because, they are not state subjects under a state law that gains legitimacy from Article 370.
There are many benefits that are denied to the people of J&K in-lieu of Article 370. A good example is of Other Backward Classes who get 27 percent reservation across India except the state of J&K.
In the instance of democratic practices, it is under the protection of this act that the perfectly legitimate exercise of delimitation and restructuring of political constituencies has been deferred till 2026 by the state government.
Instead of engaging in a logical debate there are leaders who predict doomsday even if the Article is mentioned. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has, on his twitter handle, remarked, “Mark my words & save this tweet- long after Modi Govt. is a distant memory J&K won’t be part of India or art 370 will still exist.” Mehbooba Mufti has called upon the Prime Minister’s Office to clarify to “Reassure the people of Jammu and Kashmir that no mischief is on the way.” These are rhetorical statements that do not pass the test of logic.
It would be premature to suggest that the debate in favour of abrogation of Article 370 stands concluded. There are legal, political and social complications that also need to be articulated. But, by not joining the debate, a section of the political leadership in the Kashmir valley is giving an impression of not being on a firm footing and thereby defensive.