Under Constitution, Article 370 was to be a temporary measure; Article 35-A wasn’t even passed by Parliament.
Those arguing that the central government has mischievously interpreted Article 370, and that its move to make Jammu & Kashmir a Union Territory with a legislature, like Delhi, is fraught with danger and that any other state can now be similarly dismembered – to quote Congress leader P Chidambaram – are missing the point. For one, the much-revered Article 370 was always meant to be a temporary affair, and was part of chapter XXI of the Constitution which is titled ‘Temporary and Transitional’. Over time, though, several amendments were made to it to extend several other Indian laws to J&K. If 47 presidential orders were issued till 1994 to do this, with the concurrence of the state government and, as a result, 94 of 97 subjects in the Union List are now applicable to J&K, it is difficult to argue J&K’s special status under Article 370 has been violated now. Also, if Article 370 could be revoked only after the J&K Constituent Assembly ratified this, how was this to be done since the Assembly ceased to exist decades ago? So, is it to be argued that J&K was to decide which Indian laws would apply to it in perpetuity – Supreme Court rulings are not applicable to J&K, for instance – or that citizens from other parts of the country could never buy land there, or get government jobs etc?
As for Article 35-A that defined who a permanent resident of J&K was – and gave them special rights – keep in mind that while this was brought into the Constitution through an amendment in 1954, unlike other constitutional amendments this was never voted on; it was simply notified by then president Rajendra Prasad on the advice of then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru!
And while it is all very well to say the centre acted stealthily, given how Kashmir leaders like Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have repeatedly said that J&K will cease to be a part of India the day Article 370 is revoked, how was an all-party meeting to be called to decide on the issue? Given this and the likelihood of massive violence in the state to prevent revoking Article 370, the government had no option but to act in the manner it did, to ask the yatris and tourists to leave and to ensure 20,000 more troops were flown in before the move was made.
It is also short-sighted to divorce the action taken by the centre from J&K’s reality of widespread Pakistan-sponsored militancy/terrorism. And the centre’s action, it has to be appreciated, is also a reaction to the US wanting to pull out of Afghanistan. When this happens, it is fairly obvious, Pakistan will get a relatively freer hand for its state-sponsored terrorism in J&K; indeed, US president Donald Trump’s wholly incorrect statement about prime minister Narendra Modi asking him to mediate in J&K – this has always been the opposite of the BJP’s J&K policy – was an inadvertent admission of the free hand the US was willing to give Pakistan in return for its troops pulling out of Afghanistan; not surprisingly, Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan has repeated the demand for the US mediation several times since and, after supposedly castigating Pakistan for its role in sponsoring terrorism, the US restored aid to it and didn’t oppose the IMF’s $6bn rescue package for it.
Of course, revoking Article 370 and delivering on it are two different things. The first task is to ensure that violence in J&K is kept to the minimum in the aftermath of today’s actions. More important, since the centre has blamed Article 370 for J&K’s poor progress, it has to ensure investment – and job – flows restart now that the state is under its watch. And, as in Delhi, should a BJP-governor make it impossible for a democratically elected local government – should it be a non-BJP one when elections take place – function is a recipe for disaster. Kashmir will then truly be lost.
Since reducing a Muslim-majority state – this applies only to Kashmir and not to Jammu, but that’s the perception – to a UT is bound to be seen as Hindu chauvinism at its worst.