After 70 years of intermittent turmoil and three decades of violent militancy in Jammu & Kashmir, the Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Prime Minister Modi announced August 5, it was revoking Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which gave a special status to J&K allowing it to make its own laws and preventing non-residents from buying property there. The measure passed in the opposition-dominated Rajya Sabha and cleared the Lok Sabha Aug. 6.
What was Article 370?
Article 370 comes under Part XXI of the Indian Constitution entitled “Temporary, transitional and special provisions” The article itself is described as a “temporary provision with respect to the state od Jammu and Kashmir. It was applied to the region Oct. 17, 1949, and was meant to grant a measure of autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir, limiting the powers of the Indian Parliament to make laws on matters in the Union and Concurrent Lists and to do so only in consultation with the state assembly, unlike what is the norm in other Indian states.
So New Delhi used to need the state government of J&K to agree to apply any law, except those that related to defense, foreign affairs, finance and communications.
The step taken now on Aug. 5, 2019, ends that status, and triggered both support and criticism within the country and abroad, and threatened to split the opposition Congress Party with some members saying they were fine with the step taken by the BJP, the party which has historically demanded an end to Article 370, originally planned as a “temporary” measure.
The BJP went further to announce it was dividing the region into two Union Territories, J&K and Ladhak, a step which will increase central control over both entities. The Union Territory of J&K would have an assembly, but Ladakh will not.
The arguments made by the Modi government which was re-elected with a huge mandate this May, is that Art. 370, and 35A (which gives special rights and privileges to permanent residents), have been misused politically both inside and outside the state, were presented by India’s Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah in the Lok Sabha Aug. 6, a session attended by Modi. Shah argued that development efforts had been stymied by this misuse; that militant elements had flourished; that basic rights of women and children were not available to citizens in that area.
The measure which was passed by both Houses after being debated in the Indian Parliament, with the ruling party and the opposition trading charges over the mismanagement of the northern region where Pakistan controls a part of what India considers its own, and China has staked its jurisdiction over a sliver in the extreme north.
Expecting unrest, the BJP government moved quickly to impose Section 144 and deployed extra paramilitary forces the same day, placed some leaders in J&K under house arrest, plus cut off Internet and cable access, drawing criticism from the opposition and rights activists.
While the United States took a cautionary stand with the State Department saying it was closely monitoring developments in Kashmir and called for peace, it also stated that Article 370 was a “strictly internal matter.” Some other governments came out in support of New Delhi’s move. Pakistan, predictably, called it illegal.
The United Arab Emirates’ Ambassador Dr. Ahmad Al Banna, said, “The reorganization of states is not a unique incident in history of independent India and it was mainly aimed at reducing regional disparity and improving efficiency. It is an internal matter as stipulated by the Indian Constitution,” NDTV reported quoting him.
The Jerusalem Post in an analysis on the developments in India, noted, “Unsurprisingly, this seemingly intractable conflict seems a lot like the kinds of conflicts Israel has had with its neighbors, which are also the result of a failed partition plan that came out of British colonial rule.” But the government of Israel has so far refrained from taking a public position.
In the U.S., Modi supporters were not as constrained with their support. A number of Indian-American organizations came out in support of Modi’s measures. Kashmir Pandits, large numbers of whom were reduced to refugee status following violence back in the late 1980s, and some who moved to the United States, praised Modi for taking what they considered a bold step.
And the Overseas Friends of BJP, came out with a statement of support, as did the Hindu American Foundation.
Hailing the BJP government’s decision to scrap Article 370, the OFBJP-USA, sounded effusive and euphoric, saying it was ‘elated’ and adding that the “Indian-American community has been circulating congratulatory messages since early morning and started celebrations across the nation (US),” Calling it a ‘long-awaited’ decision, the OFBJP-USA President Krishna Reddy Anugula said, it was “the government’s best gift to the nation on the occasion of 73rd Independence Day of India.”
The Hindu American Foundation called it a move that “creates conditions for resettlement of exiled Hindu Kashmiri Pandit community.”
“As a secular pluralistic democracy, it is vital that all citizens of India enjoy the same rights and are subject to the same laws, regardless of where in the country they reside,” Samir Kalra, managing director of HAF is quoted saying in a press release, noting that Article 370 was a temporary provision and its abrogation would “help better integrate the residents of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh into the rest of India.”
The HAF urged Washington “to fully support India’s internal sovereign decisions on Kashmir and to continue to exert pressure on Pakistan to end its support of cross-border terrorism, so the Kashmir conflict can be resolved once and for all,” Kalra added.