This morning in the Rajya Sabha, the Home Minister of India, Amit Shah, introduced a Bill that takes away special status that was given to Jammu & Kashmir at the time it joined India after the British left. The government has taken away Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution and divided the state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) into two Union Territories: Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. The leaders of the political parties in J&K have been placed under house arrest, additional troops are being moved into the region, access to phones and the internet has been restricted, and people have been asked not to gather publicly.
What is the difference between a State and a Union Territory? A Union Territory is controlled by the Centre. A State has a state government.
The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill states that the Union Territory in Ladakh will have no assembly like Chandigarh. The other Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir will have a legislature like Delhi and Puducherry.
What is Article 370? During the partition of India in 1947, Jammu and Kashmir, like other Muslim-majority areas, was expected to become a part of Pakistan. The leader of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh wanted independence so he signed a special accession deal and forged a relationship with India. India, in turn, promised to help the ruler against an invasion from Pakistan.
In 1949, a special provision called Article 370 was added to the Constitution of India granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Article 370 allows the state to have its own constitution, a separate flag and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defence and communications. This gives the people of Jammu & Kashmir different rights to the rest of India, where the same laws apply to all.
What is Article 35A? This protects and gives further special rights to the residents of J&K. It defines residents as those who lived in the region in 1954, or those who have lived there for at least 10 years consecutively. Only residents can get government jobs and get education scholarships in Jammu & Kashmir, and only residents can buy and hold land.
Why is it such a big deal that Jammu & Kashmir has been reorganized and that these Articles have been removed? Article 370 and the special status of J&K has been debated for a long time now.
The people of J&K are upset because this agreement was the condition under which J&K sided with India rather than Pakistan at the time of the Partition of the region. Others are upset because of the way in which this was done, all of a sudden, without it being discussed in Parliament. India is a democracy, and they argue that the right way to do this would have been to debate the issue fully and allow the leaders of J&K to weigh in on it. The leaders were kept completely in the dark. This way, the ruling party has decided and enacted what it thinks is best for the nation without following the process of democracy.
How could they do this? There is a provision in Article 370 that says that the President can dissolve Article 370 if the state legislature agrees. Jammu & Kashmir has been under President’s Rule for most of 2019, and their elections are still to be held. There is no legislature for the President to discuss this with and get approval from, so the President was able to decide and get this done. This is technically how the government has accomplished this.
Why has Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP government proposed this reorganization and removal of article 370?
They believe that Article 370 hasn’t allowed Jammu and Kashmir to integrate with the rest of the country. The state of J&K has seen little economic development and a lot of security breaches and terrorist incidents, the last being the Pulwama attack. The special rules for the state have meant that people from outside the state haven’t been able to buy or hold land deterring people from investing in and growing businesses there. Also because of the lack of reservation, minority groups such as the scheduled castes and women have been discriminated against.
Historically Article 370 was introduced by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, as a temporary provision during partition. This special status of Jammu and Kashmir and its relationship to the rest of India has been a long-standing debate for many years.
Today’s political move will change the lives of millions of Kashmiris. Will this political move be the answer to J&K’s problems? Or is this an example of modern-day nationalism in India? Watch this space for more.
Written by: Biyash Choksey and Sunaina Murthy
Sources: scroll.in, bbc.com, the Business Standard, The Economic Times, India Today, theprint.in