Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly appealed to his ministers on Monday not to exult and see the constitutional changes in J&K only as correcting a “blunder” from history. He cautioned his colleagues that the “heavy lifting” would begin now as problems were expected to arise.
The PM was evidently more farsighted than his dyed-in-the-wool RSS colleagues whose triumphalism emerges from the communal belief that a Muslim-majority state can’t enjoy special status in Hindu India.
The anticipated problems are already cropping up. Pakistan and China are showing their hand. The United States, other Western powers and the UN too can be sucked into the debate. The constitutional changes brought on August 5 are being challenged in the Supreme Court. Also, there is a strong view among experts that Article 370 is a part of the “basic structure” of the Constitution and cannot be tampered with.
Besides these complex issues of a juridical or historical nature, or having a bearing on international relations, it is evident that at the popular level, much turns on the description of Article 370 being a part of Chapter XXI of the Constitution, which deals with “temporary” or transitional questions. It appears many in the Congress at the leadership level have also accepted that special provisions should go as they were envisaged to be “temporary”, and this would lead to national integration.
This is erroneous in the extreme. The integration of J&K with India in October 1947 (after Independence) happened in unique circumstances, and the need for Article 370 is best appreciated in the words of Gopalswami Ayyangar, the former diwan or PM of Maharaja Hari Singh, and minister without portfolio in the first Nehru government, in the Constituent Assembly debate on the compelling need for the provision. In particular, he was answering the doubts of Maulana Hasrat Mohani (aka “Red Maulana”).
Ayyangar had fundamentally argued that parts of the state were in the hands of “enemies”, despite the ceasefire, and it was not business as usual. “Temporary”, thus underscores that no firm date could be placed on when a historical period would end. To take another example, according to Article 334 of the Constitution, the SC/ST reservations should have ended in 1960, but has carried on being extended every 10 years. Which member of the BJP, Congress, or any other party can challenge this? Except for denial of property rights for outsiders in J&K (as is the case in many other states too), and the inability of the Centre to impose internal emergency without the consent of the J&K Assembly, all laws of Parliament can be applied to J&K if the Centre so desires. It is false and erroneous to think otherwise. By making J&K a Union territory, the Centre has gained absolutely nothing. It could already do as it pleased. What has been lost is the trust of Kashmir.