The ‘secret’ operation behind government’s move to scrap Article 370
The government’s move to take on the Kashmir situation head-on by bifurcating the state into two Union Territories, and scrapping Articles 370 and 35-A that gave Jammu & Kashmir special status and its permanent residents special rights came as a surprise to many.
The underlying resolutions and legislations were introduced by home minister Amit Shah in the Rajya Sabha on Monday. By the evening of Tuesday, they were passed.
Behind the surprise lay a secret operation that required a lot of work to maintain its secret status.
HT has pieced together some of this through interviews with several government officials and functionaries and BJP leaders.
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For instance, it emerges that most of the work happened outside the offices of the Home Ministry and the Law Ministry in North Block and Shashtri Bhawan respectively.
Files, documents, reference material and other related papers were sent to Home Minister Amit Shah’s ground floor office in the Parliament complex, where the Gujarat politician sat till well past midnight to give the final shape to the bill to divide the state into two separate Union territories and the presidential order to render article 370 inoperative.
“Shah remained in his Parliament office well past midnight on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to work out the details of the move and make it fool-proof so as to withstand any legal scrutiny in the possible scenario if it being challenged before a court of law,” one of these people said.
The BJP organised a training session for its MPs on Saturday and Sunday, but Shah, also a first time MP, spent most of his time in his Parliament office to meet senior officials of the security establishment and legal minds of the government to discuss the issue.
A phone line remained open between the home minister and Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, throughout.
Shah’s dinner was brought to Parliament on all three days.
For weeks ahead of that, the only two people in government who knew of this were Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah; word went out to other stakeholders only on Friday evening, another person who was involved in the exercise said.
A proposal to do away with article 35-A was ready in the home ministry towards the end of the Modi government’s first term, but the government decided to bite the bullet, render Article 370 inoperative and make J&K a UT after it returned to power with a full and greater majority this year.
A decision to extend the session of parliament till August 7 was taken with the aim to get these bills passed, the second person added.
After the resolutions and legislations were ready, the government also put in place a plan to deal with the possible fallout of their introduction.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal were drafted to manage things in the House. A whip was issued. Shah’s trusted aide from Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, also a minister in the state government, was assigned the specific task of mustering support for the move. Some BJP leaders point to the decision of the chief whip of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha, Bubhaneswar Kalita, to quit on Monday as a sign of Sarma’s success.
On Monday, Social Justice Minister Thawarchand Gehlot, who is also the leader of the house in the Rajya Sabha, was asked to remain present in the house throughout. His office was used as a war room where Shah and his team of ministers, Sarma and Mehta remained present throughout the day to tackle any crisis that may emerge.
As it turned out, none did.