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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

Parliament revokes Article 370, J-K bifurcation sealed

Only the President’s signature is now required. The bill and the resolution were cleared by the Rajya Sabha on Monday.

india Updated: Aug 07, 2019 02:26 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Union Home Minister Amit Shah after Parliament approved the abrogation of special status given to J&K under Article 370, in the Lok Sabha, in New Delhi, Tuesday, Aug 6, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Union Home Minister Amit Shah after Parliament approved the abrogation of special status given to J&K under Article 370, in the Lok Sabha, in New Delhi, Tuesday, Aug 6, 2019. (PTI)

The Lok Sabha on Tuesday effectively revoked Article 370, ending the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and passed a bill bifurcating it into two Union Territories — J&K and Ladakh — in decisions that seek to assert the supremacy of the Indian Constitution over the frontier state and effectively rewrite a chapter in its turbulent post-Independence history.

Article 370 was nullified through a resolution with 351 members voting in support and 72 against, with one abstaining, after a debate that exposed deep divisions within the Opposition, including the Congress. The bill to create two UTs, redrawing the map of the state, was passed by the House with 370 votes in favour and 70 against.

Only the President’s signature is now required. The bill and the resolution were cleared by the Rajya Sabha on Monday.

Parliament adjourned sine die (indefinitely) after the passage, ending an extended budget session that speaker Om Birla said was the most productive since 1952, with 37 sittings spread over 280 hours during which 36 bills were passed.

In the course of Tuesday’s debate, home minister Amit Shah, who piloted the moves, ruled out a dialogue with Kashmiri separatists. Parliamentary passage for the effective removal of the Article means the Narendra Modi government has succeeded in implementing a pivotal electoral promise within less than three months of returning to power.

Approval by Lok Sabha, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has a commanding majority with 353 of the 543 seats, was a foregone conclusion.The resolution and bill sailed through the House in the face of a divided Opposition that had been caught by surprise on Monday. Many opposition MPs crossed established party lines and backed the move.

Homer minister Amit Shah asserted during the debate that all of Jammu and Kashmir, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin, were an “inseparable part of India” and that “we will die for Kashmir”.

Shah described Article 370 as a provision that had created a barrier between Kashmir and the rest of the country. “This is why everyone keeps on repeating that Kashmir is an integral part of India… Why don’t we say that for Tamil Nadu or Uttar Pradesh.... Because Article 370 created suspicions,” said Shah.

Shah said the only purpose that Article 370 served was to keep out of J&K 106 laws enacted by Parliament for the benefit of people -- laws such as the one that empowers agencies to investigate corruption, guarantee the right to education to children, the one that bans the marriage of children or requires the government to take steps for the protection of the disabled.

Turning to the people of Kashmir, the home minister asserted the government had firmly shut the doors on the possibility of talks with the separatist Hurriyat Conference. “But people of the valley are our own. We will embrace them and keep them with love. If they have any doubts about this, we are ready to discuss with them,” Shah said.

Shah also said the government was open to revisiting the Union Territory status for Jammu and Kashmir and restore statehood once normalcy returns. To a demand by an Opposition member to spell out a timeline, the home minister reminded the House that former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had promised that Article 370 was only being added as a temporary measure. It has taken 70 years to remove the provision, Shah said, adding that the NDA surely did not have that kind of timeline in mind.

During the debate, Congress’s Lok Sabha leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary kicked up a controversy by seeking to know from the government whether the J&K issue was an internal or a bilateral matter, saying the United Nations was monitoring the situation there since 1948. The remark drew sharp reactions from the treasury benches, with Shah asking whether this was the official stand of the Congress.

The Congress also fielded its senior leaders P Chidambaram and Ghulam Nabi Azad in the debate. Chidambaram called it a “black day” in the constitutional history of India, and Azad said the BJP was revoking Article 370 for votes and was playing with the unity and integrity of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Congress’s Manish Tewari also spoke on the subject. When Shah countered Tewari by asking him to clarify his party’s stand on the issue and make it clear whether it supported the abrogation of Article 370, Tewari replied: “Angreezi ki ek kitaab hai... har cheez kaali ya safed nahi hoti. [There is a book in English... everything is not black or white]. There are 50 shades of grey in between.”

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to criticise the move. “National integration isn’t furthered by unilaterally tearing apart J&K, imprisoning elected representatives and violating our Constitution. This nation is made by its people, not plots of land. This abuse of executive power has grave implications for our national security,” Gandhi tweeted.

Yet, a number of Congress leaders expressed support for the bill, including Janardan Dwivedi, Deepender Hooda and Jyotiraditya Scindia, who questioning the procedure of its passage.

Later, the Congress Working Committee, the party’s top-most decision-making body, issued a strongly worded statement saying it “deplored the unilateral, brazen and totally undemocratic manner in which Article 370 of the Constitution was abrogated”.

“What the BJP government accomplished yesterday in the Rajya Sabha and today in the Lok Sabha has grave implications going well beyond J&K and calls into question the very idea of India being a Union of States,” the statement said, also adding that the Congress “firmly asserted that all issues pertaining to J&K are internal matters of India”.

In a statement, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee made it clear that the party could not support or vote for the bill moved by the NDA government that was being pushed through Parliament without taking the principal stakeholders into confidence.

But Sukhendu Sekhar Ray, a senior lawmaker from Mamata Banerjee’s party Trinamool Congress, appeared to join the growing list of opposition leaders who backed the NDA government’s move to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status, going against their party’s stand.

“Decades old Comedy of Errors are being rectified now,” Ray, who is also the Trinamool Congress’s chief whip, tweeted after the Rajya Sabha had on Monday passed the bill and resolution. When Hindustan Times reached out to Ray, the senior Trinamool Congress MP declined to clarify on his tweet vis-à-vis the party line. “I have tweeted what I have. My tweet doesn’t need any clarification. You may interpret as you wish,” he said.

(Agencies contributed to this story)