By now #redforkashmir and Google searches on Article 370 have gone viral on social media. The recent developments by the government, both in the state of J&K and at the centre have made sure of that. Opposition politicians have been placed under house arrest, more than 40,000 additional troops are being airlifted into the region and internet services in most areas have been shut down after the government's decision to scrap Article 370.
While the move has been met with both joy and apprehension in equal measure, what does scrapping the historic legislation mean for the state and future of The Valley?
The two articles under question are Article 370, which grants special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir and Article 35A, which provides special rights and provisions to the citizens of the state.
Article 370 was a provision drafted by Sheikh Abdullah, who was appointed as the then Prime Minister by Jawahar Lal Nehru and Maharaja Hari Singh. When the Indian Independence Act, 1947 divided British India into Pakistan and India, the princely states were provided with 3 options, to remain an independent country, join Dominion of India, or join Dominion of Pakistan.
While Raja Hari Singh had initially decided to take up the first option and sign separate standstill agreements with India and Pakistan, upon invasion from Pakistan he sought the help of India, which in turn sought Kashmir's accession to India. Thus in 1947, the then-Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir signed the ‘Instrument of Accession'. Consequently, in July 1949, Sheikh Abdullah and three other colleagues joined the Indian Constituent Assembly and negotiated the special status of J&K, leading to the adoption of Article 370.
Article 370 grants special autonomous status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir and is a tunnel through which the Constitution is applied in the state. The Parliament needs the state government's nods for applying laws in the state apart from financial, defence, foreign affairs and communication matters. Thus the state's residents live under a separate set of laws, including those related to citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights, as compared to other Indians. As a result of this provision, Indian citizens from other states cannot purchase land or property in Jammu & Kashmir.
Stemming from Article 370, Article 35A was introduced through a Presidential Order in 1954. The Act empowers the legislature to define a "permanent resident" of the state, and to provide special rights and privileges to those permanent residents. It gives the J&K Legislature the full power to decide provisions related to employment with the state government, acquisition of property in the state, terms of settlement and right to scholarships and other aids that the state government provides. In addition to this, it also bestows upon the state legislature the right to impose any restriction upon persons other than those who're permanent residents of the state.
With the BJP moving a motion to scrap Article 370, it has again brought to the forefront speculation about what it means for the state. Home Minister Amit Shah made the party's intentions very clear in his speech. "The BJP is for national interest, Rule of Law and Constitution all over India. "The people of the State were not getting any benefits. The politicians were promoting corruption. Article 370 was brought in with an understanding that it will eventually be removed. But no political party had the will to do it. The BJP has the will and the strength to do it," said Shah.
The argument for abrogating 370 is simple. For long it has been argued that it has led to a sentiment of separatism in the state. It is believed that once the state completely comes under the ambit of the Indian Union, the government will have more control over state matters, which it did not have before. This is considered imperative to handle the worsening internal security situation in the state, with it being constantly plagued by cross border terrorism and militancy concerns.
Also, scrapping Article 35A will allow individuals apart from the permanent residents of the state to acquire property in the state, thereby leading to a greater amount of investments and subsequently a higher generation of revenue.
So if scrapping the Article actually leads to greater accountability on part of the government, why are a lot of people opposing the change? The answer lies in the basic premise under which J&K acceded to India in 1947. Both Article 370 and 35A, even arguably temporary, were not favours that were granted to the state of J&K. They were the foundational terms based on which the state J&K agreed to accede to India. By removing those very pillars, the instrument of accession stands null and void, which essentially means that J&K is not a part of India, and rather an independent state.
There are even questions regarding as to how the Article came to be scrapped, as the practice is deemed to be unconstitutional as it did not have the consent of the J&K constituent assembly. "The scrapping of Articles 370 and 35A raise fundamental questions on the state's accession because that was done on the very terms enunciated in these articles. The decisions are unilateral, illegal and unconstitutional and will be challenged as such by the National Conference." NC leader Omar Abdullah tweeted.
It is also believed that by removing the special status granted to the state, it will allow people from outside the state to purchase property and reside in the state, thereby threatening to alter the state's demography.
While the process to scrap Article 370 has already been set in motion, it is expected the Article 35A will see the same fate. This is considered to be one of the biggest constitutional changes since Independence and only time will tell whether it was the right one.