On 5 August, the union home minister Amit Shah announced in the Rajya Sabha that the Bharatiya Janata Party government had effectively nullified Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which granted a special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Shah tabled two bills in the upper house that necessitated revoking the special status guaranteed to the state. In addition to the bills—the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019 and the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (2nd Amendment) Bill, 2019—Shah also brandished a presidential order, dated the same day, which extended all the provisions of the Constitution to the state, defanging Article 370. Both bills passed in the house.
Following Independence, Article 370 had formalised the terms of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to the Indian union—as stipulated in the Instrument of Accession. Among other things, Article 370 mandated that barring certain subjects—such as defence and foreign policy—the central government was required to seek the concurrence of the Jammu and Kashmir government before it could legislate in the state.
Yet, as the state has been under President’s Rule since December 2018, the centre circumvented this requirement—the presidential order allowed the governor to assent in lieu of the state legislature. Through the Reorganisation bill, the government split the state into two union territories—Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. That the centre acted in the absence of a state government and through an executive order also raised questions about the constitutional validity of its decisions.
As the country came to grips with the move, Mehak Mahajan, an editorial fellow at The Caravan, spoke with Radha Kumar, an academic and a former member of a Kashmir interlocutor panel. Between 2010 and 2011, the panel visited all 22 districts of the state, met over seven hundred delegations and held three round-table conferences. Kumar is a specialist in ethnic conflicts and peace-building measures. Outraged at the route the BJP has employed to fulfil one of the core agenda’s of its manifesto, Kumar said, “This is the total undermining of our democracy.”
Mehak Mahajan: What is your reaction to the BJP government’s decision to effectively disable Article 370?
Radha Kumar: This is a black day for Indian democracy, the way it has been done. It’s a major constitutional change and you have brought it in secrecy and stealth. You have the president passing an order which changes key elements of process and procedure as far as the Union of India’s relationship to Jammu and Kashmir is concerned. Then you have a bill [Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019] suddenly introduced in parliament, debated and voted on. This is something that should have been debated for days, not for a couple of hours. Now, we are being told that the governor can be considered a replacement of the legislative assembly of the state. How can a governor be a replacement of the legislative assembly which is elected by the people of the state? This is what the president’s order is saying. They have violated the basic [constitutional] principles and they have done it by stealth.