The Story of Article 370

The Story of Article 370

Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir

The decision to abrogate Article 370 was a significant move by the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in its second term. Article 370, which had provided special status to the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir, was effectively abrogated on August 5, 2019, through a presidential order. This abrogation significantly shifted the country’s policy towards Jammu and Kashmir. It fulfilled a long-standing promise in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) political manifesto.

Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was intended as a temporary provision until the State’s constituent assembly was formed and could decide on the State’s constitution and define its relationship with India. The Article granted special autonomy to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, allowing it to have its constitution, a separate flag, and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defense, and communications.

Maharaja Hari Singh Was Not Involved

The ruler of Jammu and Kashmir at the time of India’s independence was Maharaja Hari Singh. However, the creation of Article 370 was largely influenced by political negotiations between Indian leaders and Kashmiri political leaders, primarily Sheikh Abdullah, rather than the Maharaja himself. The Maharaja’s primary role was in the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India, which then set the stage for the negotiations around the State’s autonomy and the creation of Article 370.

In the backdrop of the partition of British India in 1947, Hari Singh originally desired to maintain Jammu and Kashmir as independent entity. However, following an invasion by tribal militias from Pakistan, the Maharaja sought military assistance from India. The then Governor-General of India, Lord Mountbatten, suggested that the Indian government could only justify military intervention to the international community if Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India. Thus, on October 26, 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession, ceding control over defense, foreign affairs, and communications to India while retaining considerable autonomy over all other matters.

The Instrument of Accession, however, was provisional, pending the consent of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

So, while Maharaja Hari Singh played a crucial role in Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India, which formed the backdrop to the creation of Article 370, his direct role in formulating and implementing Article 370 was minimal.

Nehru’s Role

Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah, who had a close personal and political relationship, held the shared belief that the people’s will was paramount in deciding the final status of Jammu and Kashmir. It was against this backdrop that Article 370 was conceived.

Sheikh Abdullah, as the popular leader of Jammu and Kashmir, sought to secure the rights and interests of its people. He wanted to preserve the region’s unique identity and ensure its political autonomy was respected. As a result, Abdullah advocated for a special constitutional status for Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Union.

Nehru, on the other hand, was balancing the need to respect the unique circumstances of Jammu and Kashmir while also integrating it into the Indian Union. He was engaged in democratic principles and believed in granting autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir. In more recent times, Nehru’s support for creating the special status is widely seen as a blunder. Article 370 was a result of this balancing act.

The Article was drafted by Gopalaswami Ayyangar, a minister without portfolio in Nehru’s cabinet who was also a former Diwan to Maharaja Hari Singh. It was done in consultation with Sheikh Abdullah. Nehru presented it in the Indian Constituent Assembly on Ayyangar’s behalf and defended it against critics who felt it gave too much autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir. However, the constituent assembly dissolved itself without recommending any change to Article 370, which led to its de facto permanence until it was effectively nullified in August 2019 by Narendra Modi’s government.

Sardar Patel Opposed Article 370

As the Home Minister and Minister of States in the first Indian government after independence, Sardar Patel was responsible for integrating more than 560 princely states into India. He was instrumental in convincing the rulers of these states to accede to India through diplomatic negotiations and, in some cases, strong-arm tactics. His approach towards Jammu and Kashmir was the same initially, and he favored fully integrating it into India without any special status.

There are well-documented differences of opinion between Patel and Nehru on various issues, including the handling of Jammu and Kashmir. Patel is reported to have been unhappy about the special treatment given to Jammu and Kashmir and was more in favor of a uniform approach to all states. However, Jammu and Kashmir were handled directly by Nehru and his confidante, Sheikh Abdullah. It was Nehru who spearheaded the incorporation of Article 370 in the Indian Constitution.

In a letter written to Nehru on November 7, 1950, just a few weeks before his death, Patel expressed his concerns about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the role of Sheikh Abdullah. However, by that time, the broad contours of Article 370 had already been agreed upon.

Further Fallouts

The relationship between Nehru and Abdullah soured over time due to disagreements over the extent of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy. In 1953, Abdullah was dismissed as Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and arrested on conspiracy charges against the State. Subsequent governments in India and Jammu and Kashmir eroded the provisions of Article 370, leading to increasing central control over the region’s affairs. This erosion often occurred without the consent of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, contrary to the original intent of the Article. It was finally repealed by the Indian government in 2019.

While Article 370 was being drafted and debated, Maharaja Hari Singh grappled with external threats from Pakistan and internal political pressures. In 1949, he was persuaded to leave Jammu and Kashmir and hand over the reins of power to his son, Yuvraj (Crown Prince) Karan Singh, who was made the regent. Meanwhile, Sheikh Abdullah and his party, the National Conference, became the primary political force in Jammu and Kashmir.

From one viewpoint, some argue that Article 370 was a necessary and pragmatic move at the time of India’s independence and the partition of British India. Jammu and Kashmir’s situation was unique due to its diverse population, geographic location, and the circumstances of its accession to India. Article 370 was seen as a way to respect and preserve the State’s distinctive cultural and social identity and to facilitate its integration into the Indian Union. It was also a means of securing the State’s accession to India despite competing claims from Pakistan.

From another viewpoint, critics of Article 370 argue that it was a mistake. They believe it hindered the full integration of Jammu and Kashmir into India and fostered a sense of separateness that contributed to regional instability. Critics also argue that the special status allowed for the creation of discriminatory laws, preventing the full application of certain central laws and policies in the State. They believe the Article provided fuel for separatist movements and was exploited by external forces to destabilize the region.

Pakistan Took Advantage of Article 370

Pakistan has long championed the cause of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Article 370, providing a degree of autonomy to the region, was seen by some as a vindication of this narrative. The Article’s abrogation allowed Pakistan to emphasize this point in international forums further, arguing that India was suppressing the region’s right to self-determination.

From a critical perspective, it has been argued that Article 370 unintentionally fueled separatism and was exploited by Pakistan to promote its agenda in Kashmir. Creating a constitutional distinction between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India may have inadvertently encouraged the notion of a separate identity, which Pakistan could exploit in its efforts to claim PoK and stoke separatist sentiments.

The special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 served as a basis for Pakistan to internationalize the Kashmir issue, especially given its claims over the region. Pakistan often raised the issue in international forums like the United Nations to exert diplomatic pressure on India. It is well known that Pakistan has leveraged the sense of separateness fostered by Article 370 to instigate separatist sentiments and fuel insurgency in the region. The special status of Jammu and Kashmir was seen as creating psychological and emotional distance from the rest of India, which could be exploited for destabilizing purposes.

How Modi Handled It

The abrogation of Article 370 was a controversial and bold move that required significant political will. Modi, having returned to power in 2019 with a substantial majority, demonstrated this political will by pushing forward with the decision.

Modi’s government argued that Article 370 fostered separatism and was a barrier to the complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India. By abrogating this Article, the government intended to bring Jammu and Kashmir under the same legal and constitutional framework as the rest of the country. Before the abrogation, many central laws did not apply in the region due to its special status.

The government claimed that the special status of Jammu and Kashmir hindered its economic development. It was argued that the abrogation would open the region to more business opportunities, investments, and economic growth.

Certain aspects of the local laws in Jammu and Kashmir were considered discriminatory. For instance, there were limitations on the rights of women who married non-permanent residents and the rights of the Valmiki community. The abrogation of Article 370 was expected to rectify such issues.

The division of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh – was seen as a step towards better administrative control and governance.

Following the move, Prime Minister Modi addressed the nation on the decision to repeal Article 370, explaining the government’s reasoning and the anticipated benefits. He emphasized that the move was aimed at ensuring development, eliminating terrorism, and providing better governance in Jammu and Kashmir.

The abrogation of Article 370 by the Indian government in 2019 has opened a new chapter in the history of Jammu and Kashmir. The long-term effects of this decision and how it will shape the perceptions about the original creation of Article 370 remain to be seen.