A move to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status under the Constitution was cleared by the Rajya Sabha on Monday, eight hours after Home Minister Amit Shah introduced a resolution to cancel the provision that had continued to be part of the Constitution for nearly seven decades. The Rajya Sabha also cleared a bill to divide the state into two union territories, one for Ladakh and the second for Jammu and Srinagar regions. Both would be administered by the central government through a Lt-Governor.
A resolution to abrogate the special status was passed by the Rajya Sabha with 125 votes in favour, and 61 against. The bill to divide J&K was passed by a voice vote. The resolution and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill will be taken up by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the nation on Wednesday.
Amit Shah, who piloted the bill through the upper house where the ruling BJP doesn’t have a clear majority, had prompted a furious response from the opposition led by Congress when he first attempted to introduce the changes earlier on Monday.
Shah brushed aside fears that there would be violence as he stood up to respond to the debate, saying “nothing of the sort will happen”. The home minister insisted that Article 370 could be blamed for much of the terrorism that had been seen in Jammu and Kashmir to underline that the existing policies, in any case, had cost more than 41,000 lives.
“Because of Article 370, democracy has never percolated, corruption was at its peak and poverty was entrenched in the area. There are people of different religions in the valley and we are not politicizing on the basis of religion. The people of J&K want democracy and if you see clearly you will know how much Article 370 has harmed J&K,” he said.
A large part of Shah’s response was centred around arguing that Article 370 of the Constitution which gives the state a special position in India’s union was responsible for much of the poverty and corruption in Jammu and Kashmir. Shah said most opposition leaders who participated in the discussion had spoken about technicalities – that it was part of India’s commitment to Kashmir when it became part of the union – but no one had spoken about its utility to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
“It has not benefited anyone…. not even the people of the Kashmir valley”, Shah asserted, counting how the centre had each year poured lakhs of crores of rupees into the state but it seemed to be a dark hole. The money did not reach people. For instance, he said, the government incurred a per capita expenditure of Rs 8,200 in the rest of the country. But in J&K, the corresponding figure was over Rs 27,000.
“But the kind of poverty you have in Kashmir Valley brings tears to one’s eyes,” said Amit Shah.
Shah’s twin proposals infuriated opposition parties such as the Congress, Trinamool Congress and the Left, who were sharply critical of the BJP-led national coalition rushing the legislation through Parliament.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s party, Janata Dal United, boycotted the debate to protest the government that it supports, bringing the legislation without consensus.
But there were opposition parties such as the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party, Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party and Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal that were supportive of the initiative during the debate.
When someone taunted the AAP that it was helping the Centre put another state under the Lt-Governor who would harass them just as the one in Delhi had troubled them, AAP lawmaker Sushil Kumar Gupta shot back that his party was ready to continue facing harassment at the hands of the Lt Governor but still support it because it was in national interest.
Amit Shah responded to criticism about the bill to divide Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories. “I want to assure them when the situation gets normal and the right time comes, we’re ready to make Jammu and Kashmir a state again. It may take a little longer, but it will become a state once again, one day,” he said.
The government imposed a security lockdown on Kashmir after deploying tens of thousands of troops in the past week, claiming there was a terror threat.