BJP’s Art 370 Rhetoric

The BJP has backed out of its promise of following former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s policy on Kashmir. The NDA’s common minimum programme drawn up in 1996 under Vajpayee and published on June 5 that year, says that by ‘respecting Article 370 of the Constitution, as well as the wishes of the people, the problems of Jammu and Kashmir may be resolved through giving the people of the State the maximum degree of autonomy.”

The promise was recently repeated by the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narender Modi, in Jammu during his Lalkar Rally. But in its poll manifesto released the other day, the BJP has reverted back to its old stand of abrogation. While common people in the Valley seem totally indifferent to the `serious’ issue, for obvious reasons, political quarters have ridiculed the right-wing party, saying that the Article cannot be abrogated.

This is exactly what former Indian Law Minister and BJP leader Ram Jethmalani has made clear twice. While interacting with the media in Delhi in 2010, Jethmalani said: “It is stated in the Constitution that Article 370 can neither be amended nor removed without the approval of the Constituent Assembly. Since the Constituent Assembly ceased to exist after the adoption of the Constitution, it is not possible to alter or remove the Article now.” He added that only a government that adopts an entirely different constitution and asks judges to follow it at the point of a gun could remove or amend the Article.

He said that the demand for its abrogation was made when the BJP was in the opposition and, in his opinion, was a mistake. “It is not within the purview of the Parliament,” he said. Pertinently, an agreement between the leadership and the Government of India had urged both parties to give up extremist positions. While the BJP had agreed not to seek
the abrogation of Article 370, the Hurriyat had agreed not to seek secession.

Keeping the views of the Indian legal luminary in mind, how can the BJP proceed to do away with the Article? And if it cannot be done, why does it go about fooling the Indian electorate? In any case, the Article has been diluted beyond repair over the past five decades, a process that started during the Sher-e-Kashmir’s times when the draconian Defense of India Rules was extended to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Today the Article has been rendered into a hollow shell. Syed Ali Shah Geelani has rightly said that it exists only on paper.