BJP and Article 370

A senior BJP leader announced in Jammu last week that the party was serious about the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. This was followed by another statement yesterday that the BJP had never sought the Article to be abrogated.  While the common Kashmiri, as usual, remained indifferent, the pro-India camp responded sharply, saying that the abrogation of the Article was not possible. The statement (about abrogation) has been perceived as a violation of the NDA’s common minimum programme (CMP) formulated in 1996 under Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and published on June 5, 1996, which, inter alia, says that ‘respecting Article 370 of the Constitution, as well as 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.”

When campaigning for power, Narendra Modi reiterated the promise during his Lalkar Rally in Jammu early this year.  Legal and political experts believe that Article 370 cannot be abrogated, and former Indian Law minister and BJP leader Ram Jethmalani has made it clear on several occasions. Talking to media persons in New Delhi in 2010, he 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.”  According to him, only a government that adopts entirely a different constitution and asks judges to follow it at gun-point could remove or amend the Article. Jethmalani said the demand for abrogating Article 370 was made when the BJP was in the opposition, and in his opinion, it was a mistake. This (doing away with the Article) is not within the purview of the Parliament, he has maintained, as have other legal experts keenly watching developments in Kashmir.

Pertinently, an agreement between the leadership and government of India had urged both parties to give up extreme positions.  While the BJP had agreed not to seek theabrogation of Article 370, the Hurriyat was said to have agreed not to seek secession. But promises and agreements aimed at preserving the Article notwithstanding, its dilution had started during the Sher-e-Kashmir’s regime, and successive state governments continued the process. The Article is temporary, but cannot be repealed on the whim of a right-wing politician. Its repeal has to follow the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. This is the reality of Article 370. But does the BJP know?