Abrogation of Article 370: An obituary to Indian democracy

[ V Vanlalhriatrenga ]
The Indian constitution had safeguarded the special status of Jammu & Kashmir through Articles 370 and 35 (A). Jammu & Kashmir had the special status to keep its own individual constitution, a state flag and internal autonomy to look after its state administration. The Indian government snatched away the statehood, the special status and the autonomy by abrogating Article 370 on 5 August, 2019.
Article 35 (A) had been introduced after the adoption of Article 370 in the constitution, which specifically dealt with the rights and privileges of the permanent residents of Jammu & Kashmir. It allowed the assembly to define the “permanent residents” of the state, and the assembly could also alter the definition of a permanent resident by a two-thirds majority. According to Article 35 (A), the non-permanent residents of Jammu & Kashmir could not own property within the state. They also did not have the right to vote in the state legislative elections and could not apply for government jobs.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made many controversial but seemingly calibrated decisions during his five years in power. One such decision is the prominently talked about and mainly considered cause of the Indian economy’s decline, ie, the demonetization of many of the rupee notes to combat laundering of black money. The abrogation of Article 370 appeared like a decision that he would lean to, taking into account that it was an issue that resonated within and had history even throughout the rank and file of the BJP.
The main motivation that led to Article 370 being lifted has also been alleged to be the fight for freedom in the state that has suffered decades of violence and to integrate its people with the rest of the nation for the chance of better development of the state. With the credibility of the Jammu & Kashmir government already at rock-bottom and the separatist leadership exposed as just a puppet of Pakistan, it was no surprise that the decision was made, from a defence standpoint.
Following the announcement of the abrogation of Article 370 that had allowed Jammu & Kashmir to function independently for almost 70 years, citizens across the nation were struck with fear and confusion. Many people have shown their stance on the whole situation as those who were against the conclusion have filed petitions for the reversal of the government’s decision. The Supreme Court even constituted a five-judge constitution bench, headed by Justice NV Ramana, on 28 September, 2019, to conduct a hearing on these petitions.
The decision has not only affected the people of Jammu & Kashmir but also the northeastern states of Mizoram, Arunachal and Nagaland, which have been given special rights through Article 371 (G) and the inner line permit (ILP) system, using them to safeguard their land and cultural identities. Now that a special status given and maintained for over 60 years has been revoked, it has opened a chance for the special status and the ILP of the three NE states to be disabled, which has caused many of its people unease. However, BJP national president Amit Shah has made a declaration that the ILP system safeguarding the Northeast states would not be altered. Whether this announcement can be trusted or not has continued to be a matter of discussion among the citizens of these states as many resolutions made by even the government can be altered in the future because of many factors.
The civil society of Mizoram has specifically been weary of the BJP and its plans as Modi’s ‘one nation, one constitution’ stand could easily turn into ‘one nation, one religion’, which would mean disaster for the majorly Christian state of Mizoram. The BJP has also often been accused of allegedly trying to turn India into a Hindu nation by either winning people over or forcing the religion onto them. Although this would be a violation of the constitutional provision that India is, and should be, a secular country, Modi is known to have allegedly broken the code of conduct of the Election Commission of India during the 2014 election and escaped unscathed; so it is for the people to judge the matter for themselves.
The abrogation of Article 370 undoubtedly muzzled the secular fabric of the Indian democracy. The autonomy of the Muslim majority in Kashmir was viewed as a threat to the RSS’ dream of a Hindu Rashtra and its fascist project, and the BJP has, by absolute majority, robbed their statehood and reduced it into union territories. The preamble to the Indian constitution established India as a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, but the abrogation of Article 370 revealed itself as a cause of injury to sovereignty, secularism and democracy.
Without a doubt, the decision to nullify Articles 370 and 35 (A) is a matter of national issue, although it took place in Jammu & Kashmir. It has rightly brought into question the current state of democracy within the country. Whatever may be the reason behind the motivation declared for the choices of the government, if such a controversial step can be taken, even though it faced so much resistance, it can be seen as a sign that in the coming years, changes will only bring more of these transformations, in the same degree or more.
The Indian government, unlike the developed countries’, must make decisions in order to bring development in the nation and ensure advancement of infrastructure. The central government has had multiple rounds of peace talks, poured millions of rupees to build infrastructure, and ruled with an iron fist to manage the geopolitical problem in the Jammu & Kashmiri region. But it has failed to achieve long-lasting peace and usher in an era of sustainable development.
The union government had its own justification, claiming that abrogation of Article 370 may lead to peace. But the manner in which the decision was taken and carried out was a real blow and a threat to democracy. The Indian constitution plays a vital role in safeguarding democracy, and abrogation of Article 370 proved that even the Indian constitution is not safe and if anyone has absolute majority in Parliament, they become more powerful than the Indian constitution. This precedence is very daunting and a warning to democracy. This shows that the third estate, the judiciary, has also been shaken and is no longer safe anymore.
India has been known for its federalism, but moves like this are shaking the foundations of federalism as they did not care about the opinions and views of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. Democracy functions through the elected representatives of the people in the legislative assemblies and Parliament. In this issue, the state legislative assembly was not given a chance to decide or discuss the abrogation of Article 370. Here, the first estate of democracy, ie, legislative, is also bulldozed and it is a symptom of deterioration of democracy.
In addition, the communication lifeline of Jammu & Kashmir was totally cut off and the borders were totally sealed with deployment of more defence forces. The fundamental rights of the people of Jammu & Kashmir was curtailed, which was unwarranted and a clear violation of their basic human rights. The union government took its decision without taking account of the people and the people’s representatives. Again, the people are imprisoned in their own homes.
The people of Jammu & Kashmir are in complete isolation from the country and the rest of the world. The media, which are considered the fourth estate of democracy, are also smashed in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370. The media in Jammu & Kashmir are not allowed to do their job. Their freedom of press has been suspended and the journalists could not move around to collect news or to report news. The media from the mainland are also echoing the union government’s stand and have become a propaganda tool of the government. Even this is a complete threat to democracy.
Democracy is for the people, by the people, and of the people. People’s participation and free and fair media are basic necessities in a democracy. The opposition leaders are either house-arrested or imprisoned separately. The state machinery functioned by over-deployment of security forces and thereby suppressed the people through pellets and bullets. The abrogation of Article 370 exhibits authoritarianism, a dictatorial union government, and suppression of people and opposition parties through the absolute power of defence forces. This is not the path of democracy and it shows the trail which leads to fascism. The abrogation of Article 370 is an obituary to the Indian democracy.
Time will tell if the move of the government will bring about peace and prosperity to the people of Jammu & Kashmir and enhance their ability to utilize their rights as citizens of a democratic country. The abrupt manner in which the government chose to remove Article 370 also threw up a few questions, including if the decision could have been implemented in a better way or if perhaps the government could have approached it after attaining consensus for the removal of the article. The opinions, especially of those living in the state, could have perhaps have been secured through a rational and educative campaign about the benefits over a period of time, and a stepwise approach taken, instead of rushing through it.
With all that said, such a massive effect on the people throughout the country should make it clear, even to the most common-minded of people, that this is a matter of historical change and should be treated delicately, so that the opinions they speak out or post on the internet do not offend the people already badly affected and cause further upheaval of emotion than it already has. (Vanlalhriatrenga, a first-semester mass communication student at the MJMC, Mizoram University, is one of the first three finalists of The Arunachal Times Media Scholarship, in the PG category.)