In June, when he was piloting the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which replaced an ordinance issued by the previous government, in Lok Sabha, Union home minister Amit Shah reminded the Congress and the Opposition benches that they must remember that Article 370 was purely “temporary in nature”. On Monday, after six decades of a struggle for the integration of Jammu and Kashmir that began with the Jammu Praja Parishad and Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s martyrdom in Kashmir, the issue finally reached a decisive phase with Shah presenting the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in Parliament that ended the special status for the state.
On August 7, 1952, an extensive debate took place in India’s first Lok Sabha on Kashmir. Mookerjee’s interventions on Kashmir were forceful and unassailable. It set the tone and the direction for the struggle for Kashmir, and for the fight for preserving the nation’s unity and sovereignty.
Speaking on the Kashmir issue being dragged to the United Nations, Mookerjee said: “It does not seem as though we are going to get much or anything at all out of the UNO.” He argued that even if “technically no case could be withdrawn from the UNO… Somehow, we should withdraw ourselves, so far as a consideration of the Kashmir case is concerned, from the UNO. We can tell them respectfully that we have had enough of the UNO and let us now consider and try to settle the matter through our own efforts.”
During that seminal debate, Mookerjee asked Sheikh Abdullah three questions: First, whether he was “not a party to this Constitution”; second, whether he [Abdullah] was “not a Member of the Constituent Assembly” which framed the Constitution”; and third, “Did he not agree to accept this Constitution in relation to the rest of India, including 497 States? If it is good enough for all of them, why should it not be good enough for him in Kashmir?”
If one reads the statement of objects and reasons of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019, one is reminded of Mookerjee’s words during that aforementioned debate on Kashmir when he spoke with great insight. “I would assure you and the House that I do not want Jammu and Kashmir should be partitioned… But the responsibility for preventing partition will rest on those who are today masters of Jammu and Kashmir and are not prepared to adopt the Constitution of India. What is the crime if today the people of Jammu claim that they should be treated separately, in the sense that they should be allowed to join fully with India…”, he said. “Now suppose the people of Jammu and Ladakh feel that either it should be full accession in relation to the whole of Kashmir, or if that is not acceptable to Sheikh Abdullah, then at least these two provinces, the two separate entities could be justified historically or otherwise, that they should be allowed to join with India.”
In December 2013, when Narendra Modi launched his campaign for 2014, he held a massive “Lalkar Rally” in Jammu. At that gathering, Modi called for a debate on Article 370, and said: “The need of the hour was to have a debate on Article 370; whether or not it had helped the people of the state. Despite huge natural resources, Jammu and Kashmir are nowhere in development when compared to Gujarat.”
One of the key movers of the famous Ekta Yatra in 1991, which began from Kanyakumari and ended in Kashmir with the hoisting of the tricolour in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk amid sniper fire, was Modi, and his call for a debate on Article 370 demonstrated his will to work for a settlement of the issue. This was one of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s and the Jana Sangh’s original demands, and they have been intrinsic to the prime minister’s political vision. The iconic photograph of Modi unfurling the tricolour, along with the then BJP president, Murli Manohar Joshi, at Lal Chowk, has been inspiring generations of workers and activists of the party.
When he placed the notification for The Constitution (Application to Jammu & Kashmir) Order, 2019, in Parliament on Monday, Shah made the same point, amid ruckus created by members of the parties that had monopolised the Kashmir debate in the past seven decades. Shah said: “Let us all debate, let me tell you how Article 370 has actually negatively impacted the people of the state.”
Modi is accomplishing for India what Mookerjee had set out to do.
Anirban Ganguly is director, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi
The views expressed are personalby