Most regional parties, which were extremely vocal on issues that impact Indian federal structure, have chosen to remain nonchalant on the abrogation of Article 370 for political reasons
Participating in the debate on the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and the bifurcation of the state in Parliament last month, former finance minister P Chidambaram was perhaps the only speaker who focused extensively on the Modi government’s decision to unilaterally alter the status of a state and its far-reaching implications for the country’s federal structure.
Describing the move as “a misadventure, a catastrophic step”, Chidambaram maintained that the dismemberment of a state would lay down a dangerous precedent as the government would henceforth be able to carve out every other state in the country in a similar manner.
The former minister went on to underline: “All that they have to do is dismiss the elected government, impose President’s rule, dissolve the elected assembly, and ensure Parliament takes the power of the state assembly. The government then moves a resolution, Parliament approves it and the state is dismembered.”
That the Modi government’s decision on the division of Jammu and Kashmir has far-reaching implications for other states can hardly be denied. And yet most regional parties, which are otherwise extremely vocal on issues which have an adverse impact on federalism, have been nonchalant on this aspect. In fact, several regional parties including the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Telugu Desam Party, Aam Admi Party, YSR Congress, and Biju Janata Dal, which are not official members of the ruling alliance welcomed the government’s decision on Article 370 but were silent on the move to bifurcate the state.
And even parties like the DMK, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party, the Trinamool Congress and the Janata Dal (U), which opposed the move referred to the bifurcation only cursorily. Instead, the arguments put forth by the representatives of these parties focused on the stealth with which the Modi government brought the Bills to Parliament without circulating them in advance which would allow MPs to scrutinise the provisions in detail.
For instance, Trinamool Congress spokesperson Derek O’Brien described the government handling as “procedural harakiri” while Tiruchi Siva of the DMK only went as far as to say that the Centre should have taken the consent of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly before going ahead with this move.
The DMK subsequently took the lead in organizing a protest rally of opposition parties in Delhi last month but here again, the leaders who participated did not attack the Modi government either on the abrogation of Article 370 or the bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. They drew attention to the arrest of political leaders in the state and demanded their immediate release and also that normalcy be restored at the earliest and the clampdown on communication is removed. The day-long event was, at best, a token protest. Opposition leaders followed this up by attempting to visit the Kashmir Valley but were turned back from the Srinagar airport by the security agencies who said they were instructed not to allow them out.
Delhi chief minister and AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal, who has been campaigning for full statehood for Delhi which is presently a Union Territory with an assembly, surprised everyone when he came out in support of the Modi government’s decision to abrogate Article 370. But Kejriwal was unfazed when confronted with the contradiction in his stand, pointing out that a peaceful state cannot be compared with a disturbed border state.
Opposition leaders privately agreed that that the decision to divide Jammu and Kashmir could impact other states but said they were hemmed in from launching a severe attack against the Modi government on its J&K policy because it enjoyed widespread public support.
That’s the reason, they said, they had confined their criticism to the faulty process adopted by the government in this case, the arrest of political leaders and the overall lockdown in the state. “We are constrained because we cannot go against public sentiment,” a DMK leader pointed out. Consequently, DMK chief M K Stalin did not go beyond describing the decision as a “murder of democracy” while charging the BJP of not respecting the sentiments of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Ironically, even the Trinamool Congress has been muted in its criticism. Though Derek O’Brien described August 5 as “Black Monday” and a dark day for the country’s constitution, his party chose to walk out during the debate in Parliament instead of voting against the Bills.
Like other opposition parties, Trinamool Congress is also hemmed in by its dipping graph in West Bengal and the BJP’s growing popularity in the state. “Did you notice the number of times Amit Shah mentioned Shyama Prasad Mukherjee in his speech,” a Trinamool Congress MP pointed out, adding, “Ultimately we have to fight elections in our state.”
Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, founder of the Jan Sangh which later became the BJP was a staunch opponent of Article 370 and had waged a consistent battle against this provision. The BJP has been projecting Mukherjee as an icon of West Bengal in its campaign against the Trinamool Congress.
Assembly elections are due in West Bengal next year and given the religious polarization fanned by the BJP in the state, a beleaguered Mamata Banerjee has little option but to do a fine balancing act.
Bharatiya Janata Party leaders pointed out that if the opposition genuinely had strong views on the latest developments in Kashmir, it should have organized mass protests on the streets. “But they cannot do so because the people are not with them,” remarked a BJP leader.