The Rajya Sabha on Monday approved a resolution scrapping provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), and passed another Bill approving the bifurcation of the state into two Union territories, amid protests by the Opposition.
The two Union territories will be Ladakh and J&K. Ladakh will not have a legislature. J&K’s status will be akin to Delhi and Puducherry.
Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the Bill a little after 11 am.
Replying to the debate in the Upper House, Shah said he was aware the “NGO (non-government organisation) brigade” would move the Supreme Court to challenge the Bill, but he was confident it would pass legal muster.
To demands that J&K remain a full-fledged state, Shah said it was unlikely in the short term, given that protests would meet the development. But the Centre could think about it afterwards if conditions improved in the Valley. He rejected apprehensions that Kashmir could turn into Kosovo.
The Lok Sabha will take up the resolution and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill on Tuesday. Since the government has a comfortable majority in the House, these are unlikely to face any hurdles.
In the Rajya Sabha, the Bill to reorganise the state into Union territories was passed with 125 votes in favour and 61 against. Other Bills and resolutions were passed by voice vote.
A long road
Abrogating Article 370 has been part of the core agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 1951. Its earlier avatar, Jana Sangh, led by Syama Prasad Mookerji, had first protested against “Ek desh mein do vidhan, do nishan” — alluding to J&K getting a separate flag and Constitution.
Shah said on Monday J&K was now unshackled from Article 370 and could expect a wave of development. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was present in the House during Shah’s speech, congratulated him after the resolution and Bills were passed.
The Rajya Sabha also passed a Bill to provide 10 per cent quota in jobs and education in J&K to economically weaker sections (EWS) by voice vote, and also the resolution to scrap provisions of Article 370.
The Lok Sabha has already passed the Bill related to EWS.
Several Opposition parties — the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Aam Aadmi Party, the YSR Congress, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, the Telugu Desam Party and the Biju Janata Dal — supported the Bill, along with the BJP and its allies, including the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
But, there was considerable opposition to the Bills as well.
Congress leader P Chidambaram termed the government’s move a constitutional monstrosity and said if J&K could be “dismembered”, so could the other states.
The Janata Dal (United), an ally of the BJP, opposed the Bill and staged a walkout.The Trinamool Congress walked out at the time of voting on the Bill, accusing the Treasury benches of “murdering” democracy by flouting the rules of the Rajya Sabha.
The Congress, the Left parties, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party, the Muslim League, the Kerala Congress and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam voted against the Bill. The Nationalist Congress Party abstained.
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Arrests in Kashmir
Former J&K chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, who were under house arrest since Sunday night, have been arrested, officials said.
Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference leaders Sajjad Lone and Imran Ansari have also been arrested, they added.
All in a day
Earlier in the day, the Union Cabinet had met to approve the resolution and the reorganisation Bills amid secrecy.
Only Shah and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi were allowed to walk out of the meeting to be in the Rajya Sabha, while other ministers kept sitting until Shah introduced the Bills.
Much of the Opposition was also clueless about the government’s plans, and became aware of it once Shah announced the resolution. The Bill, and the revised list of the day’s business, was circulated among Rajya Sabha members, at 11.18 am.
When the Opposition protested that they were not given enough time to study the Bill and move amendments, Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu said the rules allowed him to use his discretion and that they are being given a couple of hours to submit the amendments.
Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad led the Congress members and those of the Trinamool, the DMK, the Left parties and the RJD to sit in the Well of the House to protest. The Samajwadi Party, which suffered further jolts in two of its MPs quitting their respective Rajya Sabha memberships, did not join the Opposition in the Well.
The Congress was embarrassed when its chief whip Bhubaneshwar Kalita quit his membership of the House. Kalita later said he did not wish to issue a whip on the Bill, and his party was failing to read the public support for the government’s move.
During the day, senior external affairs ministry officials briefed envoys of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council about its decision to modify the provisions of Article 370.
Drama in the House
As the House started the debate on the Bill, two Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members were physically removed after they tore a copy of the Constitution to protest.
PDP members Mir Fayaz and Nazir Ahmed Laway shouted slogans against the Modi government and tore posters that they were carrying. Fayaz first tore his kurta, and later, along with his party colleague, took a copy of the Constitution from the table officers and started to tear its pages.
Naidu said he was naming the two members — a kind of a reprimand, which requires members to withdraw from the proceedings of the House for the entire day.
Before marshals could reach the two, BJP leader Vijay Goel tried to physically tackle one of them but was pushed back. Naidu told members that they are not supposed to touch or argue with the two members. “That is not your duty,” he said. The marshals then physically removed the two members.