Article 370: Shaping Jammu and Kashmir’s Constitutional Landscape

Rachna Vinod
What is or what was Article 370? Article 370 was incorporated into the Indian Constitution in 1949 as a temporary provision. It played a significant role in shaping the constitutional framework of Jammu and Kashmir. It provided a unique status to Jammu and Kashmir, granting it a certain degree of autonomy in governance. Under Article 370, Jammu and Kashmir had its own separate constitution, flag, and a unique set of laws and regulations that differed from those of the Indian Constitution. The state had autonomy in matters of citizenship, property ownership, and fundamental rights. It retained control over its internal affairs, while the jurisdiction of the central government was limited to defence, foreign affairs, and communications. Supporters of Article 370 viewed it as a safeguard to protect the distinct identity and rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. However, critics argued that it fostered separatism and hindered the integration of the state with the rest of India.
Over the years, various constitutional amendments and presidential orders were made to modify the application of Article 370. These changes aimed to extend certain provisions of the Indian Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir while preserving the state’s unique status. There have been debates and discussions about the implications and effectiveness of Article 370. Supporters argue that it provided a certain level of autonomy and protection to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. They believe that it granted special privileges and rights, safeguarding their distinct identity and culture. However, critics had raised concerns about the potential negative impact of Article 370, such as creating a sense of isolation and hindering the region’s development. They argue that it hindered national integration and the equitable application of laws across India.
In August 2019, the Government of India made significant changes to Article 370 by revoking its special status. As a result, the provisions of the Indian Constitution were extended to Jammu and Kashmir, and the state was reorganized into two union territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. This decision had far-reaching implications for the constitutional and political landscape of the region. It sparked mixed reactions, with some viewing it as a step towards greater integration and development, while others expressed concerns about the potential erosion of autonomy and the impact on the identity and rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Many Indians favoured the abrogation of the Article 370 as it deprived them of certain rights available to the local population. Although the Article did not explicitly state this, it imposed limitations on the power of Parliament and the President, requiring the concurrence of the State Government on certain matters. The jurisdiction of the State Legislature (State Government) encompassed provisions related to land purchases, government service entry, and the right to vote in local elections. Critics argued that the removal of Article 370 would enable them to exert a more significant influence on the local scene, as these matters would no longer be restricted by its provisions. However, they seemed to overlook the potential consequence of further alienating the people of Jammu and Kashmir from the national mainstream. The use or misuse of the Article 370 by those in power, has been a topic of heated discussions among the concerned citizens from time to time. This brings to mind Vajpayee’s visit to Pakistan when he served as our Foreign Minister. When asked about his stance on Article 370, he stated that he stood by it, despite previously opposing it while in the opposition. While his statement was truthful, it lacked coherence. The ‘370 card’ has lost its efficacy as a strategy to attract votes, especially if any party aspires to achieve new electoral success.
Article 370 was a constitutional provision in India. This article was originally designed to provide reassurance to the people of Jammu and Kashmir State, ensuring that the central government would not encroach upon their rights. Unlike other princely states that had chosen to be governed by the Constituent Assembly of India, Jammu and Kashmir State had not surrendered its right to have its own constitution for internal governance. There was nothing inherently wrong with this provision; it simply aimed to safeguard the state’s internal autonomy. As Sardar Patel stated, it served as a means to maintain the existing relationship between the state and the Union of India. Unfortunately, unrestricted authority was equated to suppress dissent with the notion of internal autonomy and that failed to prioritize establishing the people of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh as genuine partners in governance. Despite the repeated claims that the people would not be treated as passive entities, there was no hesitation in doing exactly that. Consequently, the demand both for the abrogation and retention of Article 370 lost all significance. The authorities must indeed take responsibility for undermining the concept of internal autonomy. This raised the question of whether the future of democracy was bleak in Jammu and Kashmir. However, amidst these challenges, one positive aspect is that many concerned individuals are still willing to stand their ground and wholeheartedly support those who uphold the dignity of a democratic way of life. These individuals may include activists, journalists, members of the judiciary, and other stakeholders who are committed to safeguarding democratic principles and ensuring accountability in governance.
The post-independence chronology of events which have had significant impact on the constitutional and political landscape of Jammu and Kashmir, altering its governance structure and relationship with the Indian Union, are, October 26, 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh, the then ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, signed the Instrument of Accession with India, integrating the state into the Indian Union; in 1949, Article 370 was incorporated into the Indian Constitution, granting special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir aiming to address the unique circumstances surrounding the state’s accession to India and August 5, 2019 when The Government of India abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir by revoking Article 370. This decision resulted in the reorganization of the state into two separate union territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
The abrogation of Article 370 has had far-reaching implications for the constitutional landscape of Jammu and Kashmir and the effects of this decision, both positive and negative, are still unfolding as the region undergoes political, social, and economic changes. It continues to be a topic of discussion and debate in India. It has since sparked various reactions and discussions about its legality, impact, and the future of Jammu and Kashmir. It remains a topic of interest and importance in the political and constitutional landscape of India.