Despite many leaders forcefully demanding repeal of Article 370, the grand old party failed to act upon it. Thanks to the Modi-Shah duo, J&K stands integrated
It appears as if every prominent leader of the Indian National Congress (INC) is running around like a headless chicken after the momentous decision taken by the Narendra Modi Government to abrogate Article 370 and fully integrate Jammu & Kashmir into the Indian Union.
That the INC is no longer “national” or “nationalist” is now obvious going by the utter confusion at top-level decision-making but the party was not always like this. It had robust and patriotic leaders in the past and there is sufficient evidence of this in our parliamentary records. Here is a sample of what tall leaders of the party, including K Hanumanthaiah, Member of the Constituent Assembly, former Chief Minister of Mysore and later Union Minister for Railways, had to say in the Lok Sabha on September 11, 1964, on abrogation of Article 370 and of their disillusionment with the pusillanimity of the Congress:
Hanumanthaiya (Congress): “Not merely Members of Parliament from Kashmir but irrespective of parties — from the extreme right to the extreme left of this House — we are all of one opinion that this Bill (abrogating Article 370) should be made into a law. To go against it or to say anything against this unanimous opinion of this House is to disown Constitutional responsibility in a convenient manner. Article 370...stands in the way of full integration.”
Hanumanthaiya also dealt with the constant fear in the Government about world opinion. Referring to the Western nations he said, “They are not our masters. It is not they, who have to dictate...It is the responsibility of this House to direct this...”. He said he would appeal to the Government “not to be nervous about world opinion or about opinions expressed by the UK, the US, Soviet Russia or any other power.” The Government, he said, should shake off “inferiority complex” that it had inherited from the British days and stop worrying about the response of foreign powers.
He said, “Here is a case where we could show equal determination and courage and solve the problem once and for all.” He told his Government to stop being so modest and realise that India was stronger and more influential than most countries in the world...”.
Considering how Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah executed the plan to abrogate Article 370 — with quiet determination and the virtual endorsement of it by many nations, thanks to Modi’s sustained, calibrated diplomatic contacts with global leaders over the last five years — it appears as if they were following the advice given by Hanumanthaiya to his own party 55 years ago.
In fact, some parts of Hanumanthaiya’s speech sound like he was delivering them on August 5, 2019. He said, “This is the unanimous opinion of this House (to abrogate Article 370) and it is applauded by the whole country. Therefore, I want the Government to take a determined stand...”
In conclusion, he thanked Prakash Vir Shastri for bringing the private Bill for repeal of Article 370, which had won the admiration of members across the political divide.
Many other Congress stalwarts forcefully demanded repeal of Article 370 during this debate.
Bhagwat Jha Azad (Congress): The Government must fearlessly declare its policy on Kashmir. From Kashmir and across the Gangetic plains and the Narmada to Kanyakumari, people want to see full integration. No Government or party can go against the wishes of the people.
Ram Sahay Pandey (Congress): He blamed Jawaharlal Nehru for rushing to the United Nations to complain about infiltration of Pakistani troops into Kashmir after it acceded to India. He said by seeking UN’s intervention and accepting its ceasefire order, Nehru had squandered away a fine opportunity to recapture the territories, which were in illegal possession of Pakistan. Gen Thimayya, who was handling the military operations, had pleaded with the Government for just two more days to recapture these territories but Nehru’s move and the ceasefire wrecked the Indian Army’s plans.
Gopal Dutta Mengi (Congress): I support this Bill. All over India, people want Jammu & Kashmir to be fully integrated with the country. Constitute a committee of legal experts to extend the Union Government’s power to the State.
Inder J Malhotra (Congress): I...agree that Article 370 be omitted. The people of the State have no special liking for Article 370...and we shall be very happy as soon as this is omitted. I request the Home Minister that this Bill should not be opposed.
These sentiments were echoed by MPs across parties, including MV Kamath (Praja Socialist Party) and Ram Manohar Lohia (Socialist Party).
But the clincher came from DC Sharma, an Independent MP. He said, “Our Article 370 has disfigured our Constitution. This Article is nothing more than a Constitutional anachronism. I say that for the good name of India, for the Constitutional propriety of India, for the legal correctness of this country, this Article should be scrapped forthwith without any hesitation, without any doubt...this Article refers to those conditions, which no longer exist and which are not operative now. Therefore, this Constitutional impropriety, which is embedded in...370, must go.”
When we reflect over the advice Sharma gave to the Congress Government way back in 1964, which was not acted upon, the clarity of thinking in the present Government on such a tangled issue and the precision with which Prime Minister Modi and Shah have acted at this juncture, we realise the yawning gap between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on critical issues pertaining to national integrity and national security. Here is another example.
DC Sharma (Ind): Wisdom consists in settling unsettled things. The act of statesmanship is an act of boldness, firmness and decisiveness. But I do not know what has happened to my country that instead of settling unsettled things, we have unsettled settled things.
Finally, the clincher: “Article 370...is not a wall...it is a big mountain, which stands between India and Jammu & Kashmir. I feel this mountain should be blasted with dynamite, with the dynamite of goodwill, firmness and decision. That way lies the salvation of India and that way lies the good and welfare of the people of Jammu & Kashmir.”
Thanks to Modi, India no longer suffers from an “inferiority complex” that Hanumanthaiya lamented about. Also, Modi and Shah have acted with “boldness”, “firmness” and “decisiveness” — the qualities that MPs wanted the Congress Government to exhibit in 1964, “to settle unsettled things” and to blast the mountain called Article 370 “with the dynamite of goodwill, firmness and decision!”
(The writer is an author specialising in democracy studies. Views expressed are personal)