Article 370 scrapped: Opposition's condemnation out of sync with public demand, feeds into BJP narrative

Pallavi Rebbapragada

Without strategy, vision is illusion. The natural progression for the romance of resistance is the realism of collective action to remedy social injustice. In India, that is not happening. The abrogation of Article 370 prompted a series of protests in the national capital, essentially by all Left parties and students of central universities: Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Ambedkar University and Jamia Milia Islamia.

These protests held on university campuses and at Jantar Mantar, attracted roughly 100 to 200 people, saw some chalk drawings on roads, some sloganeering against the terror of 'an invasion by Hindu Rashtra' and raised worries about the Indian Republic turning into a dictatorship. In the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, India's Left parties registered their worst poll performance in over six decades. The Left Front has been wiped from its bastions with the Lok Sabha poll results showing it managed just five seats across the country.

In West Bengal, the Left's erstwhile turf, it failed to secure a single seat and saw its vote share reduced to a paltry seven percent from 23 percent in 2014. And in Kerala, where it managed only one seat, its vote share was 32 percent. The Left, which prides itself as the custodian of constitutional liberties and democratic ideals, is no longer the lynchpin of discourse and it refuses to reboot its political strategies.

The Left front must accept the public mandate. As the counting of votes for 542 Lok Sabha seats ended, the final tally of the Narendra Modi-led BJP stood at 303. With the BJP riding a Modi wave that took it past its 2014 tally of 282, the Opposition was left way behind with the Congress winning only 52 seats, three less than it needs for a Leader of Opposition post in the lower House and marginally more than the 44 it got in the last general elections.

In 2014, the Opposition justified its loss by describing Narendra Modi's victory as a wave. This time, the term was 'tsunamo' and the general opinion was that the there is no alternative (TINA) factor played a decisive role in what took the shape of a presidential style election pitting  Modi against Rahul Gandhi of the Indian National Congress. People voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party in greater numbers.

The Left must introspect on the credibility of its concerns.

For instance, All India Students' Association (AISA), the student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist€"Leninist) Liberation, organised a march Friday demanding the banning of electronic voting machines (EVMs).

Questioning the credibility of the election machinery means questioning the largest electoral process in the world: 900 million voters, nearly 10 lakh polling booths, and the entire administrative setup involved in the process of conducting elections. Such unverified and unqualified questioning which condemns an entire system on mere speculation can be easily rubbished as "anti-India". Thanks to Left parties, this is the narrative the BJP to set when slogans of aazadi reportedly emanated from the JNU campus in 2016.

When it comes to preparing EVMs before polls €" that is first level checking (FLC) €" mock polls, in the presence of representatives of candidates and political parties, are mandatory. Polling officials are selected through a random three-stage process in the presence of Election Commission of India observers and representatives of all parties, including the Left.

After the 2019 landslide win, Union Minister Smriti Irani tweeted: "This election was about the people versus the Opposition. The people stood firm against the anarchists who screamed 'Bharat ke tukde honge'. It is to those citizens that I give my grateful thanks for they resolutely and unabashedly believed in 'Bharat' & her future."

In Parliament on Tuesday, Home Minister Amit Shah called the restrictions "precautionary". Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing the nation Thursday said, "We had to take certain steps as a precaution€¦ I want to assure the people of Jammu and Kashmir that their problems will slowly ease as the situation improves." Separatists, who have been waging war within India's borders for the past 70 years, could fuel violence and attack civilians and military personnel.

At such a time, a blanket condemnation of the abrogation of Article 370, will only feed such a narrative and weaken the Opposition. At the Jantar Mantar protest, Asha Sharma of the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) said the government had "imposed a lockdown". Priyamvada, a student of Delhi University, wondered how the status of a Union Territory would help Kashmir as other Union Territories (UTs) fare poorly when it comes to women's safety, education and healthcare. While Kashmir may be at par or even ahead of the rest of the country on development indicators such as life expectancy and access to basic amenities, there are obvious challenges to development of industry.

Article 370 allowed the erstwhile state to not only have its own Constitution, but also the right to frame its own laws. The fact that there were limits on owning land kept investors at bay because the only option they had until now was either leasing land or tying up with locals, both inefficient and expensive. India Inc. has wholeheartedly welcomed the move and the government is planning to host a summit for major industrial groups to unveil concrete ideas for investment in sectors such as hospitality, pharmaceuticals, agro-processing and healthcare.

Alan Bosco, another protester, said the decision to abrogate Article 370 is the government's way of diverting public attention from the economy. For the BJP, scrapping Article 370 is not a new idea. The founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh €" its parent party €" Syama Prasad Mukherjee was against special status for Jammu and Kashmir and died while on a hunger strike in Srinagar in 1953. Which gave rise to the slogan 'jahaan huye balidaan Mukherjee, woh Kashmir hamara hai'.

The BJP broke its alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party last year and imposed Governor's Rule, which is imposed for six months and with the president's consent, converts to President's Rule after this period. Last June, the eighth spell of Governor's Rule in Jammu and Kashmir began after Mehbooba Mufti resigned as chief minister.

To question the timing of the move as a mere distraction from other pressing issues seems illogicial.

Over the decades, the BJP has stuck to its anti-370 stand. It is in fact the Opposition which has failed to take a unanimous stand against the move. Take the Congress for instance. Going against the party's stand, senior Congress leaders Janardan Dwivedi, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Deepender Hooda have voiced support for the move.

The Congress is the principal Opposition party. The BJP had already earned overwhelming support for the 26 February air strikes on Balakot, On the other hand, the manifesto of the Congress featured the removal of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from contiguous areas where militants tend to seek refuge. The Congress chose to overlook the recommendations of Lt General DS Hooda who spoke of exerting diplomatic pressure on Pakistan combined with military action.

Instead, they adopted a contrarian point of view that went against the nation's mood. A party that's been in power long enough must know that the party has to align with the voters' psyche or adapt to what the voters broadly seek. In fact, two Opposition parties that ran bitter campaigns against the Modi government during the Lok Sabha elections €" the Aam Aadmi Party and the Telugu Desam Party €" supported the move.

Meanwhile, at another Delhi protest, Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association and a member of the politburo of the Communist Party of India, attacked the hypocrisy of the Aam Aadmi Party for wanting full statehood for Delhi and backing the reduction of Kashmir from a state to a UT. Unlike Left parties and the Congress, AAP understood that a rejection of this move would have reflected in the way the BJP campaigns against it in the Delhi elections. It has avoided being clubbed with the "anti-India block" and losing seats which will further weaken the Opposition. AAP has broken the black and white binary by confusing the BJP Delhi camp and donning a shade of grey.

Article 370 (1) allows the president €" with the concurrence of the government of Jammu and Kashmir to amend or modify provisions of the Constitution in relation to Jammu and Kashmir. Article 370 (3) proviso states that Article 370 itself is to be amended with the concurrence of the Constituent Assembly. C.O. 272 uses the power under 370(1) to amend a provision of the Constitution (Article 367) which in turn amends Article 370(3), and takes out the Constituent Assembly's concurrence for any further amendments to Article 370.

The subject of scrutiny and critique must be the constitutional problems with Presidential Order C.O. 272 that forms the basis of both the statutory resolution and the Reorganisation Bill. However, amidst all the noise about the supposed clamping down on human rights, nuance of this kind is missing.

To be able to deliver social change, India needs an Opposition that not only poses questions but offers alternative solutions. India needs an Opposition in which at least one leader or an idea has the appeal to attract different sections of society. And for that, India needs the Opposition to realise it is as far removed from the people's mandate as it could be.

Also See: Did Article 370 impede Jammu and Kashmir's growth? Volatile situation, geographical constraints hurt state's economy, not special status

Presidential order amending Article 367 removed possible roadblocks in path of Article 370 revocation

Jammu and Kashmir limping back to normalcy, say reports; communication centres set up for use by locals

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