New Delhi: There is dissent in the Congress over the Modi government’s decision to scrap Article 370 that accorded special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The party’s ‘young Turks’ have turned on the old guard believing that the party’s stance, opposing the decision, goes against the public mood in the country.
This, however, isn’t the first time that Congress politicians have publicly disavowed Article 370. Nearly five decades ago, a call to do away with the contentious provision found resonance with a few Congress MPs.
In a Lok Sabha session on 11 September 1964 when an Independent MP, Prakash Vir Shastri, introduced a bill for the removal of Article 370, it received vocal support not just from seven Congress Parliamentarians but also from a CPI one.
Vir Shastri, then the Bijnor MP, introduced the bill a few months after Sheikh Abdullah, the former Prime Minister of J&K, was released from a long detention in April 1964. By this time, Abdullah’s relationship with the Indian government had turned sour, and as the parliamentary debate of that day shows, his role in Kashmir’s politics was viewed with considerable suspicion.
Introducing the bill in Parliament, Shastri said, “Sardar Patel alone, without shedding any blood, managed to integrate around 550 princely states with India in a short time. But even after 17 years, this big government hasn’t been able to resolve the J&K problem…
“I present this bill with the expectation that today the government will exhibit its intelligence and accept this bill to remove that blemished article from our constitution.”
In the discussion that began, 11 other MPs expressed their views with almost all of them explicitly supporting the bill. The only exception was Dr Ram Manohar Lohia who, albeit an advocate of Article 370’s abrogation, digressed from the issue at hand that day and began talking about the ways through which a confederation between India and Pakistan could be formed.
Other than the seven Congress and one CPI MP among these 11 who spoke after Shastri, one came from Praja Socialist Party (PSP), one — Lohia — from Samyukta Socialist Party (SSCP) and one was an Independent. Also, while three out of these 11 MPs were representatives of J&K, none of them was a Kashmiri Muslim.
The debate ended inconclusively when the Lok Sabha was adjourned until 14 September of that year.
Also read: Congress whip in Rajya Sabha quits, his ‘letter’ calls party suicidal over J&K stance
A hindrance to development
Much like Home Minister Amit Shah recently singled out Article 370 as a hindrance behind J&K’s development, other MPs in 1964 had echoed similar sentiments.
Sham Lal Saraf, a J&K Congress MP who was born in Srinagar, was among those who supported Shastri’s bill.
“In these 17 years, our state has suffered by not having been brought at par with the rest of the states in the country. Our people have suffered. Everybody has suffered,” he said. “Let the people have the proper benefit of what flows from the Centre to the other states. As it is, the people suffer in a number of ways, for instance in getting scholarships, getting seats in colleges and universities in other places etc. Not only that. There is the non-application of the labour laws.”
Saraf also highlighted what he said was the plight of the working classes in the state then.
“In my state, there are lakhs of people working in various forests, handicrafts and factories, and all the beneficial laws that we have in the Centre, and which are applicable to the rest of the states,” he said. “I know the feelings of the workers in that state. Every time they say: why do you keep this wall of separation, let us also get the benefit as the rest at our countrymen.”
Another J&K Congress MP Gopa Dutt Mengi echoed similar views: “I am saying this with utmost sorrow in this House that because of this Article we have fallen behind other states… This is neither a matter of prestige for India nor for J&K.”
MPs from other parties too lent their support on similar grounds. Hari Vishnu Kamath, a PSP MP from Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh, said, “I take my stand, so far as this article is concerned, on the firm base that now, Jammu and Kashmir state is suffering because this article is there, because difficulties are thereby created; if this article is repealed, the state will derive the same benefits as other states are deriving from their relationship with the Indian Union.”
Insidious Abdullah, constitutional propriety
During the discussion on the bill, Sheikh Abdullah’s role in Kashmir came under heavy criticism from the MPs. For instance, Congress MP from Jammu, Inder J. Malhotra, stated, “I would very strongly plead with the home minister that now the time has come when the Central leaders and the Central Government have to change their approach and attitude towards Sheikh Abdullah. There is no doubt in this that one visit of Sheikh Abdullah to New Delhi creates a hundred and one problems especially in the Kashmir Valley.
“When you listen to Sheikh Saheb, when he challenges the very basis of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir with other parts of the country, that creates uncertainty and doubts not only in the minds of the Kashmiri Muslims but in the minds of the whole population, whether they are Hindus or Sikhs or Muslims, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir,” he added.
Also, contrary to how the present move of the Modi government is being labelled as undemocratic by none other than the Congress party, in 1964 one of the party’s MPs had termed removal of Article 370 as the constitutional thing to do.
K. Hanumanthaiya, Congress MP from Bangalore City, had then said, “The representatives of the Kashmir people here agree and fully support this proposition. I would appeal to the Home Minister to look at this problem from the democratic point of view and accept it.
“Not merely Members of Parliament from Kashmir, but irrespective of parties, from the extreme right to the extreme left of this House as it is constituted, we are all of one opinion that this Bill should be made into 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.”
The Soviet benefactor
The bill received vocal support from a CPI MP Sarjoo Pandey (Rasra, Uttar Pradesh) as well. Pandey, however, simultaneously criticised the government, and argued that the only reason Kashmir was still a part of India was because of the Soviet Union’s help.
“I want to say that if the government really wants to do something [about Kashmir], then today it has received the right proposal… If the Soviet Union had not been there, we couldn’t have saved Kashmir,” he said. “Whenever the Kashmir question has been raised in the United Nations, the Soviet Union used its veto to protect Kashmir. We need to accept this. Kashmir wasn’t saved because of you (the government).”
Also read: Congress betrayal of Kashmir like Lady Macbeth’s: Vaiko on scrapping of Article 370
Thanks, Now you are on board with Modi. But there are three families and their stooges who benefits keeping 370 are still not on board as they have self interest over nation.
Interesting historical tidbits!
It has been a patriotic, nationalistic desire pending for so long to abrogate 370. Anti Modi crowd should read.
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