The month of August 2019 has indeed been historical as two of the most vital decisions in India’s post independence history were made in this month. The first was the abrogation of the provisions of Article 370 and of Article 35A on 5 and 6 August 2019. And the second was the announcement by the Prime Minister from the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15 August, of his governments decision to appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) for the Armed Forces of India.
Why, one may ask, were these decisions historical? The reasons are many, but let us consider just the critical ones. With respect to J&K, the State became a part of India with the signing of the Agreement of Accession on 26 October 1947 by the then Maharaja. The state acceded to India in the same manner as the other princely states and there was no demand from the local population for any special provisions for the State. Yet, when the Constituent Assembly adopted the Constitution on 26 November 1949 (The Constitution became effective on 26 January 1950), the state was given a special status in terms of Article 370 despite the opposition of both Dr Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution as also of the Constituent Assembly. It was inserted primarily in deference to the desire of India’s then Prime Minister, Mr Nehru, but was kept as a temporary Article.
Later, when Article 35A was inserted into the Constitution in 1954, it was done sur- reptitiously, without going through Parliament. This was a classical case of a fraud being committed on the Constitution, as the Article did not find mention in the written copies of the Constitution, which were subsequently published. As a result, many legal luminar- ies, even those who were judges and lawyers in India’s Apex Court, were unaware of the existence of this Article. Thus, while the political integration of the state was a reality in terms of the accession by the Maharaja of J&K, its emotional integration was stymied by the provisions of Article 35A. These provisions were discriminatory and denied basic freedoms to a section of the population and were thus not in conformity with the Constitution of India. The abrogation of this Article was thus necessary. More importantly, the abrogation was done constitutionally, being passed in both the Houses of Parliament with over two- thirds of the members voting in favour of abrogation.
The second major decision, the creation of the post of CDS, was a long standing demand of the Military. For some reasons, India’s bureaucracy had been in opposition to this demand, and so played on the imaginary fears of the political class that creating such a post would make the military all powerful and enable them to stage a coup! This was a preposterous argument and betrayed the nervousness of the babus, who had been accustomed to keeping all the levers of power under their control. The post of CDS has achieved relevance in modern conflict as the nation’s military is required to synergise its strengths and capabilities. This was first mooted more than five decades ago and was to be implemented post the 1971 war, but was scuttled. After the Kargil war, the Kargil Review Committee set up to determine why the country was surprised, once again recommended the creation of the post of CDS. Thankfully, the Prime Minister’s announcement gives hope that this much needed reform will finally come up, despite opposition from the babus. Now we await it becoming a reality.