Interview: Sitaram Yechury

Abrogation of Article 370: Tyranny of the majority, says Yechury

Print edition : August 30, 2019

Sitaram Yechury. Photo: Ranjeet Kumar

Interview with Sitaram Yechury, CPI(M) general secretary.

On August 7, five Left parties took out a joint protest to Parliament House in defence of Article 370. In an interview to Frontline, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury spoke about the manner in which the Indian Constitution was subverted and democracy and federalism were undermined. Excerpts:

Why have the Left parties opposed the abrogation of Article 370?

Apart from the fact that the abrogation has reneged on the promises made to the people of Kashmir at the time of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian Union, the manner in which the abrogation was done is in violation of the spirit of the Constitution and federalism. Article 3 of the Constitution says that any change to the boundaries of a State will require the prior approval of the State legislature. Now, by subterfuge and by saying that the State is under Central rule, the government has “presumed” that the Governor is equivalent to the legislature. In the process, it has reduced the number of States in India from 29 to 28. The government has literally trifurcated the area but kept Jammu and Kashmir together as a single administrative entity. This is a violation of the spirit of the Constitution as the will of the elected representatives was not considered.

It is important to understand the background of Article 370. The Dogra king of Jammu and Kashmir was unwilling to join the Indian Union and was thinking of an independent country. When the Pakistani raiders wanted to forcibly annex Jammu and Kashmir following Partition, Sheikh Abdullah, who was leading the people’s struggle against feudal oppression, pushed for the joining of Jammu and Kashmir with India. Apart from Left-ruled States, Jammu and Kashmir was the only other State where land reforms were implemented. Sheikh Abdullah wanted the State to join India as democracy and secularism were promised to it. It was on that basis that Article 370 was drawn up after Independence and the Instrument of Accession signed. These were solemn promises made by the Indian Union. Now, with one stroke all these assurances have gone away. It is the unilateral manner in which it was done that the Left parties oppose.

What are the implications of the abrogation? The government feels that it will address the twin issues of terrorism and development.

The reason attributed for the abrogation is that Article 370 has contributed to the growth of terrorism and unrest. But the truth is that over the years Article 370 had been eroded substantially. Now, 94 of the 97 subjects in the Central List are applicable to the State. The so-called autonomy was eroded constantly. Democracy was constantly violated, governments were toppled, defections engineered and pliant governments installed over the years. The democratic content was underminedseverely. The undermining of democracy and autonomy led to a degree of alienation. This was used to the hilt by Pakistan by supporting these elements and cumulatively, the alienation manifested itself in the “azaadi” slogans. The root cause is not Article 370 but the undermining of it and that of democracy that led to widespread alienation. The strange part is that it was recognised by the Modi 1 government when the Home Minister led the all-party delegation and the communique that was issued said that in order to strengthen the bonds with the people of Kashmir, it was needed to immediately undertake confidence-building measures and initiate a process of political dialogue with all stakeholders. This was the communique’s wording. For the first three years they did nothing. This is part of their Hindutva position, their ideological position. They see a Muslim-majority State and in the name of integrating the State with the rest of India, they wanted to abrogate Article 370. They view this as a matter of territorial integrity and not as an integration of people whose confidence has to be earned. They were in government in the State as well. They withdrew support, they dismissed the government, dissolved the House, imposed Central rule and then used it to legitimise the abolition of Article 370.

Economic development can only happen if there is normalcy and stability. It is not because of Article 370 that normalcy and stability was affected. It is the erosion of that Article, the assurances given under that Article and the erosion of autonomy that over the past three decades created the situation in the Valley. No development can take place where there is a virtual military occupation. The manner in which the abrogation was engineered first by moving 45,000 extra troops into the State, cancelling the Amarnath yatra, asking tourists to go back, arresting all political leaders in the State, imposing curfew, telling people to stock up for three to four months food and other essential requirements, all this contributed to uncertainty and panic. Therefore, the question of development does not arise.

The BJP-RSS has never been apologetic about its position on Article 370. But the manner in which it was abrogated is described as unprecedented, something that even the A.B. Vajpayee government did not attempt.

The abolition of 370 was always their objective in line with their understanding to integrate Jammu and Kashmir with India but not the people of the State. Ironically, it was Vajpayee who spoke of insaniyat, jhamooriyat and Kashmiriyat—humanism, democracy and the Kashmiri ethos. Now Kashmiriyat is completely subsumed; jhamooriyat, that is democracy, has virtually been demolished in the way federalism has been attacked, and humanism, or insaniyat, is completely absent in the way they have dealt with it.

Some of the regional parties and even a section of the otherwise vocal opposition surprisingly supported the government’s resolution.

It is unfortunate that what has been done with Jammu and Kashmir can happen in any State in India, which the BJP may find not in agreement with them. Any opposition-ruled State can be brought under Central rule and, through Parliament, can be divided and those portions declared as Union Territories. This is a move towards a unitary structure, and this is what the ideology of Hindutva seeks. The homogenisation of India as opposed to the fundamental features of our Constitution, that is, federalism. So the regional parties, some of them, have unfortunately by supporting this cut the branch on which they are sitting. The compulsions for doing so are well known. How the BJP government can pressure the States, deny Central help and assistance to them is well known. Why the regional parties voted the way they did, they alone can answer. We have seen in the recent past where all kinds of anti-democratic developments have taken place. For example, the use of the practice of horse-trading to dismiss the Karnataka government and then to use it elsewhere to form the government or to dismiss another elected government. Their methods are well known.

During this parliamentary session, the opposition charged that the government was rushing through Bills.

What happened in this session is dangerous. When I was there, the process was such that soon after elections, a short session would be held where new members took oath and then any other urgent business would be taken up. Then the session got adjourned and Parliamentary Committees were formed. After their formation in the next session, the legislative business that came before Parliament was referred to these committees for scrutiny and for eliciting the opinions of stakeholders to get inputs to fine-tune the legislation. This time, 30 Bills have been passed without a single one being properly examined or scrutinised. Some of them have dangerous implications, like the amendment to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the National Investigation Agency where individuals can be treated and declared as terrorists and where the normal rules of jurisprudence have been turned on their heads.

The normal maxim is: You are innocent until proven guilty; now with the amendments, one is guilty until one proves one’s innocence. It is up to the individual to prove that he or she is not a terrorist. Many Bills that have been legislated are a direct attack on the rights of the States, on federalism. What is happening now is the legalisation of a “security” state. See what has happened to the labour codes. Most of the labour laws precede the Constitution. They were won by big struggles of the working class where even under British rule the government had to accede to labour laws. Privatisation on the one hand, doing away with labour laws on the other, and the establishment of a security state—all in all a lethal cocktail of an attack on democratic rights and civil liberties. Any matter of this sort, Article 370 for instance, would have been preceded by consultations and discussions. No all-party meetings were called on all of these issues, which have major ramifications for democratic rights and civil liberties. No meetings were held, nor efforts made, to bring the political process together. All of this is unprecedented. In Parliament, I used to use a term “tyranny of the majority”. This is what we are seeing today.

An argument is being made that the formation of a Union Territory will automatically help deal with terrorism.

The root cause for the alienation is that the assurances given for autonomy were not met. Unless that is addressed, the tendencies that the government claims to be concerned about will not be taken care of. The feeding of terrorism has to be dealt with in an entirely different manner. On the issue of fighting terrorism, there is absolutely no difference of opinion as far as the Left is concerned. Terrorism is anti-national from wherever it emanates, but this sort of development, like the abrogation of Article 370 and the manner in which it was done, will only feed fundamentalists of all varieties.

The CPI(M) has consistently made the point that the solemn assurances that enabled the Instrument of Accession to be signed must be honoured. We have always respected the position of autonomy as under Article 370. In fact, it was Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao who said that autonomy up to the sky will be given to Jammu and Kashmir but the opposite happened. The Left’s position has been on the basis of principle. Unemployment is at its highest in the past five decades. Ironically, instead of tackling urgently the tumbling economy, the large-scale closures, particularly in the automobile sector, and the laying off of jobs and dealing with the livelihoods of crores of people, the intention of the government is to carry forward the fascistic agenda of the RSS.

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