Passage of contentious bills is a testimony to the increasing strength of the BJP as much as it is a testimony to a fractured and incohesive Opposition in Parliament
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on August 5 passed a resolution in Rajya Sabha to take away Jammu and Kashmir’s special status as enshrined in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. The resolution received a nod from the President and came into effect immediately.
Shah also proposed that the state be bifurcated into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir, with a state legislature; and Ladakh without a legislature. The bill, called ‘The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019’, was passed by Rajya Sabha on the same evening with 125 Ayes and 61 Noes.
The bill was passed despite a vexed Opposition blaming the BJP for “dismembering” J&K by “mischievously misinterpreting” articles in the Constitution. Former Home Minister and Congress veteran P Chidambaram lamented, "Today is a black day in the constitutional history of India."
Yet, it becomes important to note that the NDA government would not have been able to pass the bill had it not been for the support from various parties in the Opposition as well as fence-sitters. The saffron party, which enjoys a landslide majority in the Lok Sabha, has only 78 members in the Upper House.
It was support from unlikely quarters that finally helped pass the Bill, which bifurcates the state into Union Territories. For instance, staunch critics such as Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supported the bill in Rajya Sabha.
In fact, AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal faced severe flak on Twitter after he posted, “We support the government on its decisions on J&K. We hope this will bring peace and development in the state.” Critics especially called out his hypocrisy as Kejriwal has been demanding special status for Delhi, which is a Union Territory with a legislature, something that J&K will turn into.However, the party on August 6 clarified that there was no contradiction in Kekriwal’s demand of statehood and AAP endorsing the bill. AAP national spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj tweeted:
कश्मीर को दिल्ली व पुद्दुचेरी के साथ तुलना करना ठीक नहीं ।दिल्ली व पुडुचेरी शांत प्रदेश हैं, उनमें पूर्ण राज्य बेहतर प्रशासन लाएगा। कश्मीर का 2/3 हिस्सा पाकिस्तान और चीन के कब्जे में है।कश्मीर में एक साल में 150 बार घुसपैठ हो रही है ( infiltration )। इनकी तुलना तर्कसंगत नहीं ।
— Saurabh Bharadwaj (@Saurabh_MLAgk) August 5, 2019
Other parties that supported the bifurcation bill include fence-sitters like Naveen Patnaik’s BJD, Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP, Bodoland People’s Front (BDF) and TRS. Ally-turned-adversary Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP also endorsed the bill.
Meanwhile, the saffron party also had obvious support from allies like Shiv Sena and the AIADMK; except Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), which staged a walkout ahead of voting on the J&K Reorganization Bill.
Two steps back for Congress
An appalled Leader of Opposition and MP from J&K Ghulam Nabi Azad said, "I had never imagined that the head of the state which is India's crown will be chopped off." Yet, his cries for help never transformed into a solid opposition to the Bill.
In a setback to the Congress, its ally, Sharad Pawar’s NCP, abstained from voting, which brought the numbers down for the BJP. To add to Congress’ woes, its chief whip in the Upper House, Bhubaneshwar Kalita, resigned from the party so as to defy from the party’s line on the issue. Besides, many members of the party are reportedly hailing the BJP-led government’s resolutions on J&K.
This comes in at a time when the Grand Old Party is facing a leadership crisis after Rahul Gandhi resigned from the post of party president. About a month later, the reins of the party are loose with no chief to steer its members.
After maintaining studied silence on the issue when the Parliament witnessed an upheavel, Rahul posted a tweet:
Kashmir’s mainstream political leaders have been jailed at secret locations.
This is unconstitutional & undemocratic.
It’s also short sighted and foolish because it will allow terrorists to fill the leadership vaccum created by GOI.
The imprisoned leaders must be released.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 6, 2019
The leadership crisis in the Congress is showing its effect in an incapacitated Opposition, especially in Rajya Sabha, where it had more numbers than the ruling NDA. It is no longer referred to as ‘Congress-led Opposition’ as the party, whose internal cohesion is currently questionable, is also failing to adhere to ideologically like-minded parties.Read Also | Article 370 and J&K bifurcation: Voices of dissent within the Congress
At the same time, the BJP, which was relatively mellow in the Rajya Sabha until the last session, has now emerged as tall and confident. The proof of this can be seen in the passage of many contested bills this session.
J&K bifurcation not alone
The BJP has surprised many political commentators by managing to pass bills which faced stiff resistance from the Opposition, in Rajya Sabha. The RTI (Amendment) Bill, UAPA Bill, and Triple Talaq Bill are cases in point.
The RTI (Amendment) Bill was passed in the Upper House with a voice vote even as concerns over the dilution of transparency were raised. The walkout staged by the Congress over the bill proved to be a shot in the arm for the ruling NDA.
The bill, which now awaits President Kovind’s assent, will grant greater powers to the Centre in deciding the terms of the chief information commissioners (CICs) and information commissioners (ICs) at both the central and state levels.
Similarly, UAPA (Amendment) Bill was passed in Rajya Sabha with 147 Ayes and 42 Noes, even when the Congress cautioned about the bill’s misuse. Party veteran Kapil Sibal said, “Today, you have kept academics in jail, people who are civil activists. You only portray those people to be terrorists who speak against you. First, you need to specify on what basis will a person be deemed a terrorist? Our problem is that this open-ended definition of a private person as a terrorist is meaningless and unconstitutional."
The contentious Triple Talaq bill was passed with 99 ayes and 84 noes, as fence-sitters, particularly BJD, proved to be the tipping point.The passage of the bills is a testimony to the increasing strength of the BJP as much as it is a testimony to a fractured and incohesive Opposition in Parliament.Subscribe to Moneycontrol Pro and gain access to curated markets data, trading recommendations, equity analysis, investment ideas, insights from market gurus and much more. Get Moneycontrol PRO for 1 year at price of 3 months at 289. Use code FREEDOM.