The Supreme Court of India on Wednesday set up a five-judge constitutional bench to hear challenges to the controversial scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and its division into two states.
The bench refused to accept Indian government legal arguments that the move might have “cross-border repercussions” and was “liable to be misused.”
The court also cleared the way for the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to visit Jammu and Kashmir and will hear a representation relating to the curbing of press freedoms in the valley from executive editor of the Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal.
Shehla Rashid, leader of a newly formed Jammu and Kashmir political movement, said the court’s move was the “first step in the long battle against (Article) 370 abrogation.”
Advocate S. C. Gupta, a constitutional expert based in Jammu, told Arab News: “Article 370 has been removed without consultation, without the concurrence of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. If the Supreme Court reinstates Article 370 it would be a victory for democracy.
“The way Article 370 has been removed from the constitution, amounts to bulldozing the constitution. The voice of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is being suppressed with all the might of the state,” Gupta said.
He added that “democracy is at stake now. The Supreme Court is an important pillar of democracy and it has to assert its role. The court should look into the matter of whether Parliament really functioned in a democratic manner when the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was removed.”
Delhi-based political expert and journalist Urmilesh Singh said that in the past the court had succumbed to political pressure but its “guiding principle is the constitution. I believe that the court will act according to the constitutional provisions.”
He added: “The way Article 370 has been made ineffective, the question arises can you nullify it (Article 370) without taking the consent of the state assembly? Can the governor who is an appointee of New Delhi be the voice of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and can he recommend the abrogation of Article 370 on behalf of the state?
“I feel the government’s decision is unconstitutional, illegal and politically unwise.”
Prof. Apoorvanand of the University of Delhi questioned the wisdom of the Supreme Court and the delay in taking up the issue when the “voices of the people of a whole state are being muzzled.”
He described the decision to set up the bench as too little too late and told Arab News: “The situation warrants immediate attention but that does not reflect in the response of the Supreme Court. Essentially the sensitivity of the Indian state is being held paramount against the will of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, which concerns all of us.”
Apoorvanand also questioned the court’s silence over the issue of the detention of hundreds of political and civil activists. “By the time the court takes a call, much water and much blood must have flown down, which the people of India will not see because the Indian media is not interested in showing the reality.”
India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the decision to abolish Article 370 had been taken in the “larger national interest.”
Young BJP leader, Pappu Nirala, said: “By removing Article 370 the party wants to strengthen the unity of the country. We want to integrate the people of Jammu and Kashmir into the national mainstream. Whatever curbs have been imposed in the state are to avoid any untoward incidents and killings.”