The Supreme Court on Tuesday was told that the first deputy prime minister and Union home minister of India late Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was the “architect” of Article 370 that conferred special status to the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir on its accession to India.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal told a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said that “Sardar Patel was the architect of 370, it was done with his approval”.
The bench, also comprising Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Justice Sanjiv Khanna, Justice B.R. Gavai and Justice Surya Kant was told this as it (bench) reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions challenging the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent bifurcation of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories – J&K and Ladakh.
Concluding his rejoinder arguments, Sibal told the bench that Article 370 was hammered out between the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and then interim Prime Minister of J&K Sheikh Abdullah and it was Sardar Patel who was speaking to Sheikh Abdullah on the issue.
Referring to a letter written by Nehru to Sardar Patel where Nehu pointed to some provisions of draft Article 370 and expressed doubts, Sardar Patel while not agreeing with them took upon himself the task of persuading the Congress party on the final draft of the Article 370.
As the bench referred to “political compromises”, Sibal agreeing with it said, “Everybody was part of the process All the key players (Nehru, Sardar Patel and Sheikh Abdullah) were collaborating in the drafting of 370” and in a letter Sardar Patel “assured” Nehru that he will “persuade the party (Congress)” about the final outcome of Article 370.
The constitution bench reserved its verdict on the conclusion of arguments that were spread over 16 days in which petitioners challenging the abrogation of Article 370, had contended that Article 370 was a permanent feature of the relationship between the Union of India and Jammu & Kashmir. The bench was told that the constitution of India and the constitution of J&K spoke to each other through Article 370.
The hearing saw the petitioners arguing that Article 370 could not have been seen in isolation and had to be seen in the context of history, certain developments and its linkage with other provisions of the Constitution. It was contended that through the instrument of accession, J&K had ceded its external sovereignty – relating to masters of external affairs and not the internal sovereignty, which under its constitution, the J&K retained with itself.
The bench appeared not persuaded by this position as it said that there was nothing in the Indian constitution recognising such a position and said that after J&K had become part of the Union of India and accepted the constitution of India, then all the provisions of the Indian constitution extended to it.
It was also argued by the petitioners that recourse to Article 356 – the imposition of the President’s rule – could not be taken to denude the State of its character and change its boundaries and convert it into Union Territory.
However, Attorney General R Venkataramani and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and other lawyers defending the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of K&K into two Union Territories said that there was nothing like external or internal sovereignty. They said that once J&K had merged with India, there was only one sovereignty – the sovereignty of India.
They also defended the imposition of President’s rule, Lt. Governor of J&K dissolving the State assembly, abrogation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the State into two UTs.
The Solicitor General Mehta told the bench that it was only after the abrogation of Article 370, that all the rights that people in India enjoyed were extended to the people of J&K. He said that post abrogation of Article 370, there was normalcy in the State and the incident of terrorism, stone pelting and agitations have come down. The cases of stone pelting have come to zero.
He said that there was development in the state and Kashmir has seen a huge flow of tourists.