Article 370 and Article 35-A became the main poll plank for the parliamentary polls in Jammu Kashmir but while the regional political parties raised the issue of the protection of the special status of the State in their campaigning yet the polls witnessed a low turnaround, Ajaz Rashid writes
The special status of Jammu Kashmir remained at the core of the pre-election process in Jammu Kashmir with all the main regional unionist political parties National Conference (NC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as well as the Peoples Conference (PC) terming it the lifeline of relations between the State and New Delhi. The unionist Congress, on the other hand, went a step further by being the only political party in the State to have come up with an election manifesto that declared the importance of the special status of the State and called for putting an ending to Government of India’s muscular militaristic policies.
The former chief minister and NC Vice President Omar Abdullah went so far to say that if Article 370 was abrogated the State would have no relationship with Government of India other than a military one hinting that in absence of a legal relationship, New Delhi’s rule over the State would be a “military occupation”.
“If there is no constitutional relationship, and clearly right now there is no emotional relationship, then what relationship exists, only a military one,” he said.
On the contrary, the rightwing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in its manifesto for the 2019 parliamentary polls ‘Sankalp Patra’ made it clear that if they return to power, they would abrogate Article 370 and Article 35-A.
“NC has always defended Article 370. NC has never allowed erosion of Article 370 and special status. There has been an erosion of the special status of Jammu Kashmir whenever NC has been out of power. The recent example being the GST and the implementation of SARFAESI Act or the National Food Security Act passed by the UPA government but not implemented by me,” Omar said.
The former chief minister said NC had brought none of the amendments to the mother order of Article 35-A, through which most of the amendments were applied to the State’s constitution.
“All of them came in after 1953 when we were not in power. Sher-e-Kashmir was in jail by then. Had Sher-e-Kashmir not been in jail, these amendments would not have happened. Even the Indus Water Treaty, for which Mehbooba Mufti famously blamed Sher-e-Kashmir until her father corrected her, would not have happened had Sher-e-Kashmir not been in jail,” he said.
Article 35-A is a constitutional provision defining special privileges enjoyed by permanent residents of Jammu Kashmir in matters related to employment, acquisition of immovable property, settlements and scholarships while Article 370 accords a special autonomous status to the State.
Stressing that NC had been consistent about the protection of the special status of the State, the NC Vice President said, “In power did NC not talk about the restoration of autonomy? Haven’t we talked about the pre-1953 position right from the beginning? Is this change of nomenclature not part of the pre-1953 position? From 1996 onward, in power or out of it, NC has talked about the restoration of autonomy of Jammu Kashmir as per the resolution passed by the J&K Assembly.”
However, Omar said he did not believe that if BJP returned to power, they might actually abrogate Article 370.
“I don’t believe they can and I don’t believe they will. Otherwise what stopped them in the last five years? They had a brute majority. Next time they are not going to have it,” he said.
Unlike BJP, the other Delhi-based party, Congress in its manifesto prepared by Lt Gen (Retd) D S Hooda has called for protecting the special status of the State and called upon New Delhi to eschew its military muscle and engage in a process of dialogue.
The Congress for the first time sought professional military advice from experts like Lt Gen Hooda credited for overseeing the 2016 “surgical strikes”.
When he handed over a copy of the party’s draft national security strategy to Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, Kashmir watchers knew the manifesto of the party would be interesting as far as the human rights situation in the State is concerned.
Lt Gen Hooda knows the reality of the situation in Kashmir and in the past has on record talked of the importance of the Hurriyat Conference and Pakistan in keeping peace in Kashmir.
So the Congress manifesto called for review of the deployment of armed forces, moving more troops to the border, reducing the presence of the Indian Army and paramilitary forces in Kashmir, and entrusting more responsibility to the Jammu and Kashmir Police to maintain law and order.
It also calls for reviewing the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) by making suitable changes in the text of the laws to balance the requirements of troops and the protection of human rights.
However, the most important point on Kashmir in the Congress manifesto talks without pre-conditions while eschewing muscular militarism and legalistic formulations and primarily looking for an innovative federal solution. It also called for the appointment of three interlocutors to facilitate talks with civil society.
Importantly, the Congress manifesto calls for no tampering on Article 370, demand of all the other regional parties too.
When the former chief minister and PDP President, Mehbooba Mufti was trolled for being an “anti-national” when some rightwing activists approached the court for banning her and Omar Abdullah from participating in polls, she tweeted, “Why to waste time in court. Wait for BJP to scrap Article 370. It will automatically debar us from fighting elections since Indian constitution won’t be applicable to J&K anymore. Na samjho gay tou mit jaouge aye Hindustan walo. Tumhari dastaan tak bhi na hogi dastaano main.”
She warned that the State’s relationship with New Delhi would be over if Article 370 of the constitution is revoked.
Mehbooba’s statement came days after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s blog post that said Article 35-A was “constitutionally vulnerable” and an impediment to the economic development of Jammu Kashmir.
Mehbooba said Article 370 was a bridge between the State and New Delhi.
“Jaitley must understand this. It is not an easy thing to say. If you scrap [Article] 370, your relation with Jammu Kashmir will be over,” she said.
“Because if you have given us a special position in the Constitution of India and you break that position, then we will have to rethink whether we would even want to stay with you without conditions,” she said.
Mehbooba tweeted, “If you break that bridge (Art 370)…then you will have to renegotiate relationship b/w India-Jammu&Kashmir, there will be new conditions…A Muslim majority state, would it even want to stay with you?… If you scrap 370, your relation with J&K will be over.”
While Mehbooba and Omar have been vocal about Article 370 and Article 35-A, they have found support even from close aides of Narendra Modi like Sajad Gani Lone.
Sajad, who used to refer Modi as his elder brother, said Article 35-A and Article 370 were the “articles of trust” and warned that any tinkering with these would “alter the relationship between Jammu Kashmir and the Union of India”.
Sajad said all provisions of the constitution of India except Article 1 and Article 370 had been applied to the JK state through presidential orders and not through amendments under Article 368, which requires approval by a two-thirds majority of both houses of the parliament.
“Article 35-A is in no way an impediment to investment and development in Jammu and Kashmir. Investors are not willing to set up industry, hotel and private educational institutions in Kashmir due to the prevailing security situation and economic uncertainties attached to it,” he said.
Sajad, a close ally of the BJP, said Jammu Kashmir was not the only state where non-locals were prohibited from purchasing land.
“All North-Eastern states and even Himachal Pradesh have laws prohibiting non-locals from purchasing land. Why are politicians in New Delhi only against JK’s special status? What are their views on Art 371-A to 371-K, which guarantee provisions like 370 as applicable to North Eastern states? Why do they forget that the transfer of immovable property is prohibited in NE states and parts of HP as well?” he said.
The PC Chairman said Article 35-A was a matter of faith and dignity for the people of the State through which the constitution of India guarantees to safeguard the special identity and unique status of Jammu and Kashmir.
“In matters of pride and identity, profit and loss is immaterial. Can a country allow a foreign country to undermine its sovereignty and national pride just for the sake of some monetary gains?” he said.
While the entire election campaign of all the regional unionist political parties and the Congress focused on the threat to the special status of the State, most of the people chose to stay away from the poll process and instead paid heed to the call of the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) led by Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yaseen Malik who themselves are facing the heat through their arrests or National Investigating Agency (NIA), Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Income Tax (IT) department calls and have not been able to mount a strong poll boycott campaign.
Yet if people chose to listen to them over the regional unionist politicians despite their threats to the existence of the special status of the State deserve attention in New Delhi. People cannot be forced into oblivion by harassment and by denying them a level playing field.
There is something wrong with New Delhi’s Kashmir policy and in the Modi government, it is getting from bad to worse.
If there is no constitutional relationship, and clearly right now there is no emotional relationship, then what relationship exists, only a military one
Talk without pre-conditions, eschew muscular militarism, look at legalistic formulations and an innovative federal solution
Why waste time in court. Wait for BJP to scrap Article 370. It will automatically debar us from fighting elections since Indian constitution won’t be applicable to J&K anymore. Na samjho gay tou mit jaouge aye Hindustan walo. Tumhari dastaan tak bhi na hogi dastaano main
Article 35-A is constitutionally vulnerable and an impediment to the economic development of Jammu Kashmir
All North-Eastern states and even Himachal Pradesh have laws prohibiting non-locals from purchasing land. Why are politicians in New Delhi only against JK’s special status? What are their views on Art 371-A to 371-K, which guarantee provisions like 370 as applicable to North Eastern states? Why do they forget that the transfer of immovable property is prohibited in NE states and parts of HP as well?