Jammu & Kashmir

Concern in Kashmir

Print edition : June 27, 2014

The controversy has given a fresh lease of life to the National Conference. Here. party workers protesting in Srinagar on May 28. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah addressing the media on Union Minister Jitendra Singh's comment on Article 370, in Srinagar on May 28. Photo: PTI

Peoples Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti addressing the media on Jitendra Singh's statement, in Srinagar on May 28. Photo: PTI

Jitendra Singh addressing the media after assuming charge in New Delhi on May 28. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

The controversy over Article 370 has affected the psyche of the average Kashmiri and given rise to the fear that certain important rights that the people of the State enjoy are going to be snatched away.

THAT Prime Minister Narendra Modi, considered to be a hardliner in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), invited Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, along with the government leaders of all other SAARC countries, to his oath-taking ceremony introduced a new element into the debate on and within Jammu and Kashmir.

The bilateral meeting between the two Prime Ministers was cordial and at least a beginning seemed to have been made in the new regime’s diplomatic relations with the neighbouring country. But the optimism soon wore off as Minister of State for the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh started a controversy over Article 370. He said: “The process of repealing Article 370 has started. We are speaking to stakeholders to repeal the Act. The BJP has won more than half of the seats from Jammu and Kashmir, so will you interpret it as an endorsement of the BJP’s stand? Article 370 is more like a psychological barrier.” He offered a clarification later, but the statement started a debate in the State and also at the national level. Jitendra Singh seemed to have been overexcited with his new position and over the fact that he was apparently rewarded for defeating the Congress stalwart Ghulam Nabi Azad in Udhampur.

There is no denying the fact that the abrogation of Article 370 has been on the BJP’s agenda and it found a place in its election manifesto as well, though innocuously. But Modi himself lowered the pitch when he addressed the Lalkar rally in Jammu ahead of the elections and said that a debate should be held. When he was in Hira Nagar in Jammu during the elections he invoked former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s doctrine of addressing the Kashmir issue within the ambit of “Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat”.

A Modi wave swept the Jammu region and did not spare even political stalwarts such as Azad, who had earned tremendous goodwill for his development initiatives in the State. The abrogation of Article 370 did not figure much in the election campaign in Jammu. The way in which Jitendra Singh raised the issue soon after the new government took over raised many eyebrows.

Initially, separatists ignored the development saying that their agenda was “complete freedom from India”. But later on they also realised that the controversy had political overtones. The row also opened up the larger question of accession, with political analysts saying that even if abrogation was made possible, it would lead to an arrangement that involved New Delhi’s jurisdiction over three subjects only, namely, Communication, Defence and External Affairs. “It does not mean that it would straight away integrate the State with the Centre. Jammu and Kashmir has an international dimension,” said Mubashir Ahmad, a research scholar at Kashmir University.

The controversy has given a new lease of life to the ruling National Conference, which drew a blank in the Lok Sabha elections. The N.C. advocates greater autonomy to the State. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, the party’s working president, went to the extent of saying that if Article 370 was removed, Jammu and Kashmir might not remain with the Union. He tweeted: “So the new MOS PMO says process/discussions to revoke Art 370 have started. Wow, that was a quick beginning. Not sure who is talking. Mark my words & save this tweet - long after Modi Govt is a distant memory either J&K won’t be part of India or Art 370 will still exist. Art 370 is the ONLY constitutional link between J&K & rest of India.”

The opposition People’s Democratic Party president and newly elected MP Mehbooba Mufti maintained that it was naive on the part of the Union Minister to think of abrogation. She said that the Article needed to be strengthened further. “No power on this earth has the constitutional authority or the parliamentary mandate to fiddle with Article 370 because it is the Constitution and Parliament that have guaranteed the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370,” she told Frontline. There is something of a consensus among the mainstream parties and the BJP stands isolated on this issue. Pradesh Congress Committee chief Saifuddin Soz believes that it was just a gimmick, as “they know it cannot be done”. “Could they do it when they were in power from 1998 to 2004?” he asked. “Article 370 is a bridge between the State and the Centre and the only mechanism through which Central laws get extended to the State. If this bridge is removed, it will be a piquant situation for the State. It is an integral part of the Constitution of India and nobody can change it,” he added.

Separatists said a fuss was being made about Article 370 to divert attention from the real issue. Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman Yasin Malik said that those who were clamouring now for the abrogation of Article 370 were responsible for the provision’s status now.

Jitendra Singh’s comment did create fear among the people in Kashmir. “It is a serious concern. When people are asking for a final settlement of the Kashmir issue, this new government is talking about whatever special position this State has,” said Umar Khan, an IT professional. On the Kashmir University campus also the issue was being discussed by students who had appreciated Modi’s gesture of inviting SAARC leaders. “But it seems they will fiddle with Kashmir and put it again on fire,” said Saima, a scholar.

At the academic level also the fears are looming large. Vajpayee had been seen as having laid the foundation for reconciliation and created conditions in which there was scope to discuss out-of-the-box solutions for this protracted conflict. “But if people like Dr [Jitendra] Singh are allowed make such a noise, it is surely worrisome” opined one of them.

Professor Gull Wani, noted political scientist and Director of the Institute of Kashmir Studies, is surprised at the timing of the controversy. “Modi, while talking with Sri Lankan President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa, advised him that he may have to go beyond the 13th Amendment in Sri Lanka, which is part of the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka accord, in order to accommodate the Tamil sentiments in Sri Lanka. Now, in the same way, Article 370 is there to accommodate a certain community, which you are advising your regional country in the SAARC framework to do,” said Wani adding, “You need to remove this contradiction as far as your regional policy is concerned. India for a long time could not address its own immediate neighbourhood. The solution does not lie in Article 370 alone. It lies in the Jammu and Kashmir constitution.”

Kashmiris are also angry at what they call the disinformation campaign launched by certain vested interests. One instance is the emphasis on the provision barring outsiders from buying land in the State. This has nothing to do with Article 370. The State Subject Law that makes this stipulation was passed by the Dogra ruler in 1927. Then, the assertion that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction in Jammu and Kashmir. This is again false. Day in and day out Supreme Court rulings come in relation to the State and all judges of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court are appointed by the President of India on the recommendations of the Supreme Court.

There is also a myth that Pakistanis get citizenship in the State and that the people of Jammu and Kashmir have dual citizenship. No dual citizenship exists in the State. Any foreign woman, whether a citizen of Pakistan or any other country, who marries someone from Jammu and Kashmir can get citizenship. That applies to the rest of India, too. The belief that a person showing disrespect to the Tricolour cannot be booked under any law as the State has its own flag is also incorrect as there are scores of people who have been booked under sedition charges for just this offence.

The controversy over Article 370 has affected the psyche of the average Kashmiri and given rise to the fear that certain important rights the people of the State enjoyed were going to be snatched away.