Monday August 01, 2022

PM must find a way forward in Kashmir

PM must find a way forward in Kashmir

Narendra Modi

It was on August 5, 2019, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, flush with its return to power with an increased majority in the Lok Sabha, abolished Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under the Constitution of India.

The special status was based on an agreement signed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the leader of J and K’s freedom movement, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah.

The Rashtreeya Swayamsevak Sangh, fountainhead of the ideology of Bharatiya Janata Party, was opposed to the state’s special status from the outset. Its first political vehicle, the Jana Sangh, regularly mentioned abolition of the state’s special status in its election manifestos.

So did the BJP, its successor. Elections are fought on multiple issues. Identifying a single issue from an electoral verdict is, not easy.

Assuming that the BJP’s 2019 victory gave it a mandate for abolition of Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave J and K a measure of autonomy, it needs to be noted that the Centre went far beyond it. The measures that Home Minister Amit Shah piloted through Parliament took away not only J and K’s special status but also its status as an ordinary sate. Today it is not a state but a Centrally administered union territory. The 2019 verdict certainly did not authorise reduction of J and K to a union territory.

Amit Shah had told Parliament that reduction of J and K’s status to that of union territory was a temporary measure and its status as a state would be restored. He had also said even when it remained a union territory, J and K would have a legislative assembly.

Three years down the line J and K remains a union territory and it has no legislative assembly. The government clearly has no idea how to go forward and restore the democratic process, which was disturbed.

The elections to District Development Councils, held in 2020, were an attempt to test the waters before calling elections to the legislative assembly. Winning 75 of the 280 DDC seats, the BJP emerged as the largest single party in the union territory. But its hope of dominating the territory’s politics, taking advantage of the division among the parties of Kashmir valley, failed.

The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, in which Farooq Abdullah’s J and K National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party and some other parties came together, bagged 110 DDC seats.

In the Gupkar declaration the parties had committed themselves to work for restoration of J and K’s special status.

One of the several changes the Centre introduced in J and K in the last three years has given outsiders the right to buy property in the union territory.

The law that had restricted property rights in J and K to “state subjects” was introduced by the Maharaja’s regime to protect their interests. It had nothing to do with Article 370 or religion.

The change has the potential to alter J and K’s demographic pattern. But so far there has been no big rush of outsiders.

Only 34 persons from outside bought property in J and K after the law was changed, the Centre informed Parliament in March. Of the four places where they bought land, only one is in Kashmir valley. The other three are in Jammu province.

According to Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami, who is a Convener of the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, several leaders of Kashmir had participated in a meeting with the Prime Minister a year ago but none of the measures needed to rebuild the shattered relationship followed. His words appear to indicate that leaders of Kashmir’s political parties are open to talks.

The Centre which has painted itself into a corner must seize the opportunity to find a way forward through talks.

Was all that the present regime did under cover of an electoral mandate in order? This is a question, which the Supreme Court of India has to answer. The court received several petitions challenging the constitutionality of the government’s action. Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi put them all aside, declaring he wanted to give the government more time. When his term ended, the government made him a nominated member of Parliament.

The court is yet to take up the petitions.

A judicial verdict can probably help find a way forward.

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