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Govt must clarify its stand on Art. 35A
By Brij Bhardwaj
If Article 370 is abrogated, the terms of accession will have to be renegotiated. This will have to be done with the consent of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. A lot of water has flown down the river Jhelum since this relationship came about and much has changed. But any attempt to change things by force would be non-productive and will run contrary to the assurances given by the Government of India, including the present Union Home Minister, Raj Nath Singh.



Mr Ajit Doval, National Security Adviser, has made the controversy over Article 35A more complicated by his remarks that a separate constitution for Jammu and Kashmir is an "aberration" as soveignity cannot be diluted and ill defined. One can ask whether accession by Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim majority State to India, was also an aberration. It came about because leaders of National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir led by Sheikh Abdullah rejected the advances by the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and chose India.

The leaders of India supported the movement for popular rule in Jammu and Kashmir led by Jawahar Lal Nehru, first Prime Minister of India. It was India which chose accession and not merger of Jammu and Kashmir with India. As a result accession was limited to a few subjects and the State got a separate Constitution and a separate flag. Over the years the subjects on which the authority of the Cenre has been expanded with the consent of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.

But if Article 370 is abrogated, the terms of accession will have to be renegotiated. This will have to be done with the consent of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. A lot of water has flown down the river Jhelum since this relationship came about and much has changed. But any attempt to change things by force would be non-productive and will run contrary to the assurances given by the Government of India, including the present Union Home Minister, Raj Nath Singh.

The holding of local bodies elections was considered a step towards bringing about normalcy in the State. With that in mind the hearing of the petition regarding Article 35A was postponed by the Supreme Court of India on the request of the Government of India and State Government so that the local bodies elections could be held peacefully. To say the least, Mr Doval's statement has made the task of holding elections for local bodies more difficult.

The separatists in any case were expected to boycott the polls and now even National Conference has decided not to participate in these elections. The PDP which was a part of the coalition with BJP, in the State Government, has also criticised the statement by Mr Doval. In the circumstances it will be very difficult to hold the elections unless an assurance is given by the Centre that it has not changed its stand on Article 35A. Such an assurance will be difficult for the BJP to give as it has been part of the official stand of the party that Article 370 was a temporary provision and should be abrogated.

Over the years BJP has agreed to keep the issue in abeyance, a stand which was initiated by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Few hard liners like Subramanian Swamy has voiced the demand for abrogating Article 370 but official leadership has not changed its stand and left this controversial provision in the cold storage. To say the least, in the present situation when the State is under Governor's rule and insurgency is widespread, the controversy has arisen at the wrong time.

The statements by some Jammu leaders criticising National Conference and supporting the statement by Mr Doval has only added fuel to the fire. In case, the Centre and State administration want local bodies elections with decent participation to make them credible, a clarification by the Centre will help. The task before the administration in Kashmir at present is to isolate the militants, check present increase of young men joining the ranks of militants. The coming winter months when many passes in mountains in Kashmir from Pakistan occupied areas will be closed and snow-bound. This could help curb militancy in the State.

To make the task possible, no irresponsible statements should be made and the State administration and leaders at Centre should speak in one voice. The task of keeping loud mouths in the BJP in check is difficult enough, but at least Government officials could avoid controversies. The Kashmir problem is a national problem and needs a national approach. It should be kept in mind that the overwhelming opinion in Kashmir many in Jammu are keen to retain Article 35A.

This provision was enacted during the time of Maharaja of Kashmir rule in 1947 and not by the popular Government. This resulted even in the British being unable to buy property in Kashmir and instead they had to stay in houseboats. Many provisions regarding outsiders being denied jobs or admission to educational institutions were enacted as a result of agitation by Kashmiri Pandits. The present is not the time rake up new controversies.

*(Brij Bhardwaj is a veteran journalist and commentator) [IFS]


News Updated at : Saturday, September 8, 2018
 
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