Mehbooba’s message deserves reciprocation not belligerence | opinion | Hindustan Times
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Mehbooba’s message deserves reciprocation not belligerence

Mehbooba cautioned against tinkering with Article 35A . She said the question really was how much can the idea of Kashmir be accommodated by the idea of India?

opinion Updated: Aug 02, 2017 08:27 IST
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti at the PDP Raising Day function in Srinagar,  July 29
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti at the PDP Raising Day function in Srinagar, July 29(Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times)

The divisive issue of Kashmir is cannon fodder for a section of the electronic media thriving on uber-nationalism. Forever on the lookout for sensation, they either miss the wood for the trees or consciously conjure up smoke suggesting a forest fire where none exists.

A case in point is Mehbooba Mufti’s July 28 speech at a seminar in Delhi where she spoke after I introduced the subject — Understanding Kashmir: a composite dialogue on peace, stability and the way forward. Organised by the Bureau of Research on Industry and Economic Fundamentals (BRIEF), the event had in attendance experts and scholars from think tanks such as the Vivekananda Foundation, India Foundation and the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses.

The ensuing electronic media debates based on a selective reading of the PDP leader’s speech were a study in illiteracy. The big message she sought to convey was lost in the cacophony over her comment on the political consequences in Kashmir of any tinkering with Article 35A of the Constitution.

The Article defines Kashmir’s ‘permanent residents’ besides detailing their special rights and privileges. It is currently under the Supreme Court’s scrutiny on a petition that challenges as violative of fundamental rights a state subject’s loss of privileges if she married a non-state subject.

Mehbooba did not comment on the constitutionality or otherwise of the said Article vis-à-vis fundamental rights. Her focus was on the political fallout from any dilution or change in the provision aimed at securing the State’s demographic composition. Pointing to PDP, Congress and National Conference (NC) leaders in the audience, she said: “Supreme Court mein 35A abhi bhi chal raha hai. In the event of it being tinkered with, there’ll be nobody left to lend shoulder to the national flag we carry (in Kashmir).”

The media driven by its predilections interpreted her remarks as being disrespectful of the national standard. But their political underpinnings were unmistakable for the better informed.

The PDP leader’s message rang loud and genuine: there’d be no political space left in Kashmir for those who swore by the Indian Constitution if the State’s special status was mutated in any which way. She rounded it off, in fact, on an emotional note, insisting she wanted to see an India that felt Kashmir’s angst; the India that accepted “us on our terms (humey hamari sharton par kubul kia).”

The state subject provision has its genesis in Article 370 that accords a special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Votaries of its abrogation question its sanctity (in constitutional terms). They consider it a hindrance in Kashmir’s economic development and integration with the rest of India. Mehbooba flagged the ‘incongruity’ of such demands in the context of the Centre’s insistence that talks on Kashmir be held within the four walls of the Constitution. “How can we talk in the same breath about scrapping the state’s special status under the Constitution while insisting that talks with stakeholders in Kashmir have to be within the constitutional framework.”

The speech she made as chief minister of the PDP-BJP coalition was part of her efforts to reach Kashmir’s voice to mainland India. Her posers highlighting the flip side to the largely mono-dimensional media discourse were valid and needed more popular attention.

In fact, the question to be addressed in any earnest discourse on the issue is the one she raised at the very outset: How much can the idea of Kashmir be accommodated by the idea of India? On that premise she wondered whether weapons and laws (read: pellet guns and AFSPA) that are exclusive to the State have “helped offer Kashmiris a better choice than what they’re asking.”

Mehbooba made no reference to the NC’s autonomy or the PDP’s self-rule formulation. She was certain nevertheless that the way forward for the Centre was to present the people an option better than aazadi: “We have to keep the diversity…The idea of India isn’t complete without the idea of Kashmir.”

The chief minister’s was a persuasive case for a political initiative in Kashmir without disturbing the constitutionally mandated rules of engagement. It deserved reciprocation, not the kind of belligerent media response or partisan political reaction it got. It is about time India lent an attentive ear to its integral part.

vinodsharma@hindustantimes.com