Article 35A: Kashmir can’t afford to drift into an autumn of anxiety
In the turbulent Kashmir, summers have long been synonymous with discontent. But this year has been an exception, marked by a relative normality. Post-February 14 Pulwama blast, there has been downward trend in militant strikes. A thaw is discernible in the paroxysm of violent protests and stone-pelting in the Valley. Army officials acknowledge a significant drop in infiltration from Pakistan after the melting of snow on the Line of Control. The month-long Amarnath yatra, a stupendous security challenge, has seen a record high number of pilgrims.
Yet, the Valley finds itself in the throes of trepidation.
The trigger came in form of the Centre’s plan to deploy an additional 10,000 paramilitary men, apparently to bolster Kashmir’s anti-insurgency grid. This, coupled with the railways’ advisory on an impending “emergency situation” and the police order seeking details of mosques in Srinagar, has stoked the fear and conjectures that the security ramp-up may be a prelude to the Narendra Modi government’s move to scrap the Article 35A which allows J&K to define its permanent residents and their special rights on land and employment.
Clouds of uncertainty in Valley
Kashmir’s mainstream political parties lost no time in articulating the street sentiment, and cautioned the Centre against tinkering with the Article that has been challenged in the Supreme Court. But the conspiracy theories swirling in the Valley speculated that the Modi government may bring an ordinance to do away with the controversial constitutional provision.
What has also raised the hackles in Kashmir is the Modi 2.0’s emphatic assertion on its long-held ideological opposition against the Article 35A and the Article 370 (that guarantees special status to J & K). While the saffron party views both the constitutional provisions as a root cause of separatist sentiment in Kashmir and a barrier to the state’s equitable development, the Valley-based parties call them “a vital bridge between India and Kashmir”.
“Scrapping the Article 35A will be akin to igniting the powder keg” roared former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti at a rally in Srinagar on Sunday. She even reached out to her arch-rival National Conference, urging its patron and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah to call an all-party meeting and forge a united response to defend the Article 35A.
Even as the Centre half-heartedly tried to clear the air on fresh security reinforcement, suspicion runs deep across the Valley. “If the government claims on the decline in militancy, stone pelting and violence are true, then for what purpose are additional troops being deployed here,” questions Yousaf Tarigami, a respected communist leader of Kashmir, arguing that “instead of such shock therapy, Kashmir needs confidence building measures to come out of the cycle of depression and disillusionment”. Tarigami may be echoing what most Kashmiris feel.
Modi govt, Kashmir parties on different page
Crucially, the strong political reactions underscore a growing chasm between the Modi government and mainstream Kashmiri outfits represented chiefly by NC and PDP which had stayed out of local bodies and panchayat elections early this year over the Article 35A. Both parties have also been sharply critical of governor Satya Pal Malik for pushing policy decisions which they feel tinker with the Article 370 and should have been left to an elected government.
In fact, Kashmir’s traditional political players are peeved at tough-talking home minister Amit Shah charting a radical shift in the Kashmir policy. While they frame the Kashmir issue as a political issue, making pitch for a dialogue with stake-holders, including the separatists, he sees the turmoil as a problem confined to “three-and-a-half districts of south Kashmir”. Not surprisingly, he firmly spurned the separatists’ overtures for engagement.
The Modi government reckons the development is the best antidote to militancy – a view that Prime Minister Modi again articulated in his latest edition of ‘Mann ki Baat’ by saying, “People of Kashmir want development, not bombs”.
While the Centre’s roadmap on its next big challenge — holding the assembly elections in the state — is still hazy, what comes out clearly is a perceptible mistrust between pro-India Kashmiri leaders and the Modi government. This uneasy equation has constricted the political space in the Valley – a development that runs the risk of stoking another cycle of street anger.
Kashmir can’t afford to descend into an autumn of anxiety and despair again.