‘Will contest Article 370 move legally, democratically’: Farooq and Omar Abdullah
National Conference (NC) leaders and former chief ministers Farooq and Omar Abdullah are “bitter” about, and feel “betrayed” by, the constitutional changes related to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) pushed through by the Centre last year, and will contest them both politically and legally, while asserting that their struggle will be entirely peaceful.
The two leaders, in perhaps their first joint interview, said they rejected the Union government’s constituency delimitation exercise and domicile laws as efforts to change the demography of the Valley. They also spoke of the pain of on the one hand being seen as separatists by “ultra-nationalists” in the rest of the country, and on the other, as nationalists in Kashmir.
The father-son duo — sitting in their heavily protected Gupkar residence in Srinagar — told Hindustan Times that the mood on the Kashmiri street was of not being a part of India and “not Indian”; warned about the impact in J&K of growing Hindu-Muslim “hatred” in the rest of the country; pointed to the unrepresentative character of the current administration in the UT — with local Muslims having little space; and said that no door was open for a dialogue with the Centre.
When asked about the mood on the Kashmiri street, Farooq Abdullah, 83, said: “If you want to know the honest truth, they are not part of India. This is God’s truth. You ask an ordinary person, he does not want to be Pakistani. Let’s be frank about it. He is not a Pakistani, but he is not an Indian today after what they (the Centre) did.”
Last year, Parliament effectively nullified Article 370, which conferred special status on J&K, removed Article 35A, which empowered the state legislature to define permanent residents for government jobs and property ownership, reorganised the state into two separate administrative units of J&K and Ladakh, and made them both Union Territories. On August 15 this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that after the delimitation process is complete, there would be elections to the new assembly in J&K. The Centre has also appointed a new lieutenant governor, Manoj Sinha. The new UT’s major parties have, meanwhile, issued a Gupkar joint statement, taking forward their Gupkar declaration of last year, pledging that they will fight the constitutional changes together.
Rejecting the charge that Article 370 led to separatism, Farooq Abdullah said, “There is more separatism now than before August 5 last year. It’s not the Pakistanis who are dying today, it is the Kashmiris. Who has created them (militants)? Not Farooq Abdullah. I was in the jail. They (the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government) created them. The hatred they have created between Hindus and Muslims in the rest of the nation…do you think it will not have an effect here? It will.”
Elaborating on the legal dimension of their battle against the constitutional changes, the younger Abdullah, 50, said that their petition in the Supreme Court rested on a strong point. “A governor cannot assume the powers of an assembly, and an assembly cannot assume the powers of a constituent assembly....There is a fundamental flaw to what New Delhi did on August 5, 2019. You can wish away the merit of our case politically, but not legally.”
When asked about the fact that there appeared to be a broader national consensus against Article 370, Omar Abdullah acknowledged being on the losing side of “public opinion”. On the position of mainstream parties in the UT, he later said, “You have to understand how difficult it is for us. We get fixed from both sides. The ultra-nationalists in the rest of country treat us as separatists. But here in Kashmir we are treated as nationalists. Please tell me what we are.” On the PM’s statement on delimitation, Farooq Abdullah said, “We told them on their face that we don’t believe in your delimitation. The BJP has a certain purpose. It wants that in J&K, a Hindu majority emerges and the Muslim majority goes down.” Omar Abdullah added: “The delimitation commission is a product of the changes brought about on August 5 last year. When we don’t recognise those changes, how can we recognise this panel?”
He also elaborated on the apprehensions about demographic changes in the Valley, especially due to the domicile law. “I don’t have actual numbers but I can guarantee you that more than 90% of the new domicile certificates that have been issued will be to non-Muslims. Not that the demographic change will take place overnight; it will be a creeping effect.”
While Farooq Abdullah said he did not want to be a bridge between Delhi and Srinagar since the Centre had “deceived” his people, Omar Abdullah said that if being a bridge meant voicing the concerns of the people, they would do so — but if it meant propagating the Centre’s views, they would not do so. Farooq Abdullah also said that he saw no meeting ground with the Centre, while his son said, “When (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee sahib said that the matter of Kashmir will be decided within the umbrella of ‘Jamooriyat, Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat’, that opened the door for us. Today, no such door is open...Tomorrow, if a government is formed in Delhi that is open to a dialogue, then we will see.”
Referring to the move to nullify Article 370, Omar Abdullah said that “integration does not come from a piece of paper, “it comes from emotions”.