Last Saturday, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh arrived in Srinagar for a three-day visit to the Valley. This was Singh’s fourth visit to Kashmir in a year but, more significantly, it was taking place in the backdrop of attempts to abrogate the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir.
The vast majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir fear that the attack on the state’s special constitutional status is an attempt to “change the demography” of the only Muslim majority state in India. The BJP has, in the past, vociferously, advocated the repeal of Article 370 and Article 35-A.
In fact, the challenges made to the special constitutional status of J & K in the Supreme Court have come from groups that are close to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). With the BJP in power – both at the Centre and in the state – fears of a “demographic change” have only accentuated. While local mainstream political parties, including both the National Conference (NC) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) have warned against any attempt to undermine the special status of the state, separatist outfits have said these attempts vindicate their stand and have warned of public agitation against such moves.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has said, on record, that nobody in Kashmir will hoist the Indian flag if the special status of the state is attacked or changed while NC President and former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah has warned of a revolt “far greater than” the 2008 Amarnath land row agitation.
It is in this context that Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s Valley visit assumed significance. In the Valley, Singh tried to reach out to the people by saying that the central government would not do anything that goes against the sentiments of the people. While most people in the Valley didn’t believe Singh’s assurances, the statement was instantly welcomed by mainstream political leaders, including CM Mufti.
However, a day later in Jammu, Singh was not only noncommittal on filing a counter affidavit in the Supreme Court to defend Article 35-A but added that when he said the sentiments of the people, he meant all the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
This change is being seen by the majority of people in the Valley as a part of vote bank politics. It has also raised doubts about the future of special constitutional status of the state and put a question mark on the sincerity of the BJP leadership. Singh was noncommittal about initiating a dialogue with either the separatists or Pakistan even though he said he is ready to talk to anyone who wants to talk. However, without formally inviting the separatists, there is little chance that a dialogue between New Delhi and separatists can materialize.