Article 370 has gone. So has Article 35A. The state of Jammu and Kashmir has ceased to exist. It has been downgraded and split into two union territories, Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. The first without a legislature and the second with a legislature; like the city states of Delhi and Puducherry. The decision of the government has been received with wild rejoicing in the the rest of the country while Jammu and Kashmir remains completely shut down and under the heel of the boots of the security forces.
I was approached by a few media persons when these momentous events were unfolding in Parliament on the fateful day of August 5. One of their favourite questions was: The BJP has been committed to abolition of Article 370 from its Jana Sangh days; you were in the BJP until recently, so how can you have reservations now? It was a fair question. I thought about it and this is my explanation. The BJP had no qualms in sacrificing this commitment, along with its stand on the common civil code and the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya when it had to form coalition governments with parties opposed to its stand on these three issues. So, there was no question of pursuing them when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was prime minster during 1998 and 2004. What is even more important is the fact that his J&K policy was far, far removed from the present narrow, sectarian and warped view of the BJP. His policy of Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat stood in direct contradiction to the commitment to abolish Article 370. His approach to have a dialogue with all stakeholders including the Hurriyat, to resolve the problems of the state and bring peace to it and the actual initiation of the dialogue with the Hurriyat leaders by no less a person than the deputy prime minster and home minister of his government, L K Advani, who is now applauding the abolition of Article 370, was proof enough of his new approach. The matter could progress no further because the Vajpayee government was voted out of office in 2004.
What was the policy of the Narendra Modi government in its first incarnation, even if we forget the Vajpayee government’s policy? Modi formed the government in Delhi towards the end of May 2014. Assembly elections were held J&K in November/ December that year. It produced a fractured mandate. The PDP and National Conference were reluctant to come together and form a government. The BJP smelt an opportunity here and decided to form a coalition government with the PDP. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was alive then. He was a tough negotiator and would not compromise on his core beliefs. There was nothing common between the two parties. In fact, they were poles apart in their ideology. Yet, they came together to form a government on the basis of a written agreement between the two parties on March 1, 2015. Some of the paragraphs of that agreement are worth reproducing here to show how shallow the commitment of the present rulers is to the abolition of Article 370. I may mention that Amit Shah, the current Union Home Minister, was the party president of the BJP then.
I can do no better than produce some of the excerpts from that agreement to make my point, “The PDP and the BJP have entered into a ‘Governance Alliance’ based on an agreement and agenda which is an effort towards seeking a national reconciliation on J&K.”
“In a situation, where socio-political aspirations and grievances of the people have wide ranging differences, economic development on its own can neither bring about peace nor prosperity.”
“While recognising the different positions and appreciating the perceptions of the BJP and PDP have on the constitutional status of J&K considering the political and legislative realities, the present position will be maintained on all constitutional provisions pertaining to J&K including the special status in the Constitution of India.”
“The earlier NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee initiated a dialogue process with all political groups, including the Hurriyat Conference, in the spirit of “Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat aur Jamhooriyat”. Following the same principles, the coalition government will facilitate and help initiate a dialogue with all stakeholders, which will include all political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections. This dialogue will seek to build a broad based consensus on resolution of all outstanding issues of J&K.”
Where are these high-sounding words today? Where is the promise of dialogue? The BJP members loudly asked the Opposition: “Who are these stakeholders?” Why ask them? Ask the government which people/organisations they had in mind when they talked of dialogue with the stakeholders? Where was the commitment of our leaders to the abolition of Article 370 when they promised in the agreement to maintain the “present position” on the special status of J&K in the Constitution? Or is it a commitment which can be jettisoned when it is necessary to do so for the sake of power either at the Centre or in J&K?
Yet, I can understand the position of the party on Article 370, but Article 35A is a recent addition. Bifurcation of the state and reducing its parts to the status of union territories was never part of BJP’s agenda. You expect us to stand and applaud when you jettison your “core beliefs” and again stand up and applaud when you bring them back. Tails I win and heads you lose.
As far as the present government’s commitment to the unity and integrity of the country is concerned, let me remind you that in August 2015, the Modi government concluded, with fanfare, a “framework agreement” with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM). Prime Minister Narendra Modi was present in the press conference in which this momentous agreement was announced. The Parliament and the people have not been taken into confidence about the contents of this agreement. But in May 2017, according to media reports, a spokesperson of NSCN-IM is reported to have said, “As of now, the Nagas have agreed to co-exist together under shared sovereignty.”
What is this shared sovereignty? According to some sources, it could mean a separate constitution, a separate flag and many other separate institutions. The talks are still on; the details are fuzzy. But one thing is clear that with the Nagas, the government has no hesitation in discussing the concept of shared sovereignty. I am not against it; I am all for it. My only point is that if we can discuss that with the Nagas why are we coming down so hard on the Kashmiris? The reasons are not far to seek.
My heart goes out to the people of Kashmir today. I would want them to know that there are still at least some of us in India who believe in dialogue and reconciliation. For us, these words are not mere matters of convenience to be used when it suits us and to be discarded when it does not. For us, these are articles of faith. I have been trained in the school of Jayaprakash Narayan. For me, “will, not force is the basis of state”, if I could borrow an expression from political scientist T H Green. And here it is the will of the people of Kashmir which must prevail.
This article first appeared in the August 9, 2019 print edition under the title ‘Once there was a commitment’. The writer is a former Union external affairs and finance minister