Article 370 And J&K Special Status: Has NC Begun to Compromise?
Both Farooq Abdullah & Omar have insisted on the restoration of statehood for J&K. Special status issue stays vague.
Nearly a year after New Delhi’s historic but controversial action of changing the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir, and breaking the erstwhile State into two Union Territories (UTs), the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC) leaders and former Chief Ministers, Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, have broken their silence on Sunday, 26 July 2020.
In an interview with Sheherbeen, a current affairs programme of All India Radio’s Srinagar station, Farooq, for the first time since he was detained on 5 August 2019, asserted that he and his NC were committed on the Gupkar Declaration—the unanimous resolution of all mainstream parties, with the singular exception of the BJP, that abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A, granting and protecting special status to J&K, would not be acceptable. Separately, Omar in an article written for The Indian Express, pledged to stay away from elections as long as J&K remained UT.
Timing of NC’s Stance
The two consistent statements from the NC top brass came hours after Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu gave the first indication, in an interview in The Indian Express, that the Election Commission of India could hold the Assembly elections in J&K even before completing the current delimitation exercise.
“…delimitation committee is already appointed, now delimitation will start. The Assembly elections should also come simultaneously or after that. So this parallel work is going on. I think this vacuum is temporary”, Murmu had said in reply to a question on restarting the political process and the new Assembly elections.
“The Election Commission has to take a decision, whether they will do it as per earlier delimitation, or they will work as per the new delimitation. I hope that by the turn of this year, some kind of process will start”.Girish Chandra Murmu, Lieutenant Governor, Jammu and Kashmir
J&K has been under Governor’s and President’s rule after an unceremonious exit of Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP-BJP coalition in June 2018.
Srinagar Local Body Polls to Inaugurate Political Process?
Until the LG’s interview, most of the politicians and journalists believed that the Assembly elections in J&K would be held only after the completion of the ECI’s delimitation exercise, sometime in the year 2021 or even 2022. Now, it’s being speculated that the Centre could break a logjam with dissolution of some failed urban local bodies and hold fresh elections even in Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC).
Remote-controlled by the BJP, SMC has been tainted with serious allegations of corruption, horse trading, kidnapping, abuses in social media, wrongful confinements and no-trust motions by groups of councillors against one another, particularly in the last one year.
Political analysts sound to be unanimous that nothing short of clean, free and fair elections with the participation of all political parties, could restore credibility and sanctity of the Indian democratic processes in Kashmir. The government functionaries from Srinagar to New Delhi believe that unlike 2018, when the mainstream majors NC, PDP and Congress had boycotted, the local body elections in 2020 could attract a massive voter turnout and trigger the process for Assembly elections.
All-Party Gupkar Declaration on Article 370 & 35-A
On 4 August 2019 senior leaders of all political parties, except the BJP, had gathered at Farooq Abdullah’s residence on Srinagar’s Gupkar Road. In the thick of speculations about abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A, this unprecedented meeting resolved that “all the parties would be united …and defend identity, autonomy and the special status of the JK against all attacks and onslaughts whatsoever”. It also resolved that “modification, abrogation of articles 35-A, 370, unconstitutional delimitation or trifurcation of the state would be an aggression against the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh”.
On 19 June 2020, the NC leaders, including Farooq Abdullah, had issued a joint statement asserting that the party would struggle for restoration of Statehood and special status without compromise.
However, neither Farooq nor Omar had given an interview or statement with regard to contours of the party’s line of action.
They had consistently maintained that they would speak out only after the release of the PDP President Mehbooba Mufti and others who had been detained in and after August 2019. Initially, after their release, they quoted Coronavirus as a reason for being non-committal on 5 August 2019.
NC Won’t Compromise: But on What?
In his interview to AIR, Farooq repeated that the Kashmiri leadership would choose a course of action after the release of “others” but asserted that there would be no compromise on the Gupkar Declaration. “Our stand (on the Gupkar Declaration) is unchanged. 370, 35-A, whatever has been snatched away from us, shall have to be restored”, he said while dismissing the delimitation process as “wrong”. NC has already clarified that it would not associate itself with the ECI’s Delimitation Committee until disposal of its petition in the Supreme Court of India.
Farooq asserted that his party would use “constitutional means” in its struggle for restoration of the position of 4 August 2019. He did not elaborate whether or not NC would participate in the elections during an apparently long drawn legal battle or in case the apex court upheld the Centre’s action.
This appears to be the first indication of NC being amenable to participation in the democratic processes, pending its fight against abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A.
Significantly, NC’s three Lok Sabha members from Kashmir—Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi—have not resigned from the Parliament.
‘5 Points’ to Centre
Like Farooq, Omar, too, has been strongly critical of Narendra Modi government’s August 2019 actions. Significantly, again, nowhere in his write up does Omar rule out contesting elections if Article 370 and 35-A were not restored. “As for me, I am very clear that while J&K remains a Union Territory I will not be contesting any Assembly elections. Having been a member of the most empowered Assembly in the land and that, too, as the leader of that Assembly for six years, I simply cannot and will not be a member of a House that has been disempowered the way ours has”, Omar has emphasised.
Farooq’s and Omar’s statements have come on the heels of Ghulam Nabi Azad’s meeting with Prime Minister Modi. Azad, too, stressed the restoration of “Statehood” and holding of early Assembly elections without making restoration of Article 370 and 35-A a condition. Farooq has revealed in his AIR interview that after the meeting with the PM, Azad spoke to him on telephone from New Delhi and told him that he had submitted “5 Points” to the Centre.
Restoration of Statehood: Jammu’s Demand, BJP’s Promise
In fact the “restoration of Statehood” has been BJP’s own demand and an equivocal commitment from both Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. It is known to be the popular aspiration of the BJP’s core constituency in Jammu which has been palpably upset over Ladakh getting the status of UT but Jammu being reduced to just a part of the J&K UT. On the same day when Shah piloted the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, he had said in the Parliament that the statehood to J&K could be considered. “Restoration of peace” was his only precondition.
After a year of the total political vacuum in Jammu and Kashmir, if the Centre goes to declare “end of terrorism” and honour its commitment of the restoration of Statehood—of course without touching UT of Ladakh—it wouldn’t be surprising to see NC, PDP, Congress and all others in the electoral fray. That precisely would be a consummation of the BJP’s project of the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based senior journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz.)
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