‘On Kashmir, go beyond the slogans and rhetoric’

The Asian Age.  | Yusuf Jameel

Opinion, Interview of the Week

If Article 35A goes, the state-subject law which is in force since 1927 can also get diluted, says Ali Mohammad Sagar.

Ali Mohammad Sagar, National Conference general secretary (Photo: H.U. Naqash)

Ali Mohammad Sagar, former J&K minister and National Conference general secretary, says that the BJP wants to settle outsiders, people who are not state subjects, in J&K to change its demography. In an interview with Yusuf Jameel, Mr Sagar speaks on home minister Rajnath Singh’s recent Kashmir visit and Article 35A and various other issues. Excerpts:

Union home minister Rajnath Singh, during his recent J&K visit, said that the Centre will not go against the sentiments of the people of Kashmir. Should it end the ongoing controversy over Article 35A of the Constitution?
We’re not quite sure. When we met him, he told us that a non-issue is being made into an issue unnecessarily. But he didn’t tell us categorically that Article 35A will not be diluted. Also, a few hours after he made a statement at a presser that “we will not go against the sentiments of the people of Kashmir”, a senior BJP leader said Article 35A will not pass judicial scrutiny and that it was illegal.

Unless and until the Central government submits an affidavit before the Supreme Court strongly defending Article 35A the fears and apprehensions among the people here would not go.

Why should they want to tamper with Article 35A?
I think it is the BJP’s political agenda. It wants to settle outsiders, the people who are not state subjects, in J&K to change its demography. Article 35A, as you know, empowers the J&K legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state and provide special rights and privileges to those permanent residents.

If Article 35A goes, the state-subject law which is in force since 1927 can also get diluted. As per this law, only permanent residents of J&K can own immovable property in the state and enjoy other benefits like employment in government departments and agencies. The BJP wants to snatch it. It also wants non-state subjects are entitled to vote in state Assembly elections. It has during its election manifestos in the past opposed the J&K’s unique status and insisted on “one flag and one Constitution”. Since that is not possible because of the special status guaranteed under Article 370, the party wants both it and Article 35A to go.

Did you convey your apprehensions to the home minister?
We told him that we strongly protest at the ambiguity that exists on behalf of the government at the Centre in defending J&K’s special status in the Supreme Court. We also expressed disappointment over the J&K government’s inadequate defence of the state’s constitutional rights and political identity.

He also said that the Centre is eager to talk to all stakeholders with an open heart and mind to resolve the issue of Kashmir. Is it a good sign and how different is it from earlier stance of the BJP-led government?
They talk a lot, but do little practically on the ground. Their ally PDP had publicly pledged that peace talks with Pakistan and the Hurriyat Conference and other separatists would be resumed to find a solution to the Kashmir problem.

They promised it also in “Agenda of the Alliance”, the framework of the PDP-BJP coalition. Nothing has moved. They also promised to open new routes to reconnect the two parts of Kashmir.

Even the existing ones have been shut or are facing problems. The entire Hurriyat leadership is languishing in jails or curbs are imposed on their movement on daily basis. There is huge gap between what they say and what they do.

Do you think the raids and arrests being made by the National Investigating Agency (NIA) can aggravate the situation? The separatists have openly accused the government of using the agency as a tool to browbeat them and force them into capitulation?
Our party president, Dr Farooq Abdullah, has already said that the NIA raids won’t yield anything as these exercises are only aimed at defaming and creating turbulence in Kashmir. We, at the party level, believe that the NIA raids could be appreciated only if these bring any consequences.

If these raids and arrests are meant to threaten people or torture them or ruin our business sectors, nothing positive will emerge as far as the problems faced in Kashmir are concerned.

Such actions must not be politically motivated or an exercise of political vendetta. The NIA has claimed that terror funding was taking place. But it has, so far, not come up with anything that is credible. We’re waiting and watching.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, in his Independence Day speech, said that the issue of Kashmir can’t be resolved through goli (bullet) or gaali (abuse) but by embracing its people. Is the government going in right direction and what role the National Conference (NC) assigns for itself towards reconciliation in Kashmir?
“Na goli se, na gaali se, Kashmir ki samasya suljhe gi gale lagaane se” is a good slogan. Earlier, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had also coined the slogan “bandook se na goli se, baat banegi boli se (neither gun nor bullet but talk will help resolving issues)”.

But they have failed to live up to it and translate their rhetoric into realism. Nevertheless, the PM has taken this pledge from the ramparts of the Red Fort and that on a day which is very important for the country. We have to trust.

Rajnath Singh also said people should understand the PM’s “na goli se, na gaali se” intention and added a new mantra of five Cs — compassion, communication, coexistence, confidence and consistency —to reach out to the Kashmiri people. But before beginning his J&K visit, he had said that he was going with an open heart and would like to talk to all.

At our meeting, our party working president Omar Abdullah asked for holding an open-ended, constructive and sustained political engagement with all stakeholders and political organisations in Kashmir irrespective of their political ideology. We said this was imperative for peace and is a pre-requisite to an acceptable resolution of the political issue. But he didn’t meet and talk to people with whom he needs to talk.  

Who are they?
Clearly the Hurriyat Conference and other separatist leaders. It is they who are standing apart and are disillusioned. They challenge the state’s accession with India. We in the NC don’t. Nor do the Congress, the BJP or any other mainstream party. You can’t discount or evade them.

They also hold weight and you have to take them along. You need to talk to those who take offence. For this reason, we told the home minister that the Central government should invite all stakeholders for talks. We strongly believe that the initiative would drastically reduce the level and depth of turmoil on the ground and help in initiating a process of reconciliation and rebuilding.

But the government and also the BJP have ruled out possibility of a dialogue with the Hurriyat Conference and other separatists. During the home minister’s visit while various mainstream political parties, social and trade organisations and civil society groups were invited to meet him, the separatist leaders were ignored and even curbs were imposed on their movement. Do you still see ice being broken on Kashmir?
When Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister, the BJP-led government did hold a series of rounds of talks with the Hurriyat leaders. Even then deputy prime minister L.K. Advani got the joint secretary (home) to talk with five top commanders of Hizbul Mujahideen.

When they could go to that extent then, I think it is vital and unavoidable to talk to the separatist leadership to bring about lasting peace in J&K. You have to go beyond sloganeering and rhetoric and move forward to resolve the issue of Kashmir.