When the preparations for executing the decision to amend Article 370 were on, a political leader silently was inducting many independent elected Panch and Sarpanch of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fold. He has been active in the political affairs of the State for a long time. Shri Ram Madhav, General Secretary of BJP, in a candid conversation with Prafulla Ketkar, Editor, Organiser and Nishant Kr Azad, Senior Correspondent, spoke about the decision, implications and future possibilities. Excerpts:
The Union Government took a bold decision to amend Article 370 and subsequent removal of Article 35A. How do you see this development?
Firstly, millions and millions of our countrymen are extremely happy about this decisive step of our Government in securing complete integration of India. For us, it was an unfinished agenda. In 1947-48 when Sardar Patel had integrated 565 princely states into Indian dominion, one state that stood out was Jammu & Kashmir. That remained an unfinished agenda for the complete integration of the country. That’s why the country is very happy and jubilant today with the decision taken by Prime Minister Modi and his Government.
There is another very big significance to this issue. It was Jinnah who propagated the two nation theory which was resulted in the Partition of India; but at another level, it was Sheikh Abdullah who propagated a three nation theory which resulted in terrorism, alienation and violence. This decision of the Government has decimated the three nation theory in this country. We never agreed with the propagation of the two nation theory; on this particular thing we fought from day one.
Let me add one more thing to it. Many people are saying that if this was so easy to remove this hurdle as it just went in 48 hours and it just took two days and two debates; why did we take 70 years to do so? I would like to say it did not take 70 years, it just took one Modi for 370 to go. If you have the leadership which has the determination and will power to amend it or remove it, then ways can always be found. And a very constitutionally and legally acceptable way can be found to address the issue.
But the opposition is criticising the decision and almost echoing the Pakistani line on the issue.
Yes, but these politicians have always behaved like this. They were responsible for whatever unfortunate situation that has developed in J&K all these years. These parties were responsible for the rise of terrorism and separatism in the state. It was, in a way, linked to their politics; it was bread and butter, as our Member of Parliament (MP) from Ladakh very rightly argued in the Parliament. So many people were surviving on issues like this. However, we should keep in mind that within the Congress party, we know a large section of the leadership including one of the tallest leaders from J&K, none other than Dr Karan Singh himself, openly supported the decision. Many youngsters are saying that whatever happened is right and in the national interest. It is the people who are responsible for all the mess that has been created in the state are upset. When we are trying to set things right, they are out to create trouble there.
There are also allegations of unconstitutional and undemocratic methods being adopted while executing this decision. How would you respond to them?
Firstly, when Article 370 was inserted, no questions were raised about democratic ways or the voices of the people. When it was placed before the Congress Working Committee (CWC), except two people, Gopalswamy Ayyangar, who was the mover of the resolution on behalf of Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad, supported it; rest of the members opposed it with overwhelming majority. Then, Nehru was abroad and he had to call up Sardar Patel to convince him to support the resolution. Patel was in a dilemma, as he did not want to give the impression that he was opposed to Nehru at the dawn of Independence. Patel called the CWC members and others leaders and convinced them with the words that though he was fully aware of their sentiments, they should support it and honour the word given by the Prime Minister. The Congress leaders themselves do not know the history of Article 370 and today they are talking about undemocratic method.
When Article 370 was incorporated in the Constitution, nobody’s opinion was sought or respected. The Constituent Assembly and the CWC both were opposed to it. But Nehru has only one argument and rhetoric that we have given a commitment to Sheikh Abdullah and National Conference. So to those who today argue that we are not taking so and so into confidence, I would first ask them whether anybody was consulted before Nehru gave a commitment to Sheikh Abdullah and inserted this Article. In the Constituent Assembly, Sardar Patel, Maulana Hasrat Mohani, KT Shah, everybody stood up and opposed it. And if one check the records of Indian Parliament in last seven decades, on a number of occasions many Parliamentarians objected to it and insisted on scrapping it. At one point in 1963, Nehru in an oral reply told the Parliament that it is no longer serving the purpose for which it was created but he also added that it is like a paper tiger, nothing is left in it. So, continuously people wanted it to go and finally it has gone.
We have followed the constitutional procedures in letter and spirit and the amendment to the Constitution has taken place strictly within the framework of the Constitution. This is unfortunate that the parties claim to be democratic are not ready to accept the democratic decision of the Parliament. Although opposition has every right to take a stand and question the Government, on such an issue of national integration the way they are behaving is unacceptable. They want to go to the Valley to do what? It seems that they are only interested in creating trouble.
International media also looks to be in arms to portray the alarming situation in the Valley?
See, we are living in a free world. Their coverage is a testimony to the fact that we are not trying to restrict anybody. They are trying to exaggerate the situation and not representing the Kashmir Valley today. I have been dealing with these situations for years now. Curfew, internet blocking, deployment of security forces are not new in J&K. When there is an operation against terrorists, the internet service discontinues, sometimes for days. Previously, in such situations, we have seen thousands coming to the streets despite of these restrictions and using all methods to defy them, including the stone-pelting on the security forces. In the last one week or so, except minor incidents where not even 20 people were involved, no big incidents took place and the Valley has been peaceful.
People in the Valley are still thinking about this decision and it will take some time to sink down in their minds. They do not want to hit the streets against this decision. Our effort will be to try and tell them that the decision is taken in larger interest of the people. What is more important for us is to quickly take steps and see to it that the fruits of development reach to the masses. Once that starts happening, people will not fall for any negative propaganda. That is why the government has decided to organise the big Investors summit there very soon. People of the country should also come forward to set the things in order. When we say Kashmir is ours, it is not just about the territory, it is about the people i.e. Kashmiris. We have to go and embrace the state. This is how we have to tackle it. On diplomatic front we are trying to tackle the challenge of misinformation, lies, and propaganda. We have got several terror-supporting Twitter handles discontinued. Our administration is taking certain measures to normalise the situation as early as possible.
What about Pakistan and its efforts to internationalise the issue?
One has to listen to Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan’s speech in the National Assembly. He went to the extent of issuing threats of nuclear war between the two countries. That is the extent of frustration. The fact remains that we have amended only a part of our Constitution. For that matter, five years ago, Pakistan did the same thing with respect to Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK). They amended the State subject clause to allow for the Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) to be extended to people who do not belong to PoJK. Pakistani game plan to internationalise the Kashmir issue by using certain countries has not succeeded. It will not succeed anymore.
What is the reason that nobody in international media is bothered about Jammu and Ladakh?
You see, the discourse on Kashmir has all along been lopsided. It has always been about Kashmir Valley. Jammu & Kashmir has been only about Kashmir people. But I am on a larger point here. The Government and the Prime Minister have taken a major tactical shift in all this. We stopped looking at Kashmir problem from Pakistan’s prism. It is our country. It is our Jammu & Kashmir. It is our Constitution. It is the sovereign right of the country to do whatever you want. In this sense, we are accountable to our Parliament. We are answerable to our Constitution and our people. We are not answerable to Pakistan. We are not answerable to any third country. So, this kind of approach in handling the Jammu & Kashmir issue conveys a message not just to Pakistan but to any country.
Earlier, every discourse on issues like Jammu & Kashmir used to be on the lines of what the repercussion would be. That used to be the starting point. Our stand is, we will tackle the fallout. We are a strong country and we are capable of managing it. Today, India’s stature compared to that of our neighbour is much bigger. So, we need not equate ourselves with our neighbour and start thinking about what they will do, what they will think, and how they will react. Even in the case of their best friend China, we should be able to tell them to choose between the $90 billion trade and 2 billion of investment. India has to show her will power and self-confidence. That is what the Prime Minister has done. And the result today is that despite so much of noise, Pakistan has not been able to get the support of even a single country, including China, Saudi Arabia and UAE. We have shown our will power and determination. And the world respects that.
What is the future plan after this decision is the big question that everyone has in mind? Comment.
Right now, once the Article 370 and the problematic clauses are removed, we will remove all the emotional barriers that Article 370 had created in all these years. We have to remove the barrier between the people of Kashmir and the rest of the country. We will have a lot of developmental activities in the Kashmir valley for the people of Kashmir to benefit them in their day to day life. The whole country also has to respond in a manner that this is part of my country. You see, we should not be clubbing it with any other issue at the moment. As for PoJK and its status is concerned, there was an all-party consensus in the Parliament 1994, so there is no debate about the claim. The only outstanding issue to talk to Pakistan will be the status of PoJK.
Private Investment and job opportunities still is a huge concern.
Of course, when I said development, the priority will be to get investors to come there and invest in the state. The last major private investment happened in J&K was in the 1950s. HMT tried to invest in 1970 but soon became bankrupt. Even the public sector did not dare to do much. Now the atmosphere will change and investors will come. Tourism is the main strength of the state. So, we need to encourage a lot of tourism there. We need to encourage Indians as well as international tourists to go there. All these activities will create more jobs, more employment and more livelihoods for the people of J&K.
The so-called mainstream leaders of the Valley are under detention, where is the alternative leadership?
See, new situations demand a new kind of politics in J&K. The so-called mainstream parties in the valley have so far done the politics which is not India centric, which is not national. Till now, it was purely either valley-centric or pro-separatists. That narrative has no credibility anymore. There will be some minor elements but largely a time for that narrative is over. The sooner the so-called mainstream parties of the valley realise it, will be better for them. If they do not realise, they will become history in the valley. Now the discourse will be India-centric. The Panchayat election is over and block-level elections are going on at some places. As the 73rd and 74th amendments will be fully extended for Panchayati Raj system, a new set of leadership will emerge and their discourse will be development and nation-centric. I am sure, the days of bread and butter politics are over now.
When we formed the coalition government with PDP in J&K, our focus and effort were on bringing the PDP in national mainstream discourse. We succeeded to some extent for some time but after that, they decided to go back to the same old narrative for political reasons. Now the situation for these parties is, either change the course or become history.
In this India-centric narrative, what kind of socio-political changes do you expect to unfold?
The decision to amend Article 370 was mainly taking three objectives in mind. First, the development of which I have already elaborated. Second is political empowerment. In terms of political empowerment, 73rd and 74th amendment will be fully extended to the state which empowers administrative as well as finance Panchayati Raj institutions in the state. The delimitation exercise which happened in rest of the country before 2009 elections did not take place in J&K, as Article 370 was misused to ban it until 2026. Now when the Constitution has fully gone in the state that restriction is also gone. Very soon the delimitation exercise will take place in J&K that will actually give justice to the whole process. Jammu has always suffered at the hands of rulers in the state, even politically. Although the population in both regions has been almost the same, the political representation was different. Now the bill envisages 90 assembly seats compared to earlier 83 seats for J&K (excluding Ladakh). It will be based after delimitation on population and keeping in minds other factors also. All this will be a major source of empowerment.
And the third aspect is about dignity. Some sections of the population have been deprived of basic political and human rights all along. We know about the plight of Kashmiri Pundits. Now, they can go back to their homes in the valley, the government will extend full support to them. For other sections like POJK refugees, we have given them a financial package but that is not sufficient and now they will get more benefits. The West Pak refugees, about whom the Union Home Minister has spoken in the Parliament, did not have even basic fundamental rights like the right to vote, right to government education, right to have ration cards and healthcare. Now all will be given to them. This all is about human dignity. Similarly, groups like Paharis, Gujjars, Gorkhas now will also get all the rights.
What role do you see for nationalist Indians in restoring normalcy in J&K as they have also emotionally invested in entire discourse for a long time?
First, the BJP and the extended Parivar fought for so long for full integration of J&K in the Indian union. Now the dream is fulfilled. It is our duty to increase our footprints in the state. As far as BJP is concerned we will expand our activity; we hope to rise as a ruling party in the state when the assembly election takes place. A party that represents and articulates national discourse should be in the driving seat in the state that will help the state.
Secondly, thousands of Kashmiri students are studying across the country. Also, there are Kashmiris working in cities like Mumbai, Hyderabad and so on. Because of the emotional barriers, reactions happened on both sides. However, we should embrace and treat them as our own people. No longer can incidents of violence happen in the country. So with sentiments now in mind, people of the country have to go into the state with investment, create jobs, employment and livelihood. One of the easiest ways to create employment is tourism. If there are still people who have apprehensions about the country, we have to win them over. So, now we have to move with a lot of confidence. Not with diffidence or negativity. Maybe there will be challenges but we have to take it as a patriotic duty.
When are we expecting an election in J&K?
Election Commission has to decide, but now that the Bill has clearly stated that the delimitation process has to be undertaken. I think once the delimitation process is over, the election process will begin.
(The article was originally published in Organiser Magazine on August 19, 2019)