The BJP-led government has aggravated the problem in Kashmir: Former Kashmir interlocutor MM Ansari

Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times/Getty Images
06 August, 2019

On 5 August, the union home minister Amit Shah announced in the Rajya Sabha that the Bharatiya Janata Party government had effectively nullified Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which granted a special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Shah tabled two bills in the upper house that necessitated revoking the special status guaranteed to the state. In addition to the bills—the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019 and the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (2nd Amendment) Bill, 2019—Shah also brandished a presidential order, dated the same day, which extended all the provisions of the Constitution to the state, defanging Article 370. Both bills passed in the house.

Following Independence, Article 370 had formalised the terms of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to the Indian union—as stipulated in the Instrument of Accession. Among other things, Article 370 mandated that barring certain subjects—such as defence and foreign policy—the central government was required to seek the concurrence of the Jammu and Kashmir government before it could legislate in the state.

Yet, as the state has been under President’s Rule since December 2018, the centre circumvented this requirement—the presidential order allowed the governor to assent in lieu of the state legislature. Through the Reorganisation bill, the government split the state into two union territories—Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. That the centre acted in the absence of a state government and through an executive order also raised questions about the constitutional validity of its decisions.

MM Ansari is a senior bureaucrat who has served as the Chief Information Commissioner. He was appointed as one of the three interlocutors on Jammu and Kashmir by the Congress-led central government from 2010 to2011. The three-member panel of interlocutors submitted a report to the centre focusing on a “permanent political settlement of the Kashmir problem.” In a conversation with Amrita Singh, an editorial fellow at The Caravan, Ansari discussed his views on the government’s recent moves in Kashmir. “This is highly dictatorial,” he said. “The centre could have gone in the process of a consultation with all the stakeholders, which has not been done.”

As I understand, the whole process has been followed in a way to have full control in Jammu and Kashmir by bypassing all the democratic processes. This amounts to breach of trust between the leadership of the Jammu and Kashmir and the leadership of New Delhi. At the time of independence, Jammu and Kashmir was to go along with Pakistan because of its natural proximity, but the Kashmiris decided to stay with India on condition that they will be given special powers, that is greater autonomy, which is why it was agreed that the Indian state will have powers to intervene only in three areas—defence, communication and external affairs. Without taking the state leadership in confidence, or without following the proper procedure of discussing and taking a decision in the parliament, now they have full control, and they have made Jammu and Kashmir into a union territory. This amounts to following a very undemocratic process. Because whenever the states are reorganised, the parliament as well as the state assembly are taken in confidence.

When 580 princely states got merged with India, they had signed two documents. One was the accession document, which Jammu and Kashmir also did, and the second was the merger document. Jammu and Kashmir did not sign the merger document which is why they have the separate constitution. This all has been done away with—this is highly dictatorial. The centre could have gone in the process of having a consultation with all the stakeholders, which has not been done. The centre will have direct control, even in subjects which are in the state list, like land regulations. There is surely some breach of trust and the democratic process has not been followed.

It does help the ruling government, the BJP, to promote the sentiments of the majority of their voters. This has been their issue since the beginning—the RSS and BJP always had this in their manifesto to abrogate Article 370, which now they have done. While they were in power during the Vajpayee time—[a reference to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee] they did not touch it. Again, under the Modi government [from 2014 to 2019], they did not touch it. Now they have, just for the satisfaction of the majority of the voters of the BJP. They have scored points for making those people happy, but at the same time they have aggravated the problem in Kashmir.

People in Kashmir have always expressed concerns that the central government is likely to change the demographic composition of the state which is something that this is going to hurt the people. Those who have always been with the central government, and pro-India like the National Conference and the PDP [the People’s Democratic Party], who have also formed governments with the central governments—both with the Congress as well as the BJP—even they have been alienated. They have also been put under house arrest. In this respect, the separatist as well as the pro-India camp is almost on the same page. This is how the political process has been manoeuvred and what will invite greater criticism against the government.

Using clause 3 of Article 370, as many as over 40 presidential orders have been passed and the BJP has been critical of it. [Clause 3 of Article 370 allows the president to issue notifications to modify Article 370, but only upon the recommendation made by the Jammu and Kashmir constituent assembly.] The BJP has used the same clause to undo the whole thing. While they have been criticising the Congress and the other parties for misusing that provision, the BJP has used the provision to bypass the political process. The government should have followed the democratic process of consulting the state assembly and accordingly taking steps.

[The people in Kashmir] were by and large happy that they had special powers and therefore their administration was very much in their hand, in their control. But incidentally, any government that was formed in Jammu and Kashmir had to be formed with the help of the centre because of their financial vulnerability and because of the dispute with Pakistan. There was always a huge deployment of security forces. They have had special powers, but they were not able to use it because of the dispute with the neighbour.

I must say that people in Ladakh wanted to have their own union territory, so that they are directly governed by the centre. But the Jammu leadership always wanted to have their own statehood—they wanted to be separate from the valley. Unfortunately, they have been saying that “why are you dragging us also with the valley, make us a separate state.” People in Jammu will also be frustrated because they have not got the full-fledged statehood. The Jammu leadership had been saying that you are using us against the Kashmiris to neutralise their influence because one is majority Hindu and the other is majority Muslim. You are pitting one against the other for your own purposes. Jammu wanted that “look, you separate us and we will be running our own state like Haryana, Punjab.” But the government has chosen to keep them together so that problem remains.

In the constitution, Article 370 was categorised under the category of temporary [provisions] as special and transitional. It was temporary thinking that probably in due course of time, once the problem with Pakistan is resolved—I mean the border issue—this could be given a different status altogether. But it has been so long, 70 years or so, that it was treated as a special provision. Once a privilege has been given, you cannot withdraw it just like that, only on the pretext of insurgency and militancy. Recently, last week, the government said the Amarnath yatra was going very well, there was decline in militancy, there was decline in insurgency, and all of a sudden you have leaders behind the bars, under house arrest, and without letting the people know what is happening. That is a kind of breach of trust.

[The cancellation of the Amarnath yatra, and the deployment of troops in Kashmir] was just to deal with the sentiments of the majority community. Had it been any other government which had stopped the yatra, you would have seen a huge backlash and hue and cry. But people did not object to it because people are happy that the special [status] is gone, so it serves the sentimental purpose of the party and its voters. That is a huge win for the party and its voters.

But my view is that the insertion of Article 370 was necessitated because of an agreement with the leadership of Jammu and Kashmir and this has now been revoked without their consultation, which amounts to breach of trust.

As told to Amrita Singh. This account has been edited and condensed.