Article 35-A and illegal Rohingya immigrants in Jammu - these are the two most important issues today when it comes to J&K.
How did Rajnath Singh’s visit help in the bringing both of these to the fore?
Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s four-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) will be remembered for years for various reasons. The most important reason being his contradictory stands on the atrocious Article 35-A.
On the one hand, Article 35-A bars all Indians, except the ‘permanent residents’ of J&K, from exercising any citizenship right in the state and, on the other, deprives the daughter of the state of their fundamental right to marry anywhere in the country or outside. Their children cannot inherit even their mothers’ property – located in Jammu and Kashmir – in case they are married to non-permanent residents in or outside Jammu and Kashmir.
On 11 April, at Srinagar, Singh gave his support to Article 35-A. So much so, he virtually declared that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Narendra Modi Government were not bound by what the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) said about Article 35-A and that what he said about it was the truth. RSS is opposed to Article 35-A, saying it is unconstitutional, discriminatory and divisive.
What did Singh say about Article 35-A while addressing press conference in Srinagar before flying to Jammu? He, without mincing words, said: “There is no reason for doubt or speculation on this issue. Unnecessarily an issue is being made out. The central government has not initiated any process on this issue. We have not gone to the court. I want to assure that. I am not talking about only Article 35-A, whatever our government does, we will not do anything against the sentiments of the people (in this case Kashmiri Muslims). We will continue to respect that”.
When asked by a reporter about statements of RSS and BJP leaders on the issues of Article 35-A and Article 370, Singh said: “They say there is a difference between the two. Forgive me, I think that as far as the BJP is concerned, the BJP is a political party. RSS and other such organisations can be there. Some are social, some are cultural and some are socio-cultural organisations. I am here as a leader of a political party – the BJP – as well as the Home Minister. So what I tell you, you should consider only that as truth” (Daily Excelsior, 12 September).
The statement of Singh evoked response in Kashmir and Jammu on expected lines. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who had earlier said at the India International Centre in New Delhi that “there would be no one in Kashmir to give shoulder to national flag if Article 35-A is tinkered with”, and National Conference working president and leader of opposition in the Assembly, Omar Abdullah, welcomed the statement of Singh.
Welcoming the statement, Mufti said: “The positivity exhibited by Home Minister would go a long way in putting balms on the wounds of the people of the State. The Government of India will never undermine the sentiments of the people of Jammu & Kashmir (read Kashmiri Muslims) regarding the State’s special status” (Rising Kashmir, Sep 12).
Abdullah went several steps further and said: “The assurance given by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh should silence all the ‘noises’ against Article 35-A of the Indian Constitution. The Union Government must now file a counter-affidavit in the Supreme Court to defend Article 35-A. This is the only way to carry forward this assurance,” (Economic Times, 12 September).
The point is that all Kashmir-based outfits, including the Congress and People’s Democratic Front (PDF), welcomed the statement of Rajnath Singh. The Congress even termed his statement as its “first victory”.
In Jammu, the response was one of great dissatisfaction with political parties like Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party, refugees from Pakistan, women organisations and leading civil society groups such as the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association, Jammu, (JKHCBAJ) and Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) upping the ante and demanding abrogation of Article 35-A (Tribune, Sep 12). It had an impact. After all, Jammu and Ladakh, and not Kashmir, are the BJP’s core constituencies.
A day later (12 September), Singh did what could be legitimately described as a complete -turn and said that he would not speak on Article 35-A as the case was in the Supreme Court and that his Srinagar statement had been misinterpreted.
“The matter is sub-judice. Some NGOs (read “We the Citizens”, Charu Wali Khanna, Dr Seema Razdan and West Pakistan refugees) have filed writ petitions challenging Article 35-A. The Centre will take into account the aspirations of the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh before deciding anything,” he said (Times of India, 13 September).
“No attempt should be made to misinterpret my statement. I have said sentiments of all the three regions of the state, including Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh will be taken into account,” he further said while responding to a query whether the Centre had ignored the sentiments of the people of Jammu and Ladakh by giving an assurance to address the aspirations of one region only (Tribune, 13 September).
The response in Jammu to his statement was one of overwhelming satisfaction.
The point is that almost all the delegations, including the one led by Jammu and Kashmir BJP president Sat Sharma and barring those represented the Congress and the National Conference, which met Singh in Jammu on 11 September and 12, in one voice spoke against Article 35-A and demanded not only its abrogation but also immediate deportation of Rohingya Muslims from Jammu. The upshot of their whole argument was that while abrogation of Article 35-A will end age-old discrimination with women of the state and Jammu-based Hindu-Sikh refugees from Pakistan, it will also establish parity between the people of the state and rest of the Indians. As for the Rohingya Muslims, they told the visiting Home Minister that their deportation will maintain the demographic balance in Jammu province and avert the possibility of the Rohingyas joining hands with anti-India forces to indulge in terrorist activities to destabilise India.
Singh didn’t disappoint them. He acknowledged that the Rohingyas were a threat to national security and the Union Government will deal with the issue with a firm hand.
“The illegal foreign immigrants – Rohingyas – will be strongly dealt with,” said Singh in reply to a question about the Rohingya Muslims living in different parts of India, including Jammu (Times of India, 13 September).
That Singh meant what he said in Jammu on 12 September became clear on 13 September, when at least three senior Union Ministers met under the leadership of Rajnath Singh in Delhi to discuss the deportation of the Rohingyas from India.
A report in this regard in The Hindustan Times (14 September) said: “Facing criticism by UN Human Rights Council over the issue of deportation of Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar, the BJP government on Wednesday seemed to have taken a stronger stance over the plan of evicting 40,000 Rohingyas living across India. The Centre plans to deport the refugees was discussed during a consultation meeting held at the Akbar Road residence of Home Minister Rajnath Singh. The meeting was attended by senior BJP ministers, including Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Road and Highway Minister Nitin Gadkari”.
This is the whole situation. There is no meeting ground between Kashmir and Jammu and between the former and Ladakh. What, then, is the way out? The way out is reorganisation of the state on regional as opposed to religious lines. In fact, the BJP, the Panthers Party and surprisingly the National Conference and the Congress, did put forth demands ranging from regional council to statehood to regional autonomy to constitutional safeguards for Jammu (Tribune, 14 September). The Union government needs to appreciate the sentiment as expressed by the ruling BJP and opposition parties and end the 70-year-old conflict between the regions.