Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s four-day visit to Kashmir was significant in many ways. Addressing the media in Srinagar, Rajnath Singh said that anxiety in Kashmir over the revocation of Article 35-A is misplaced. The BJP-led government will not go against the wishes of the people of Jammu & Kashmir on constitutional provisions that guarantee special privileges to the state. The statement of the home minister has sent a positive message but the Kashmiris are not satisfied. Rajnath Singh was non-committal on the issue of filing of counter-affidavit to defend Article 35A in the Supreme Court (SC). The sentiment is mere words are not sufficient; it must be followed by action.
The visit needs to be seen in the backdrop of PM Narendra Modi’s address from the rampart of Red Fort on Independence Day. He said, ”Na goli se na gaali se, Kashmir ki samasya suljhegi gale lagane se. (Kashmir’s problems can be solved only with embracing the people of Kashmir, not with bullets or abuses).” Rajnath Singh also said, “I will make 50 visits a year if necessary to ensure peace and prosperity.” The statement of the home minister is again positive and it indicates Centre wants to begin a dialogue. But dialogue needs to be with all the stakeholders.
Mere words never resolve any conflict. It surely helps in pacifying the situation and creates a conducive atmosphere for the dialogue. It needs to be taken forward. Had the home minister assured the people of Kashmir that they will file a counter-affidavit in the SC defending Article 35A, it would have sent the perfect message and would have created the best atmosphere for the dialogue.
The SCI will hear petitions challenging Article 35A, which was added to the Constitution by a Presidential Order in 1954, after Diwali vacation. The Article entitles the J&K assembly to define Permanent Residents of the state.
The Alliance of Agreement (AoA) between Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and BJP categorically says, “While recognizing the different positions and appreciating the perceptions BJP and PDP have on the constitutional status of J&K considering the political and legislative realities, the present position will be maintained on all the constitutional provisions pertaining to J&K including the special status in the Constitution of India.”
The mainstream political parties of J&K like PDP, National Conference (NC) are demanding that Article 35A should not be touched. BJP is also against Article 370.
The words and actions must match. The ground reality is it is not happening. The home minister met delegations of political parties, chambers, civil society etc but preferred to keep a distance from the two Hurriyat Conferences led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar.
During his visit arrests were taking place and so also violence and encounters. The home minister should have met people with different or opposite thinking. Dialogue with all the stakeholders is necessary. That’s what former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said. Kashmir is a core issue and needs to be resolved. It cannot be resolved unless words match action.
Ideally, home minister should have announced a couple of decisions pacifying the people of Kashmir Valley. He could have announced the withdrawal of pellet guns or making a couple of districts free from the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
Though Singh said he has directed the security forces and the administration that children who have been ‘misguided and pushed into violence’ should not be treated as criminals and put into jails. It is a significant statement but it should become a reality on the ground. The arrested children below 18 years can be released. Many of them are arrested under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA).
The four-day visit of a home minister should be followed by some concrete actions, which can touch the hearts of the people. The Centre and state government must speak the same language. The PDP and BJP in the state must be on the same page on the issues confronting Kashmir. The J&K BJP must drop demand of removing Article 35A from the Constitution.
The issue of Kashmir is a political one and can be resolved only politically. One should not see Kashmir issue for political gain. It can help the ruling BJP by the non-action or adopting a hawkish position on Kashmir. But, the issue must be seen from a wider angle and how to win hearts of the people of the Valley. The government must resume dialogue with all stakeholders. It is the duty of the statesmen to win hearts of the people who differ with them. We need statesmen.