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Need for united response

Facing a daunting challenge from the opposition parties in the ongoing parliamentary elections, the BJP is trying to woo the voters by playing the Kashmir card. Over the past few days, the top leaders of the BJP are promising to do away with Jammu and Kashmir’s special status granted under Articles 370 and 35-A of the Indian constitution.

Party President Amit Shah, addressing an election rally, pledged to scrap these constitutional provisions by the next year. Finance minister Ashok Jaitley too tweeted calling Article 370 a “great blunder”. Election promises and pledges are not usually taken as seriously but scrapping Articles 370 and 35-A is the national agenda of the BJP. The move is aimed at changing the Muslim character of Jammu and Kashmir. The Hindu extremist groups of India who derive ideological inspiration from the RSS and political patronage and protection from the BJP view Kashmir as a religious issue. For them Kashmir, in ancient history, has remained a religious seat of Hindus. They regard the advent of Islam and emergence of Muslim Kashmir an “aberration that needs to be corrected”. Restoring Kashmir’s Hindu past is their cherished goal. Withdrawing of the state’s special status that bars non-state subjects from purchasing property, voting in local assembly elections and government jobs in Jammu and Kashmir would be a huge jump of Hindu extremists in materializing their dream for subverting Kashmir’s Muslim identity. That is a serious challenge that the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been put up with. It goes without saying that the Kashmiri people are quite mindful of the designs of India’s Hindu extremists, and they never will give them a walkover. It is for this fact that similar voices have been raised from almost all shades of political opinion in reaction to BJP leaders’ threats.

PDP President and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has warned New Delhi that the scrapping of Article 370 by 2020 would mean “final year of Kashmir with India”. After filing her nomination for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections from Anantnag, Mehbooba said, “Kashmir will end its relation with India if Article 370 is removed in 2020 and that will be the final year of Kashmir with India.”

National Conference vice president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah expressed almost similar sentiments. He rather sought the restoration of the nomenclatures of Prime Minister (for chief minister) and Sadr-e-Riyasat (for Governor) to the state. The NC chief said that J&K also had a prime minister, but the Centre scrapped that. “We’ll take that back one day,” he added. Hours after the statement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hit out at the Congress asking it to clarify whether it supported Abdullah’s remarks. As the voices of Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti were reverberating in air, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a senior separatist voice, said that they would defend Article 370 and 35-A against all odds and at all costs. That makes it a collective case of Jammu and Kashmir. “Azadi” may or may not be the slogan of every state subject in Jammu and Kashmir; however, the protection of special status of Jammu and Kashmir is everybody’s case. The pro-freedom leadership should not restrict the issue to them only. They should rather broaden the canvass of their response and involve every stakeholder. People from Jammu and Ladakh also need to be involved. Jammu is not Bari Brahmana and Samba only. Rajouri, Poonch, Bhadarwah, Doda, Kishtwar, Banihal, Gool Gulab Garg, Bani and other sub-regions of Jammu share common political aspiration with the people of the valley. Same is true with the people in Ladakh (Kargil). The pro-freedom leadership may have reservations to sit with NC, PDP and other pro-India groups for the known ideological reasons and political beliefs but for the larger interest of Jammu and Kashmir some middle-ground needs to be worked out. The best-case scenario is to entrust the leadership role through consensus or getting the civil society on board too.