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A grievous blow

The patron of the People’s Democratic Party, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, flouted his election manifesto, the people’s mandate and the pledges repeatedly made during the elections as well as later.

This is singularly unfortunate for two reasons. He had performed fairly well as head of a PDP-Congress coalition from 2002 to 2005. Secondly, the people of Indian Kashmir had come to trust him. Hence his electoral success.

Kashmiri politics have suffered a grievous blow by his lapse. One would have hoped that he would play a positive role in its politics. Omar Abdullah has failed the people miserably.

The PDP is doing Kashmiri politics no favours. It has come to light that he made overtures to the Bharatiya Janata Party to form a coalition but was rebuffed. He was after all a minister in the BJP government headed by A.B. Vajpayee. The separatists are a house divided. The PDP could have shown a way out.

The Minimum Common Programme was published only after Mufti Mohammed Sayeed had taken oath of office as chief minister on March 1, as head of a coalition with the BJP. It is committed to rob Kashmir of its autonomy, guaranteed by Article 370 of India’s constitution and also to communalise the area by whipping up Hindu sentiment in Jammu. It lost every single seat it had contested in the Muslim-majority Valley. The people voted in huge numbers to defeat its plans.

The PDP’s manifesto: “The special status enshrined in Article 370 is required to empower the people of [Indian] J&K and help deal with the issues of identity, borders and governance; use Article 370 itself to restore the original special status” of the area.

Restoration is crucial. The union home minister G.L. Nanda told parliament on Dec 4, 1964, half a century ago “only the shell is there. Article 370, whether you keep it or not, has been completely emptied of its contents”.

But the ‘shell’ was useful. “It is through this tunnel that a good deal of traffic has already passed and more will”.

Article 370 contained an interim provision for extension of central power with the consent of the Srinagar government before its constituent assembly was convened. It did in 1951 denuding the government at Srinagar of the power to accord consent. This ratificatory body dissolved itself with fanfare in November 1956.

The BJP has consistently urged “abrogation” of Article 370 which is constitutionally impossible. Article 1 of the constitution which establishes the Union of India applies to Indian Kashmir only by virtue of Article 370. Prime minister Narasimha Rao and home minister S.B. Chavan warned that repeal would spell secession.

The status quo is no favour to Kashmiris. Restoration alone is; for 47 orders were made by the president of India under Article 370, from 1954 to 1994, so that 94 of the 97 entries in the Union List and 26 of the 47 entries in the Concurrent List were extended to J&K as were 260 of the 395 articles of the Indian constitution. All, with utter unconstitutionality.

The PDP-BJP accord treats Article 370 as dirty words not even to be mentioned. It sanctifies those fraudulent 47 orders in these terms. “While recognising 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.” Since Article 370 is the only constitutional provision pertaining to the area, ‘all’ here refers to the 47 orders made under Article 370. They are now approved by the PDP.

Mufti released Masarat Alam detai­ned under the Public Safety Act, 1978. The order had expired. There were no fresh grounds for detention. All hell broke loose with Modi expressing his ‘outrage’ on March 9.

Next came an order on March 12 instructing officials to use the flag of J&K. Article 144 of its constitution explicitly provides for the flag. The Modi government had only to crack the whip for Mufti to get the order withdrawn the very next day.

The impact of this climbdown on his government will be considerable. He will be in office but he will not be in power. The BJP ministers in the coalition will be more assertive and he will hardly have the morale to stand up to them and the centre. Cabinet governance will be a wreck.

The authors of the deal said: “The first was de jure accession. This is de facto” — the Kashmir question is finally settled. They are wrong. Only the people can settle it. No deceit can.

On Jan 24, Mufti declared “the PDP will not sell its mandate for the sake of power”. He did far worse. He sold his soul for the last sip of power at 79.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

A.G. Noorani, "A grievous blow," Dawn. 2015-03-21.
Keywords: Social sciences , Political issues , Political aspects , Legislative process , Legislative powers , Politics-Kashmir , Mufti Mohammed Sayeed , PM Narasimha Rao , Omar Abdullah , Masarat Alam , Kashmir , India , PDP , BJP