Autonomy, Art 370/35-A, AFSPA…: Old pledges returned in Kashmir’s new poll season

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Routine jibes and digs apart, the way Kashmir has fared in the election manifestos and campaigning of Indian parties apparently speak about the growing politicisation of the issue — that lately brought the two nuke-neighbours on the brink. Back home, however, regional unionists are only selling the old wine in new bottles.

By Saleem Ali

Amid mudslinging and diatribes, the two major Indian political parties are busy playing Article 370/35-A tug-of-war at the moment. While the Congress is batting for constitutional status quo in disputed Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP is rallying for its removal, in a bid to “completely integrate JK with the union of India”.

The saffron party reiterated its stand on the abrogation of the Articles 370 and 35-A. Both the laws, BJP said in its manifesto, have been an “obstacle to development” in the state.

Modi, Shah releasing BJP’s 2019 manifesto, in which they’ve adopted old stand on Kashmir.

Congress, on the other hand, has resorted to the old guards in its manifesto, clearly mentioning that the “nothing will be done or allowed to change the Constitutional position” with regards to Article 370. It also promised to review certain clauses of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) and the Disturbed Areas Act in the state.

“Suitable changes will be made in the text of the laws to balance the requirements of security and the protection of human rights,” the party stated in its manifesto.

Congress with their election manifesto.

Apart from these two main political parties of India, the other regional parties have also included Kashmir in their manifestos.

Communist Party of India (Marxist), for instance, has accused Modi government of “betraying the promises” made to the people of Kashmir. It has pledged in its manifesto: A political solution to the Kashmir problem based on maximum autonomy for the state based on the full scope of Article 370 of the Constitution; autonomous set-up to be created with the regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh being given regional autonomy; oppose all the attempts to remove or review Article 35 (A) of the Constitution.

Back home, however, campaigning for Lok Sabha elections saw old promises being resold in new narrative packages. If it was the binned Autonomy demand for Kashmir’s grand old party, then it was an alternative electoral space vowed by the Northern Alliance. The former ally of BJP, which couldn’t even implement its own agenda of alliance in JK, once again played its soft-separatism card by throwing weight behind its political bible called Self Rule.

NC leaders during an election rally in Srinagar.

But mostly, these poll pledges centered around the special status of the state, which is facing a judicial and political crusade at the moment. While seeking votes to “safeguard” the special position, these parties conveniently assumed a tactical silence on the question: Who eroded that position in the first place?

National Conference reiterated that much of that erosion took place when they were out of power and yet they forged a pre-poll alliance with Congress — the party majorly responsible for damaging the special status of the state.

The party’s poll understanding is clear. NC is leaving Jammu for Congress in the Lok Sabha polls, while the latter is vacating Kashmir for the former, “in a tacit understanding to salvage the secular votebank”.

Batting for the pre-1953 position, Omar Abdullah pitched to revive the buried legacy of Wazir-e-Azam and Sadre-Riyasat, besides pledging to revoke AFSPA and PSA, if voted to power. During his previous tenure, he not only gave up on his own AFSPA campaign, but also made his term full of PSAs—the “lawless law”.

Similarly, PDP, now locking horns with Delhi over Article 370/35-A, had maintained a criminal silence in power over the issue. Right under its nose, sponsored litigations were filed in Supreme Court of India against Kashmir’s special status. The party also presided over the extension of GST and SARFAESI Act in the state. These central laws further dented JK’s special status.

PDP supporters during a rally.

Amid these pledges, majority in Kashmir has once again shrugged off the ‘tried and test’ campaign commotion.

If at all, these parties want to restore some confidence on the ground, many say, they must first impress upon New Delhi to end its rigid stand on Kashmir. Only then, perhaps, they would find some serious audience. Otherwise, the whole fuss would pass as yet another election-time theatrics.

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