The BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi held a big rally in Jammu on Sunday, December 01, 2013. He along with the party's President Rajnath Singh attacked the Indian National Congress (INC) and the ruling regional party, the National Conference (NC), vehemently, lamenting the backwardness of the state in the hands of its ruling elites. But still the tone was milder and it was more conciliatory too.
Singh with his characteristic deep husky voice appeared more inclusive and forthcoming towards Muslims of the state and those of the nation. He told the gathering that the BJP's policies were based on twin principles of justice and humanity. He said these two words in Urdu: Insaaf and Insaniyat, and not in Hindi. Rajnath Singh appealed to Muslims to join hands with the BJP in rooting out evil and corruption plaguing the Indian society. Narendra Modi also used Islamic words like, Jamhuriat and Insaniyat. However, he appealed specifically to Shiites of Kargil.
The most remarkable thing about both the leaders was that none of the two talked about revoking, repealing or abrogating Article 370 which gives special legislative powers to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Assembly and its government and restricts the influence of Indian Parliament and Indian Union government in the state to four fields: currency, communication, defense and foreign matters.
But both of them dubbed the article as an 'evil' or at least 'anti-national' and urged for discussing its pros and cons all around the state and in the rest of India as well. Modi reminded the INC that its leader and icon Nehru promised perpetual merger of J&K into the Indian Union and he urged upon the party to support full merger of the state with the Indian Union. Both Singh and Modi also questioned whether the relevant special provision in the form of Article 370 has proved economically beneficial to the state or not.
Singh and Modi asked as to why the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Indian Constitution were not applicable in the state and they also highlighted the issue that corruption-prevention laws, gender-neutral laws and empowerment of people through the rural local governance were not applicable in the state. Before I discuss the larger issue let me state some facts about these Constitutional amendments.
Earlier, initially, the state governments effectively enjoyed power in the holding of elections to local bodies. The 73rd and 74th amendments take away an option that the state government previously had though it chose not to exercise it. Until the passage of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments, the states were the only sub-national units officially recognized by the Indian Constitution.
The Indian Constitution grants individual states considerable legislative autonomy as per Asian standards though not as much as per the Federal Constitution. Under Schedule Seven of the Indian Constitution the Parliament's rights are demarcated under the "Union List", the state legislatures have jurisdiction over what is known as "State List". The third list is known as the "Concurrent List" over which the national Parliament and the state legislatures share jurisdiction.
The fact is that as formulated and conceived in the Indian Constitution, the Indian Parliament has limited powers to enact laws for J&K. Therefore, 73rd and 74th Constitutions could have come into effect in J&K only by the consent of its Assembly. They are there in morphed forms in the state and the people of state do choose their rural governing bodies. Only thing is that the Union may have only supportive role and not a dictating one in such transformations taking place in the state. Therefore, Rajnath Singh and Narendra Modi's objections are not that valid and not up-to-date.
Modi talked in length about the backwardness of the state and regional disparity within. But nobody should forget that the region from where he was giving speech, there the writ of Indian state runs large totally and very effectively and most of the Jammu region people are mainstreamers. The problem lies in the Valley where obviously for twin reasons of security and lack of popular support, Modi cannot give speech or if he somehow delivers such there would be hardly any taker in that region. Therefore, what Singh and Modi were talking about was supporting the de facto ?division? of the state into three units. In this way the Jammu region can have all its due rights met.
But then even in a 'normal' Indian state, it is the legislative body of the state that first approves off division of state. The role of Union comes only after the state's approval. The J&K Assembly cannot pass such a legislation which would severely reduce its power in the state and encourage division of Muslims of the state. Without the consent of the J&K Assembly there is no way a separate state of Jammu and a possible Union territory of Laddakh can be created.
As far as the abrogation of Article 370 is concerned that is not possible without the consent of the state Assembly either. Moreover, the Article is the most important legal link between the state and the rest of the nation. No unbiased constitutional expert of any repute would suggest revoking, repealing or abrogating Article 370 without taking into confidence the J&K Assembly. As a policy all thinking people should welcome debate on this matter and the BJP can initiate its own with Kashmiri people of all regions participating in that.
No one in India and even in the J&K should expect much from the BJP on Kashmir: in fact it was the most lenient speech on the issue by its Prime Ministerial hopeful. After all, the BJP is a Hindu nationalist party which believes in the full unity and integrity of Indian state. The manner in which Modi spoke was more encouraging as compared to his previous speeches even though this could be pure opportunistic election gimmick.
But then all political parties seek votes and play all possible games and there is nothing new about the BJP doing so. It would be better if it has changed its hearts towards Muslims but then it could look for tangible returns even in short-terms. Such would be unrealistic position from a big party's point of view.
The fact is that there is hardly any question of Muslims as a group voting significantly in favor of the BJP outside Gujarat in the upcoming elections. Nonetheless simply seeking their votes is a good sign and would go a long way in improving BJP's troubled relations with India's biggest minority. The better option for the Muslims of India would be to vote as per their conscience and still better if they don't vote in masse against the BJP all over India.
The fact is that both Mr. Singh and Mr. Modi have raised many legitimate questions and they deserve answers on them as well. The speeches were impressive and inspiring in essence. But before I end, I must say that all those who want Indian stakes to continue and flourish in the state, particularly in the Valley, must admit that Abdullah family till to-date has been very much pro-Indian and useful to Indian state.
There may be some corruption issues and Abdullah family may have kept some soft heart for Pakistan but in spite of all this they are critical to Indian stakes in the state and the NDA, if it comes back to power in New Delhi, must take a friendly walk with the NC. On their part, the NC leaders shouldn't be that partisan in their approach to national politics and should join hands with the NDA, if and when it comes to power in New Delhi and offers olive branch to the party.
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