The Daily Fix

The Daily Fix: Rajnath’s backing for Article 35A is meaningless if the Centre speaks in two voices

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The Big Story: Doublespeak

Much of what Home Minister Rajnath Singh said in Kashmir over the last few days should come as a positive sign. Singh said he went with an open mind and was willing to meet anyone who wants to help resolve the problems of Kashmir. He insisted that anyone detained under the age of 18 should not be treated as a criminal, but dealt with under the Juvenile Justice Act. He promised to visit Kashmir not just five “but 50 times a year” if necessary. He claimed that the situation in Kashmir had “greatly improved”. Most significantly, in response to a question on the legal challenge to Article 35A, which bars outsiders from acquiring immovable property in Jammu & Kashmir, he claimed that the Centre would not do anything that went against the sentiments of the people.

All those assertions give the impression that the Bharatiya Janata Party-run Centre has realised how badly it has failed in creating the political space that could lead to a peaceful solution in Kashmir, despite being in power in the state in alliance with the People’s Democratic Party. Yet, a closer look at every one of those statements reveals troubling realities.

Singh said he was willing to meet anyone with an open mind, yet as he visited, the authorities had placed several key separatist leaders either under house arrest or put them in jail. He claimed that the situation had greatly improved, even though police had to impose restrictions in some places in Srinagar to prevent protests during his visit. He spoke of not putting youngsters in jails, where they are often radicalised, but did not mention the plight of the juvenile justice system in the state. Though he claimed that the Centre would not go against people’s sentiments, it was the Union Attorney General KK Venugopal who, in July, told the Supreme Court that a “larger debate” on Article 35A is needed.

That last point is a perfect example of the dangerous game the BJP calls its Kashmir policy. When visiting the Valley, the Centre says everything is fine and it will not go against the people’s wishes. Yet, step into Jammu and the invective against Article 35A is being fueled by the BJP. Across the country, Central and BJP leaders have ramped up their criticism of Jammu & Kashmir’s special status, a development so serious that it brought the ruling People’s Democratic Party and arch-rivals National Conference onto the same platform to defend Article 35A.

If there is anyone Rajnath Singh should be conveying a message about Article 35A to, it is his party members, his fellow ministers in the Cabinet and his Attorney General. Simply promising to not go against the people’s sentiments is meaningless unless backed up by the rest of the government and conveyed to the right-wing ecosystem. If, indeed, the Centre was trustworthy on this matter, it would have backed the state government’s position on a challenge to Article 35A in the Supreme Court, instead of calling for a larger debate.

If all the Centre wanted from Singh’s visit was a photo-op and positive headlines, it has got that, even as some parts of the Valley shut down in protest, while the alliance agenda of the BJP-People’s Democratic Party government lies in tatters. Only when Singh’s comments to Kashmiris are repeated and amplified – in Jammu, Delhi and for the benefit of BJP members around the country – can there be any question of trusting the Centre’s promises to do as the people of the state wish.

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