Why Article 35A Heats Up Kashmir’s Poll Temp.?

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Article 35A

Amid all this hula bulla on Article 35A, the thing that is missing in the campaign discourse is the mention of development. No political party in Kashmir is promising development in the state during the poll campaign. Can development wait for politics?
Shabir Ahmad
Besides being a democratic exercise, election in Jammu and Kashmir has also strategic significance. Peaceful conduct of the polls in J&K and the overwhelming participation of people in the exercise is not only the success of the election commission of India and the law enforcing agencies but also of federal government of the day.
Due to political uncertainty and volatile security situation in J&K, particularly in Kashmir, the conducting elections (peacefully or otherwise) is always a big event, which attracts attention of world community, particularly the champions of democracy within country and outside. It is these champions (Indian state apparatus including) who can use peaceful conduct of polls in J&K  to counter or undermine the narrative of anti-democratic and anti-national forces who don’t want to see J&K prosper in peaceful and democratic fashion. That is why polls in this troubled northern state are always a high stake contest.
Because of the Pakistan factor and the neighboring country’s interference in Kashmir through militancy and other political activities, Jammu and Kashmir remains the principal focus during election campaign for all political parties. This makes the electoral exercise even more significant here.
As the country is celebrating the festival of democracy with the announcement of parliamentary elections, Jammu and Kashmir too is rejoicing the moment with almost all mainstream political parties or other individual leaders upbeat about contesting the polls. Electorate is very enthusiastic and the campaigning by political parties is also in full swing.
The 2019 Indian general election is scheduled to be held in seven phases from 11 April to 19 May 2019 to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha. The counting of votes will be conducted on 23 May, and on the same day the results will be declared.
Post the successful and peaceful conduct of local body elections in the recent past, the five-phase parliamentary elections in Jammu and Kashmir starting from April 11 will be an historical occasion.
The exercise is happening in the backdrop of charged political and security atmosphere in the state. The political temperature in J&K has further shot up post the statement by Union finance minister Arun Jaitley calling Article 35A “constitutionally vulnerable” and questioning its existence. Security related measures like banning of Jamaat-e-Islami and JKLF and arresting of hundreds of activists of hurriyat and other secessionist forces is also adding fuel to the political fire in Kashmir.
The way the Kashmir-based political leaders are reacting to these developments has made the electoral campaigning more dramatic in the state.
National Conference (NC), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), even Peoples Conference (which is seen as an ally of BJP) and other political bigwigs of Kashmir have made Article 370 and article 35A and its safeguard as their main poll plank. They have also reacted in strong terms to the BJP which is trying to win the sympathies of people by saying that Article 35A is “constitutionally vulnerable” and it also hampers the economic development of the state. Jaitley has already set the ball rolling.
While both NC and PDP are emphatically trying to convince voters in the state that only they can safeguard Article 35A, that grants special rights to the people of J&K on owning property and getting jobs, other political players also castigating BJP for trying to derail the constitutional safeguard to J&K.
NC leader and former chief minister Omar Abdullah during an election rally recently said that the upcoming election is significant as it will decide the future course of action on Articles 370 and 35A, asserting that his party would ensure the protection of the two legislations “within and outside the courts”.
PDP president and another former CM Mehbooba Mufti, who has decided to contest from the volatile south Kashmir Lok Sabha seat, said there is a threat to Article 35A and they need a voice in Parliament and the “party thought I would fit the bill.”
Other political players like Sajjad Lone and Shah Faesal too voiced their concern for the safety of Article 35A and article 370.
To win back the sympathies of pro-separatist elements in the valley, Mehbooba, who governed the state in alliance with the BJP until they split last June, said an ongoing crackdown on militants and those supporting secession could further alienate the people.
It is clear from stance of the Kashmir-based political parties that both political and security dimensions will be casting shadow on the overall conduct of electoral exercise in the state, particularly in Kashmir Valley.
NC and PDP, as reflective from the statements of their leaders, are leaving no stone unturned in exploiting such issues to the hilt. Talks of lifting ban on Jamaat and JKLF once such parties come to power are also doing the rounds.
Will the electorate defy the political bait put out by these political parties? Yes. People are mature enough to understand the nuances of the game. Electorate is seeing the meaning hidden in the opportunistic stances.
“Had not these (Kashmir-based main political) parties boycotted the recently held local body elections on the plank of safeguarding J&K’s unique status and article 35A? Now they are asking people to vote them on the same plank. How can people be asked to boycott and vote on the same thing? Is not this dichotomous? And are not they fooling people?” said Shahzad Ahmad, a voter from South Kashmir, who is enrolled in a professional college.
While people do raise questions on NC’s and PDP’s double standards over their politics on state’s special position within the Indian constitution, there are concerns expressed by some people on the attempts being made to tinker with the state’s special status.
People do say that Jammu and Kashmir is not the only state in the country that has special status and identity.
“North East, Himachal Pradesh, Andaman and Nicobar or Lakshadweep have special status and their own identity under the same Indian constitution. Why is it always that Jammu and Kashmir’s special status is being questioned?” Ghulam Nabi, a teacher who teaches political science in a college.
“Article 35-A is beneficial for the entire state. People of Jammu, Kargil, Leh as well as for the people of Kashmir,” he said.
Amid all this hula bulla on Article 35A, the thing that is missing in the campaign discourse is the mention of development. No political party in Kashmir is promising development in the state during the poll campaign. Can development wait for politics?
“These political parties have nothing new to offer, as they have failed people of Kashmir on development front. The infrastructure of roads, hospitals and education is in shambles. And during their respective tenures in power, NC and PDP did nothing for their people. Now they only want to hoodwink people emotionally on political issues,’ Javaid Ahmad of Bramulla said. “Otherwise, why to make Article 35A an emotive issue when it is sub-judice matter.”
The State of Jammu and Kashmir has 6 seats for the parliament: Three in Kashmir region, two in Jammu regions and one in Ladakh.
National Conference and Congress had entered into a seat-sharing agreement wherein former had agreed to leave both the Jammu seats for Congress in lieu of latter’s support for its president and former chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah in Srinagar constituency. This was done to avoid division of votes between two parties against BJP, leaders of both NC and Congress said, adding that they will, however, have a friendly contest in other three constituencies of Anantnag, Baramulla and Ladakh.
It will be second time in a row that National Conference will not be contesting parliamentary elections in Jammu division. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections too, it had left both the parliamentary constituencies for Congress. However, despite having a seat-sharing agreement between them, BJP had won at both places.
NC’s candidate for north Kashmir’s Baramulla constituency is senior leader and former minister Mohammad Akber Lone, while for South Kashmir its candidate political novice Justice (rtd) Hasnain Masoodi.
BJP has announced six candidates for Jammu and Kashmir. Jugal Kishore and Dr Jitendra Singh, the present MPs contest from their own constituencies namely Jammu and Udhampur respectively. MM War will field from Baramulla and Khalid Jahangir will contest from Srinagar. Anantanag constituency is reserved for the BJP candidate Sofi Youssaf and Ladakh by 31-year-old Jamyang Tsering Namgyal. The young leader, who serving as the current chief executive councillor (CEC) of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), remained private secretary to the former BJP MP and renowned Buddhist spiritual leader, Thupstan Chhewang. A graduate from University of Jammu, Namgyal took over as CEC of the hill development council on November 10 last year following mass revolt in Ladakh unit of the BJP.
In order to pitch a tough fighting environment in the state, the Congress party has declared that Haji Farooq Mir, Raman Bhalla and Vikramaditya Singh will contest from Baramulla, Jammu and Udhampur constituencies respectively.
Singh, who is the son of veteran Congress leader and former sadar-i-Riyasat of Jammu and Kashmir, had been a PDP MLC, but he resigned his seat in Upper House of the State Legislature.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti will be the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate from the Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency but the party has decided not to field any candidates for Jammu and Udhampur seats in an effort to prevent a division of “secular votes”. Aga Mohsin will be the party candidate for Srinagar seat.
The party has already named former employees’ union leader Abdul Qayoom Wani for the Baramulla Lok Sabha seat.
Peoples Conference led by separatist-turned-politician Sajad Gani Lone has fielded a former PDP leader and a businessman on two Lok Sabha seats in Kashmir. The party’s candidate for Baramulla Lok Sabha seat is Raja Aijaz Ali and Irfan Reza Ansari for Srinagar seat.Promising
Ali, a former IGP, recently quit the PDP and joined the Peoples Conference. He unsuccessfully contested the 2014 assembly polls on a PDP ticket.
Ansari, a businessman, is the younger brother of former PDP leader Imran Reza Ansari. The brothers had joined the Peoples Conference soon after Governor Satya Pal Malik dissolved the state assembly in November last year.
Awami Ittihad Party (AIP) president and former MLA Langate Er Rasheed is also contesting Lok Sabha elections from north Kashmir. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rebel Choudhary Lal Singh has entered the Lok Sabha poll fray as a candidate of his recently floated political outfit Dogra Swabhimaan Sangathan (DSS), vowing to end the “discrimination against Jammu region by successive Kashmir-centric regimes”. Singh has filed nomination from Jammu and Udhampur constituencies, a move which may upset the BJP apple cart in the Hindu-majority region of Jammu and Kashmir.

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