RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat backs removal of articles 370A and 35A from Constitution; 'playing with fire', warns NC

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat caused a stir Wednesday after he endorsed the removal of articles 370 and 35A, both of which grant special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Bhagwat not only wants an abrogation of these articles (which ensure special privileges for state citizens) he even went a step further: Asserting that it is for the government to decide whether it wants the state to be divided into three parts: Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.

 RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat backs removal of articles 370A and 35A from Constitution; playing with fire, warns NC

File image of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. PTI

"The idea behind the division of any state is administrative convenience and the country's integrity and security should remain intact. If on these parameters the government feels at any time that the state should be divided, then so be it. If not, the state may remain intact," Bhagwat explained. Congress leader professor Saifuddin Soz called a press meet at his residence in Srinagar on Wednesday to expressed regret at these statements and said he saw them as just one more step in the RSS' avowed ambition of building a Hindu Rashtra.

Soz called upon mainstream political parties to note that even the "subtle distance between the RSS and the BJP on political and social issues has evaporated, with the Indian society and particularly Muslims and minorities having to face very difficult times". The issue troubling Kashmiris deals with the revocation of Article 35A which is being contested by the RSS, and it is with this objective that they have filed a petition before the Supreme Court, Soz pointed out.

This repeated 'harping on the Kashmir issue' must be understood, Soz believes, in the context of the recently published book The RSS- A View To The Inside by Walter Anderson and Shridhar Damle. While praising the phenomenal growth of the RSS since the 1980s, the book highlights how while the RSS has an almost pan-India presence, the only place in the subcontinent where they been unable to set up functional shakhas is the Valley, Soz pointed out.

Dr Sameer Kaul, spokesperson for the National Conference in Delhi, believes that the abrogation of Article 35A is akin to playing with fire and could well see a return to the 1989 situation when insurgency flared up in a major way. National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah has threatened to withdraw from the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and also the Assembly elections if the Centre does not clarify its stance on articles 35A and 370. Farooq Abdullah said in a subsequent tweet, “We will not only boycott the panchayat elections but also the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections if the Centre doesn’t clear its stand on Article 35A and Article 370.”

Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who is the leader of the Peoples Democratic Party, warns that removal of these articles will have disastrous implications. "Tinkering with or scrapping these articles that grant special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir will only create alienation, push more youth to the wall and will have serious consequences not just for the state, but the whole country." Right through her tenure as chief minister, Mehbooba warned both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh on the need to safeguard articles 370 and 35A, even going to the extent of saying that there would be no one in the state to fly the Tricolour if any sort of tinkering happened since these two articles of the Indian Constitution dealt with her state.

In fact, her party hired constitutional expert Fali Nariman and a slew of high-profile lawyers to buttress their stand in the Supreme Court. They also prepared all the requisite documents in May which were to be filed in the Supreme Court in July. Unfortunately, her government fell on 19 June. Insiders in her government believe that her unequivocal view on this matter was one of the main reasons why the BJP chose to withdraw support. On 22 June, two days after her government fell, Mehbooba went to meet then governor NN Vohra. Mehbooba yet again raised both articles and how imperative it was to safeguard them.

The PDP also announced its unwillingness to participate in the local panchayat elections given the Centre’s unwillingness to clarify their stand on this grave issue. The CPM also announced that they will not participate in the local panchayat elections. Two days ago, CPM state secretary Ghulam Nabi Malik announced that given the situation, their party would boycott the polls and that the governor should have convened an all-party meet to discuss the issue. The CPM is the first national party to announce their boycott. However, the Congress said Tuesday that they will fight all the urban local body and panchayat elections as they do not want to hand over grassroot democratic institutions to the BJP and RSS. The Valley is also home to other minority groups, including Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs and Christians, many of whom are united in their support Article 35A.

The Valley has almost 80,000 Sikhs and the All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee has taken to the streets to protest this move. The 3,500 Kashmiri Pandits who chose to stay in the Valley during the years of militancy have also come out in support of Article 35A. Sanjay Tickoo, president of the Kashmir Pandit Sangarsh Samiti, throwing his support behind 35A will only further muddy the waters given the charged atmosphere. Tickoo cites the example of the Valley being home to seven lakh non-Kashmiri labourers and the fact that there has never been an opposition to their presence either.

Soz believes no effort has been made by the Centre to engage with the locals, a view he insists has the support of several senior army officials. He mentions that several generals, including Lt General DS Hooda, asked the political government to engage with the people, especially the youth.

During this press meet, Soz recalled his discussion with Spanish intellectual Johan Galtung, who possesses enormous knowledge on how to deal with conflict situations. "Galtung shared with me his experience of discussing the Afghan crisis with young members of the Taliban whom he met in Jalalabad. These young people told him he was the first person who tried to discuss the Afghan problem with them. Dialogue is also the only way forward in our state," added Soz.

Updated Date: Sep 20, 2018 19:17:53 IST