With tension rising in Kashmir in the backdrop of mainstream Jammu and Kashmir leaders — National Conference’s Omar Abdullah, Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti, and Jammu and Kashmir People's Conference chairman Sajad Lone — being placed under house arrest on Sunday night, the situation in the Valley is on the tenterhooks of getting serious.
Section 144 has been imposed in the region and all means of communications have been snapped including television networks and landlines. Moreover, paramilitary forces have been deployed across Kashmir. There will be a complete bar on holding any kind of public meetings or rallies during the period of operation of this order. However, reports of a curfew being imposed were denied by the government.
Union Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah is set to introduce Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Second Amendment) Bill, 2019 in Rajya Sabha today. The Bill seeks to extend the 10 percent quota to economically weaker sections to the state, which has special constitutional provisions.
Meanwhile, to take stock of the situation, Shah held a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval at the prime minister's residence ahead of a Union Cabinet meeting that was scheduled for 9.30 am on Monday.
On Sunday, Shah had met with Doval and Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba and is believed to have discussed the ongoing situation in Jammu and Kashmir. His meeting with the top security followed the additional deployment of troops in the state. In the past week, Centre has decided to send an additional 38,000 troops to the Valley in two batches — comprising 10,000 and 28,000 troops, which interestingly was followed by a statement by the home ministry in the Parliament that the situation in the state had improved compared to 2018, including a decrease in net infiltration and local recruitment by terror groups.
Thereafter, on Friday, the Indian Army — in a joint presser by Lt General KJS Dhillon and J&K Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbag Singh — said that Pakistani terrorists are plotting to carry out an attack on the ongoing Amarnath Yatra and that the security forces have recovered a Pakistan Ordnance Factory anti-personnel mine from a terror cache.
Soon, the Home Department of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir issued an advisory saying that in view of the latest “intelligence inputs of terror threats, with specific targeting of the Amarnath Yatra, and given the prevailing security situation in the Kashmir Valley, in the interest of safety and security of the tourists and Amarnath yatris, it is advised that they may curtail their stay in the Valley immediately and take necessary measures to return as soon as possible.” Britain and Germany issued travel advisories warning their citizens against travelling to Jammu and Kashmir.
In view of the order, the airfares for flights from Srinagar to Delhi shot up immediately and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Friday asked Indian airlines to be prepared to operate extra flights to and from Srinagar to fly out pilgrims and tourists from the Valley. After which, airlines made announcements to give a full fee waiver on rescheduling or cancellation for all its flights to and from Srinagar and Air India decided to cap the fare at Rs 9,500 for the same till 15 August. The Indian Air Force also started an operation to help tourists move out of the Valley.
Even students of various institutes such as the state government's Polytechnic college in Srinagar issued a notice on Saturday saying that all students residing in the hostel should immediately vacate. Similarly, the Central University of Kashmir also asked students to vacate hostels and announced that examinations would be postponed till further orders. Meanwhile, government hospitals and block medical divisions issued notices asking their staff to not leave duty without prior permission.
Murmurs over Article 370 and Article 35A
While there have been several speculations regarding the situation in Kashmir, the most common assumption has been a decision on the two contentious provisions of the law which govern the state of affairs in the Valley.
Article 370 grants autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir, while Article 35A, incorporated into the Constitution in 1954, provides special rights and privileges to the citizens of the state.
In October 1947, the then-Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir signed the ‘Instrument of Accession’, which specified three subjects on which Jammu and Kashmir would transfer its powers to the government of India: 1. Foreign affairs, 2. Defence and 3. Communications. In March 1948, the Maharaja appointed an interim government in the state, with Sheikh Abdullah as the prime minister. In July 1949, Sheikh Abdullah and three other colleagues joined the Indian Constituent Assembly and negotiated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, leading to the adoption of Article 370.
Therefore, the Parliament needs the Jammu and Kashmir government's nod for applying laws in the state — except defence, foreign affairs, finance, and communications.
The laws of citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights of the residents of Jammu and Kashmir are different from the residents living in the rest of India. Under Article 370, citizens from other states cannot buy property in Jammu and Kashmir and the Centre has no power to declare a financial emergency.
What is important to note is that Article 370(1)(c) explicitly mentions that Article 1 of the Indian Constitution — which lists the states of the Union — applies to Kashmir through Article 370. This means that it is Article 370 that binds the state of Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian Union. Therefore, removing Article 370, which can be done by a Presidential Order, would make the state independent of India.
Article 35A gives the Jammu and Kashmir Legislature full discretionary power to decide who the 'permanent residents' of the state are. It gives them special rights and privileges regarding employment with the state government, acquisition of property in the state, settling in the state, and the right to scholarships and other forms of aid that the state government provides. It also allows the state legislature to impose any restrictions upon persons other than the permanent residents regarding the above.
To guarantee these special rights and privileges, the Article says no act of the state legislature that comes under it can be challenged for violating the Constitution or any other laws.
Before Article 35A was introduced to the Constitution of India, the Governor and the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir were addressed as the Sadr-e-Riyasat (President) and Wazir-e-Azam (Prime Minister). If Article 35A is abolished, it may lead the state back to the same arrangement.
In that case, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Election Commission of India would also be curtailed. The legal control of the Centre over Jammu and Kashmir would be limited only to the matters of Defence, External Affairs and Communication.
Opposition has opposed changes
All major parties, including the National Conference (NC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Jammu and Kashmir People's Movement (J&KPM) are opposed to any tinkering with Articles 35A and 370. The Congress party also wants these articles to be protected. Congress leaders maintain that senior leaders of the party, including late prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had painstakingly worked out Jammu and Kashmir's relationship with India through promises made in these articles.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has warned the Centre against the revocation of Article 35A, saying any tinkering with the constitutional provision would be akin to "setting a powder keg on fire". Mufti asked her party workers to get ready for a big fight for the protection of Article 35A, which gives special rights and privileges to the state's permanent residents. "We want to tell the central government that tinkering with Article 35A will be akin to setting a powder keg on fire," the PDP president said. "If any hand tries to touch Article 35A, not only that hand, but that whole body will be burnt to ashes."
Infiltration attempt foiled by army
The Indian Army on Saturday said that an infiltration attempt by the Pakistan Army's Border Action Team (BAT) in Jammu and Kashmir's Keran sector was foiled by the security forces this week, resulting in the deaths of at least five intruders. The target for the strike was a forward post in the Keran sector, the army said.
"In the last 36 hours, the Indian Army has foiled an infiltration attempt by a Pakistani BAT (Border Action Team) squad in Keran Sector. Five to seven Pakistani army regulars/terrorists eliminated, their bodies are lying on the LoC, not retrieved yet due to heavy firing," the army said in a statement.
Indian Army offered Pakistan Army to take over the dead bodies of the BAT army regulars and terrorists who were killed while attempting to infiltrate into India. "Pakistan Army has been offered to approach with a white flag to take over the bodies, but are yet to respond," the army on Sunday.
However, Pakistan Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor on Saturday denied the Indian claim as "mere propaganda" and said that India was "trying to divert the attention of the world form the situation of Kashmir." Similarly, the Foreign Office also issued a statement at about mid-night to reject the claims by India. "We reject Indian allegations of cross-LOC action by Pakistan and possession of bodies," it said in the statement.
On Sunday, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned India's alleged use of cluster ammunition to target civilians along the Line of Control (LoC). "I condemn India's attack across LOC on innocent civilians and its use of cluster munitions in violation of international humanitarian law and it's own commitments under the 1983 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. "UNSC must take note of this international threat to peace and security," Khan wrote on Twitter.
On Saturday, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi took to social media to "strongly condemn" what he said was "blatant use of cluster ammunition" by Indian security forces along the LoC. "Strongly condemn the blatant use of cluster ammunition by Indian Security Forces targeting innocent civilians along the Line Of Control. This is a clear violation of the Geneva Convention and International Laws," Qureshi said in a tweet. He said that the people, there, must be "allowed to exercise their right to self-determination according to United Nations Security Council resolutions." "The only road to peace and security in South Asia runs through a peaceful & just settlement of Kashmir," Khan added. Speaking to Dawn News, Qureshi had on Saturday said that diplomatic means would be used to direct the attention of the international community towards alleged violation by India.
Moreover, on Sunday, a statement issued by the Khan's office after his meeting with Pakistan's top security officials said that Pakistan is "ready to defend itself against any Indian misadventure or aggression" and will continue to provide all-out "diplomatic, moral and political support" to the people of Kashmir.
A little while before he was placed under house arrest, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah tweeted: "I believe I’m being placed under house arrest from midnight tonight & the process has already started for other mainstream leaders. No way of knowing if this is true but if it is, then I’ll see all of you on the other side of whatever is in store. Allah save us." "Are they going to war with the people of Kashmir?" asked CPM leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence in Parliament over the issue. "What was the need for putting Air Force on high alert and deploying additional forces?” he further inquired.
People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti hoped the government order asking tourists to curtail their stay and leave Kashmir valley isn’t used as a “red herring to distract masses from the real issues". “Such a move will have catastrophic consequences and push Kashmiris to the brink,” Mehbooba tweeted.
In a press conference on Saturday, Jammu and Kashmir National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said Governor Satya Pal Malik had assured them there was “no initiative in progress” to dilute Article 35A, start delimitation or trifurcate the state. “The Centre needs to assure people of Kashmir too. We don’t want silence from the government of India, we want to hear from them in the Parliament,” he said.
Abdullah also stressed that it was pertinent that the Central government issue a statement in parliament on Monday over the prevailing situation. “We don’t want silence from the government of India. We want to hear from the government in Parliament. The government should realise that it is not in their interest to have a restive Jammu and Kashmir,” added the former state chief minister.
We had made an effort to tell the people of this country and the government that what could be the consequence if they toy with Article 35A or 370. We made an appeal too, but no assurance has been given yet from the Centre. They are not bothered to say that everything will be alright," former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti was quoted as saying by ANI.
"They (Narendra Modi-led BJP government) did whatever they had to, with separatists. Now, they're using tactics against mainstream political parties. When they got a hint of an all-party meet, Farooq (Abdullah) sahab was taken to Chandigarh. They're using corruption as a tool against political parties, workers being harassed," she alleged.
Mufti has been vocal in criticising the deployment of additional troops in the state and had said that the Centre needs to "rethink and overhaul" its Kashmir policy. In a tweet earlier in the day, she said, "Evacuate yatris, tourists, labourers, students and cricketers. Willingly create a sense of panic and distress but don’t bother giving Kashmiris a sense of relief or security... Kahan gayi insaniyat, kashmiriyat aur jamhooriyat? (Where is (the policy of) humanity, Kashmiri culture and democracy?)
Meanwhile, condemning the government's decision to curtail the Amarnath Yatra, the Congress on Saturday demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi make a statement in Parliament on the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir and expressed apprehensions about a "misadventure" by the Union Home Ministry.
On Thursday, a delegation comprising National Conference President Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah met Modi and urged him not to take any step which may lead to deterioration in the law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir. They also urged Modi to facilitate holding of Assembly election in the state by the year-end.
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Updated Date: Aug 05, 2019 10:53:32 IST