Mehbooba Mufti, Centre must bridge rifts fast as differences over Article 35A, handling insurgency grow

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Friday appears to have gone well. The chief minister focused on the need to preserve Article 35A, which empowers the Jammu and Kashmir government to decide who enjoys property and civil rights in the state.

The recent meeting between the two leaders is significant in light of sharpened differences between the main coalition partners over the past four months. In particular, the Centre and the state have differed on how to tackle insurgency, including militants and secessionist politicians. Mehbooba has pressed for dialogue, mentoring, and accommodation, while BJP bosses prefer a hard line approach.

Pushing hard

Searches of prominent business houses in Srinagar by central investigation agencies on Thursday signalled that the Centre was not in a mood to back off its hard line. The searches were in connection with investigations into terror funding, which were initiated in May. In fact, it was when the National Investigating Agency (NIA) arrested seven prominent secessionist leaders on 25 July that the growing strains emerged into the open. At Srinagar airport that day, some state police officers tried hard to prevent the NIA from taking the arrested persons to Delhi.

Mehbooba’s aides believe that the arrests undermined the space for negotiation. Not long ago, Syed Ali Shah Geelani was persuaded to issue a statement that made it easy to get GST extended to Jammu and Kashmir. Last year, the son of one of those arrested — Geelani’s son-in-law, Altaf Fantoosh — was given a job at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre.

File image of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. AFP

File image of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. AFP

Reaching out

The difference in approach goes beyond how to handle secessionist leaders or militancy. Mehbooba, who is also the home minister of the state, has pushed for relatively new local militants to be counselled. Almost 50 such militants have returned to their homes in recent weeks, many of them from central and north Kashmir. However, weaning away fresh recruits remains a tenuous effort, as a larger number has joined militancy recently.

During the winter months, earlier this year, Mehbooba’s brother Tasaduq had asked party leaders from south Kashmir to bring groups of stone pelters to him for counselling. The chief minister has also insisted that the army must offer every militant the opportunity to surrender, before he or she may be killed in an encounter. It was in pursuit of that policy that an army major spoke to the high profile militant, Abu Dujana, over the telephone a little before he was killed on 1 August. A part of that conversation was telecast on various television channels.

The Centre, on the other hand, wants terrorism to be given no quarter. So, even while fresh recruits are counselled to return, the army and the police are going with a mailed fist after those who have already engaged in violent acts. They have had remarkable successes in south Kashmir during recent weeks.

Rocky start

The top figures in the coalition have been uneasy with each other ever since the three month period after Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death, during which Mehbooba had sought concrete confidence building measures from the Centre before she took office. The unease lay dormant over the subsequent year, but the Centre’s unease increased manifold after there was intense violence during the bye-election for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat in April this year.

During a meeting, a couple of weeks after the Srinagar violence, Modi asked Mehbooba to restore order within two or three months. The Centre’s take on how that should be done was already evident when it lionised an army major, who tied a young Kashmiri to his jeep fender and paraded him for several hours on the day of the bye-election. It is important that the coalition partners reach a cohesive understanding on how best to move forward, for the challenge is huge. All these differences pertain to internal matters but can be detrimental to national security when looked through the prism of the looming threat from the China-Pakistan axis.

Updated Date: Aug 13, 2017 08:11 AM

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