In its manifesto released on Monday, the BJP reiterated its commitment to repeal Article 370, which gives Jammu and Kashmir a special status under India’s Constitution, and Article 35A, which forbids outsiders to settle in Kashmir. The party has reiterated that the Article 35 is discriminatory against non-permanent residents and J&K women. Another argument against the Article is that it is an obstacle in the development of the state. Unlike the 2014 elections when the BJP was largely low-key about Kashmir, the party has chosen to aggressively ply its agenda on the state. There is no inhibition now in the way the party calls for removal of J&K’s constitutional safeguards. In fact, any criticism of the agenda only makes the party more combative about it.
There is already a legal tug of war between New Delhi and Srinagar and also between Jammu and Srinagar over the nature of J&Ks political status within Indian Union. On one side are the BJP and RSS advocating abrogation of Article 370 which grants J&K its special status and are resorting to every legal and political trick to undo it and on the other hand is a majority of J&K population which zealously guards the states drastically eroded autonomy and have developed a sense of siege under a sustained attempt to take away whatever has remained of it. Already there are petitions pending in the courts over Article 35A and Article 370. This has opened up a multi-pronged offensive against the states constitutionally mandated status within the country.
In political terms, however, the BJP has sought to re-assess the usefulness of the Article 370 and 35A in terms of profit and loss for J&K. This is a superficial way to relook at a constitutional provision that lies at the heart of J&Ks relationship with India, even while it may have been diluted beyond recognition over the years. Call for reviewing Article 370 and 35A, while it may lend PM Modi some more attention in his all out re-election bid, is a fraught proposition and could entail unravelling the basis of the compact which tied J&K to India.
Besides, the repercussions of the agenda go beyond its constitutional implications. The issue makes the majority of the people in the state deeply anxious about their destiny with India. Besides, raking up the issue in this way smacks of crude majoritarianism. This effort to take away even the last vestiges of constitutional safeguards when the popular sentiment and the struggle in Kashmir has been about Azadi is also cynical. As a national party, BJP is expected to start a debate about the ways to address the deep disaffection and alienation in the state, not to work to deepen the anxieties that underpin the lingering popular disenchantment with New Delhi. BJP, as is clear, is doing this for crass political purposes. Kashmir with its Muslim majority character lends a tangy touch to the BJPs communal rhetoric and helps it polarize the Indian vote to its benefit. And it is sad for a party that has now become a mainstream political force in India. What Kashmir needs is a meaningful process supported by all parties including BJP to address the lingering political problem in the state, not the unhelpful rhetoric to withdraw Article 370, which only complicates the matters further.
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