Political Grapevine

When a government was in place, Kashmir was desperately waiting for its fall. After it collapsed under its own weight, now the most popular headache is when the new one will be installed. In between came the 35A issue that people are so keen to link with governor Vohra’s possible retirement, reports Masood Hussain

If there is one single word that is in the air right now across Jammu and Kashmir, it is Article 35A. This is perhaps the only one issue that has diminished, if not erased, the otherwise wide gulf between Kashmir’s unionists and the separatists. The interesting entry was that of Jammu lawyers who, after a closed-door discussion, supported the status quo on 35A.

The debate over 35A has been part of the discourse in Kashmir ever since the right-wing NGO challenged the special provision in the court of law, the Supreme Court. There have been a series of hearings and issuance of the notices by the court to state and the central governments’. So far, most of the developments on this issue have taken place outside the courtroom – in the newspapers and the streets of Srinagar.

There are a series of factors directly responsible for the fierce reaction, which Kashmir is witnessing for the last few weeks. Kashmir observed a 2-day strike against any possible judicial intervention in an article that was part of the broad negotiations between the political powers in Srinagar and Delhi, soon after the accession. Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) is sponsoring the strike after they led a series of small protests against the possible intervention. There were vague statements suggests the JRL protests from some mainstreamers too.

National Conference (NC) has gone to the Supreme Court with an intervention plea. Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) that ruled the state till yesterday and was accused of putting a poor defence is also planning rallies and has increased the frequency of statements on the issue.

Firstly, it is because the hearing for the case is on August 6. Many people in Srinagar think this is a crucial hearing but there is no civilian government in the state that can put up a strong defence. Some even pointed out that the new advocate general has his own belief system on the centre state issues. The governor and his advisers, barring one, lack any direct emotional connect with Kashmir. The governor’s administration, however, has not changed the attorneys representing the state in the case.

Secondly, whatever is happening in Assam these days is indicative of the agenda that the right-wing party has for the minorities. Though the Congress initiated the system of identifying the “foreign” population much earlier, its strict implementation was started by the BJP. Now almost 20 lakh people, mostly Muslims, are on the brinks of losing their citizenship, with all the rights. In contrast, the BJP or any other government in Delhi cannot even think about the West Pakistan refugees in Jammu and Kashmir.

Thirdly, the reports that the governor N N Vohra had written a letter to the central government seeking a freeze on the petition regarding 35A till an elected government takes over in the state. These are being linked to the shifting of Vohra, perhaps the longest-serving governor that Jammu and Kashmir has.

Whether or not Vohra’srecall is linked with Article 35A, reports of his departure have been there for a long time now. It is a fact that, Vohra as one of the key experts on Kashmir, has a position on constitutional issues; he had himself asked to be relieved. This was despite the fact that he has been the personal choice of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Upset with some of the appointments that Delhi made after Mehbooba Mufti’s government fell, he had to put his foot down to retain Khursheed Ahmad Ganai as his adviser.

Vohra has been perhaps a rare governor of Kashmir who rarely landed in any kind of controversy. He is popular with almost all the political parties though he has strong likes and dislikes. But he is expected to fly home soon after the incident-free Amarnath Yatra is declared over.

Nothing much is known about his replacement. Delhi has already conveyed that it is not supportive of an army man or a policeman to sit in Raj Bhawan that overlooks the Dal lake and part of Srinagar from the Zabarwan Hills. The only choice is that of a civil servant.

There are three names in circulation right now: Rajiv Mehrishi, the former Home Secretary who is now the CAG; ChennamaneniVidyasagarRao, the incumbent governor of Maharashtra; and Daneshwar Sharma, the Kashmir interlocutor.

Sources said Sharma being from security set-up, may not end up in Raj Bhawan, the place he is frequenting for the last many months after being appointed as the interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir. Now it is a choice between the two. “If the government in Jammu and Kashmir is to be run from Delhi then Rao may be the first choice,” one source in Delhi said. “In case the government in Delhi wants a man who will decide on issues at his own level than Mehrishi is the choice.”

Rao has been MoS of Lal Kishan Advani, as the Home Minister of India. He had won from Karimabad constituency in Maharashtra with sizable Muslim votes. In contrast, Maharishi has been quite active on Kashmir during his home secretary days and is not completely “Kashmir-illiterate”.

Once that decision is taken, there is a strong possibility of at least one of three advisers to the governor also changing. Maybe even two, sources suggest. “Whoever will be the next governor, he will have to be ready for a longer fight on the security front,” one political leader from Jammu said. “General Bipin Rawat had warned the security grid almost six months back that the north of Kashmir is as bad as South is but the only difference is that unlike South, North des not show-up.” There is a possibility of a spurt in the militant activities after the yatra conclusion will free a lot of personnel for the security grid. The politician said Kashmir is in “a lull before the storm”. An incident free yatra, this summer, witnessed the highest participation in the last few years.

The appointment of the new governor will also unfold if at all, a new government will be explored and installed. Vohra has reported indicated that he wishes to retain his unblemished image and would not like to make and break the political landscape. If his successor is willing to do it, there is a possibility of a new government.

Right now, nobody in Delhi is interested in installing a government in Jammu and Kashmir. The only one who was in circulation was Sajjad Lone but Muzaffar Hussain Beig’s July 28, speech in Srinagar on PDP raising day has almost put the lid on the simmering pot. Beig had a meeting with Prime Minister Modi after his party’s government was sacked. He said Modi did not tell him that he should support Lone. At the same time, he said, there will be no government and if there is one, it will be of the PDP. He said all this in his peculiar style.

It was perhaps this line that led to mass rumours that Beig is going to be the next Chief Minister of the PDP. “In order to prevent party break-up, Mehbooba has supported the idea,” the rumours suggested. But the sources close to Mehbooba said she is unwilling that her party goes into the government making again. “There are individual ambitions which everybody has a right to,” one party insider said.

It is in this situation that 35A is back on the streets. Nobody can predict what the bench will do especially when bigger constitutional benches have upheld these specialities of Jammu and Kashmir earlier. “It is a tricky issue,” one politician who has handled various tricky issues in past said. “At the most, there is a possibility of the bench making certain recommendations to the state legislative assembly to address the gender bias.”

Earlier, there was an effort to address this issue in the assembly but for some reasons, it did not take place.

Till a verdict will come and it will take its own time, the 35A will continue uniting the odd comrades of Kashmir. “If Article 35A is part of Indian Constitution, why should all the Azaadi seeking separatists come on roads and seek status quo,” a banker asked. “Are they operating within the constitutional framework as was always being suggested to them?”

No. That is incorrect. But that is a long and different debate.

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