Months after their release from detention post the abrogation of Article 370, divesting Jammu and Kashmir of the special status more than a year ago, the Abdullahs are back in action. The father and son, Farooq Abdullah (83) and Omar (50), both former chief ministers belonging to the National Conference, have rejected removal of Article 370, the delimitation exercise and the domicile law.
In an interview to Hindustan Times, Farooq rejected the charge that Article 370 led to separatism, “There is more separatism now than before August 5 last year (when abrogation took place). It’s not the Pakistanis who are dying today, it is the Kashmiris. Who has created them (militants)? Not Farooq Abdullah. I was in jail. They (the BJP-led Central government) created them. The hatred they have created between Hindus and Muslims in the rest of the nation…do you think it will not have an effect here? It will.”
They also trashed the Centre’s delimitation exercise (redrawing of constituencies) in J&K, and domicile laws as efforts to change the demography of the Valley.
They said they would contest the Centre’s moves both politically and legally, while emphasizing that their struggle will be entirely peaceful.
Sitting in their heavily protected Gupkar Raod residence in Srinagar, they told HT that the mood on the Kashmir street was of not being a part of India and “not Indian”; warned about the impact in J&K of growing Hindu-Muslim “hatred” in the rest of the country; pointed to the unrepresentative character of the current administration in the UT — with local Muslims having little space; and said that no door was open for a dialogue with the Centre.
Last week, Farooq was the prime mover of Gupkar Declaration approved by J&K’s six political parties — the National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Indian National Congress, the J&K Peoples Conference (PC), the CPI(M) and the Awami National Conference (ANC). These parties have vowed to fight collectively against the revocation of J&K’s special constitutional status.
“We are not users of guns or stones. We will protest peacefully like Mahatma Gandhi did. Every constituent in this (six-party conglomerate) has its own agenda. But on the restoration of statehood, Article 370 and Article 35A, we are together. Whatever action we take will be joint”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Independence Day speech, said the delimitation exercise is underway and that assembly elections would follow. “Any decision (on contesting the polls) will depend first on my party and we will take a call subject to the situation. We will talk to other stakeholders in the Gupkar Declaration. If we are united in this exercise, we will take them on board and decide,” said Farooq.
On the PM’s statement on delimitation, Farooq Abdullah said, “We told them that we don’t believe in your delimitation. The BJP has a certain purpose. It wants that in J&K, a Hindu majority emerges and the Muslim majority goes down.” Omar Abdullah added: “The delimitation commission is a product of the changes brought about on August 5 last year. When we don’t recognise those changes, how can we recognise this panel?”
The two have decided to challenge the Centre’s move legally. Omar said: “We will fight using legal means at our disposal which are two — one is the power that the Constitution gives us to challenge the decisions in the court; and the second is forums available, including Parliament, media, social media, and public meetings. We have three MPs to take the voices of the people of J&K to the highest platform of democracy. We are not a party that has ever subscribed to violence as a means to achieving our end. In fact, if anything, the NC has always been the victim of violence”.
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On the legal dimension of their battle against the constitutional changes, the Omar said that their petition in the Supreme Court rested on a strong point. “A governor cannot assume the powers of an assembly, and an assembly cannot assume the powers of a constituent assembly….There is a fundamental flaw to what New Delhi did on August 5, 2019. You can wish away the merit of our case politically, but not legally.”
He also elaborated on the apprehensions about demographic changes in the Valley, especially due to the domicile law. “I don’t have actual numbers but I can guarantee you that more than 90% of the new domicile certificates that have been issued will be to non-Muslims.”
While Farooq Abdullah said he did not want to be a bridge between Delhi and Srinagar since the Centre had “deceived” his people, Omar Abdullah said that if being a bridge meant voicing the concerns of the people, they would do so — but if it meant propagating the Centre’s views, they would not do so.
On the position of mainstream parties in J&K, Omar said, “You have to understand how difficult it is for us. We get fixed from both sides. The ultra-nationalists in the rest of country treat us as separatists. But here in Kashmir we are treated as nationalists. Please tell me what we are.”