Exclusive: ‘Removing Articles 35A or 370 Will Lead To Chaos, Bloodshed In Jammu & Kashmir’: Awami National Conference’s Muzaffar Shah
"If you are so sure that the majority wants to abrogate 35A and 370, why don't we have a referendum?"
NewsCentral24x7 brings to you an exclusive interview from the frontier state of Jammu and Kashmir, where the abrogation of the special status of the state has become a contention between Srinagar and New Delhi. To discuss this grave issue, we have with us, Vice President of the Awami National Conference and the head of Jammu and Kashmir Civil Society Coordination Committee, Muzzafar Shah.
The Kashmir Coordination Committee was set up to defend the special status of Kashmir in the Supreme court after a lesser-known NGO filed a PIL in the apex court.
Daanish Bin Nabi: Let me first begin by asking you, do you think that this PIL that has been filed in the Supreme Court, which is backed by a Right-wing NGO — can they abrogate it?
Muzzafar Shah: No. It has no legal legs. These kinds of PILs have earlier also been put in the Supreme Court. And I think a number of times, both for (Articles) 35A as well as 370, for the abrogation of these Articles. The Supreme Court has, all the times, dismissed these petitions because they have no legal grounds or standing.
Daanish Bin Nabi: They cannot abrogate it constitutionally?
Muzzafar Shah: No. They cannot abrogate it constitutionally because the only power that could tinker with 35A or 370, is the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, which has ceased to exist since 1957. So, in the absence of the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, neither my own legislative assembly, nor the Parliament, nor the Supreme Court, neither the Executive or the government of India, nor the president of India can think of ever getting 370.
Daanish Bin Nabi: So, they cannot abrogate it through a Presidential order?
Muzzafar Shah: No, they cannot abrogate it through a Presidential order, unless it has the recommendations of the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, which is not there. And this is the question we are asking or friends in the Bharatiya Janata Party — why are you doing something that our forefathers have guaranteed us?
Earlier, they always blamed Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru for this. The basic application, when it was moved — the basic law when it was created, it was moved by none other than Sardar Patel, then Home Minister of India. It was seconded by Dr Syama Prasad Mukherjee. So, why are they abrogating it? What for? What is the reason?
Daanish Bin Nabi: Okay, if by any means they abrogate this Article, how will affect the relationship between Srinagar and New Delhi?
Muzzafar Shah: Look, once we say in very hard terms, then some “friends” will tell me “You are anti-India. You are anti-national.”
No. You say “Okay. We are abrogating it because we have 300 people in the Parliament and we don’t care about law and this and that” — I’m sure that will not happen. But, if you think of doing that, then sir the accession breaks.
Daanish Bin Nabi: It also brings Article 370 into question.
Muzzafar Shah: Then, the accession breaks. And the Kashmir Question gets reopened with the Security Council.
Daanish Bin Nabi: There will be questions on the instrument of accession…
Muzzafar Shah: Absolutely. It goes. It breaks straightaway.
Daanish Bin Nabi: And what would be the repercussions on the ground?
Muzzafar Shah: That would be disastrous and horrible. There can be bloodshed on the streets. But we’re not here for that. We’ve already lost a hundred thousand lives. Almost. Why would the BJP, with a majority of 300 people…
Let me also say this — Prime Minister, Home Minister, and to the entire BJP leadership, you owe a debt to Kashmir. Kashmir made you win 300 seats. Please don’t come as an occupational force here. Come as friends. And try to rectify the mistakes that have been made by earlier rulers, from 1953 till date by bringing in theses 43-44 amendments.
If you want to break these 35A or 370 by bringing in a Presidential Order, which you cannot do under the law, then please also not; all the Presidential Orders that have been brought forth till date, they also expire. They are also thrown into the dustbin as you are trying to throw this.
Daanish Bin Nabi: Kashmir is not the only state that has this special provision. Many other states…
Muzzafar Shah: Yes, 371 A, B, C, D, E, F, G… Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Sikkim, Mizoram, Assam. In most of these places, you cannot not only purchase land there, but you cannot also enter that area without a permit. What we used to have here before 1956. So why are you doing it here?
There is a feeling that is gaining ground every single day that you want to change the demographic structure of Jammu and Kashmir. This is the only Muslim-majority state in India. And it is your crown. Do you want to destroy your crown? Well, it’s up to you.
Daanish Bin Nabi: As head of the Civil Society Committee, how would you make the Indian civil society understand that they should not fiddle — or at least they should pressurise the government not to fiddle — with the special status of Kashmir?
Muzzafar Shah: The Civil Society, when it started its work, at that time, the Supreme Court matter was at its peak. So, at that very moment, we involved the Civil Society of Jammu; we involved people from Ladakh; we involved everybody.
Daanish Bin Nabi: Did you involve anyone from Delhi?
Muzzafar Shah: Yes. A lot of people from Delhi. And what we’re going to do now. And that is how we made a breakthrough. We got all these people put together. And as of today, not only Civil Society applications from Kashmir region, we have them from Jammu also — two applications are from Jammu. For the protection of 35A and 370. And yesterday, large chunks of the population from Rajouri, Poonch, many areas, even a big section of our Jammu Bar Association — numbering more than 350 advocates — they have come out in support of 35A and 370.
Daanish Bin Nabi: What about the Jammu Dogras who basically brought this law? Are they standing up this time?
Muzzafar Shah: And the Kashmiri Pandits. Some of them are not vocal because of the RSS threat there. I have a very simple answer to this. I think the best would be that we say that the people are with us; they want to retain 35A and 370; a massive majority of Jammu and Kashmir. It is Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs and Bodhs and Kashmiri Pandits — whosoever are living here. And some friends from the country, particularly the BJP leadership, they are hellbent on breaking 35A and 370. That is their agenda. Their manifesto.
If you are so sure that the majority wants to abrogate 35A and 370, why don’t we, on this point only, have a referendum?
Daanish Bin Nabi: A referendum on what?
Muzzafar Shah: Do you want 35A, yes or no? Do you want 370, yes or no?
Daanish Bin Nabi: And the referendum should be held in the entire state? Not just the Valley?
Muzzafar Shah: Yes, the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir. Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. You’ll get the answer. Then I’ll also follow you.
Daanish Bin Nabi: And you have also said on n-number of times that the basic threat is to the Jammu Dogra and the Pandits.
Muzzafar Shah: Yes, I have said this very clearly. Why I’m saying so? When this thing turned into law in 1927, before that, an agitation took place. Because earlier we used to have our script in Persian. In 1886-87, it got converted to Urdu. At that time, there weren’t many people who could read and write, particularly Urdu. So, people from outside used to come, mostly Punjabi Hindus and Punjabi Muslims. So, slowly and steadily, it became a threat for the Rajput Dogras, who were the rulers and our Kashmiri Pandits, some of whom could read and write. They felt threatened because the people who used to come from outside, they would get land, jobs, education facilities. So, it affected our elite at that time. So, they went to the Maharaja and told him that “We have to protect our boundaries, we have to protect our land, we have to protect our education and we have to protect our scholarships and jobs.”
They brought this matter that was in the shape of an agitation. They brought it into law in 1927. That is what is called the Hereditary State Subject Order, which exists till date. Of those laws, it has been extended and guaranteed after the accession by the Parliament of India. The guarantee to a Kashmiri Muslim, Hindu, Dogra, Sikh, Pandit and a Ladakhi Bodh. This guarantee is from the Union of India to the people of Jammu and Kashmir of all the three regions.
Daanish Bin Nabi: We have seen Home Minister Amit Shah has been very proactive as far as Kashmir is concerned. How do you see all these developments?
Muzzafar Shah: Very strangely, yes, you’re right. I think they want to show the world that they can just… that there are certain people in the government today, who run this country, they feel that they own the law and they own the constitution, which is very, very wrong. And as far as our honourable Home Minister is concerned, I just heard a few days back that he has picked up around 15 IAS/IPS officers who will be specifically assigned for Jammu and Kashmir. For what? To do what? That’s my question to the Home Minister. What are they going to do that other officials are not doing here? Is this an occupied territory that you are again coming to occupy it? We, as common Kashmiris on the ground, get that feeling — it’s like those wrestlers coming to punch you, kick you and tell you Okay, out!” They are going to throw you out, lock, stock and barrel.
These things don’t happen. Kalhana (12th century Kashmiri author), rightly said 800 years ago: “Kashmir, by the power of the sword, never. Kashmir, by the power of the pen, yes.”
So please treat Kashmir like that.
Daanish Bin Nabi: How much, do you think is the PDP responsible for all this mess? Had they not gone for the alliance in 2014, things might have been different…
Muzzafar Shah: Well, you see they have their own version — “We went in for an alliance because there was no other way.”
Two regions of Jammu and Kashmir had voted. Because unfortunately, Jammu and Kashmir has always been used for power politics or vote bank politics. And we’ve had bloodshed. For now, its the 4th decade going on. We have lost close to a hundred thousand lives. So yes, you are right. The inclusion of BJP into the state in a position of power is a gift of the PDP to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. That is a fact. They are responsible.
Daanish Bin Nabi: So, the final words from Kashmir are quite clear. Don’t fiddle away with any status of the state…
Muzzafar Shah: Not only that, if you fiddle with 35A, you lose Kashmir. Simple. Let us be very honest and be very straight. Because the instrument of accession will break. Because when Maharaja acceded to the Union of India, at that time, close to 600 states acceded. But those states, they also merged their boundaries. They amalgamated into states. And Jammu and Kashmir’s Maharaja did not surrender his flag, did not surrender his constitution and did not surrender his boundary.
So, today if you remove 370 or 35A, if accession is threatened, security council opens up, any power can enter this place. It is up for grabs. China can come and take Ladakh. “Okay, thank you very much. It’s mine.”
Ultimately, it would be chaos and bloodshed. Only New Delhi and today’s leadership would be responsible for this. I would request the leadership in New Delhi to read the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir along with our own constitution, wherein Article 370 is a basic ingredient of the Constitution of India. If you want to tear that page away, it is up to you.