BJP Manifesto: For Kashmir, Not Kashmiris?

BJP’s reiteration to repeal Articles 370, 35A will have serious repercussions in J&K, further alienating Kashmiri youth.

Nowhere in the country have people reposed their faith in institutions of democracy as much as the people of Jammu and Kashmir, even braving bullets to reiterate their belief in ballots. While the rest of the country continues to celebrate the day of election, for people in Kashmir it can mean a tryst with death. Yet, people come out and risk their lives to assert their right to vote. Imagine who it feels like when this faith is challenged. In its manifesto, ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) stand on scrapping Article 370 and 35 A of the Constitution has challenged this very faith of Kashmiri people, inviting ire from the people of Jammu and Kashmir and regional political parties.

The BJP’s manifesto read, “We reiterate our position since the time of the Jan Sangh to the abrogation of Article 370. We are committed to annulling Article 35A of the Constitution of India as the provision is discriminatory against non-permanent residents and women of Jammu and Kashmir. We believe that Article 35A is an obstacle in the development of the state.”

Article 370 grants special autonomous status to J&K, while Article 35A, incorporated into the Constitution in 1954, defines permanent residents of the state and also provides special rights and privileges to citizens of the state.

“The manifesto has triggered anxieties among people of Kashmir and has also reinforced the perception among the common Kashmiris that the Government of India is not concerned about them. It gives people another reason to not vote for anything related to India,” said a resident of Kashmir, requesting anonymity.

There is a general feeling that the wounds that needed healing were bruised time and again by BJP during its five years at the Centre. Rather than reassuring the people of Kashmir about the unique position they enjoy politically within the ambit of Constitution of India, a campaign of “othering” based on one or the other pretext was encouraged in the past five years.

Constant petitions challenging Articles 370 then 35A, which are perceived as extensions of demography-altering policies, have only added fuel to the fire. The scrapping of these two articles has been a part of BJP’s core ideology since its inception in 1925.

Several Kashmiris that Kashmir Post spoke to see this part of the BJP’s manifesto as a machination by the Right-wing party to distract voters in the rest of the country.

“It is just an election gimmick of BJP for electoral gains and to divert the attention of people in mainland India from the blunders BJP committed during the last five years. Also, even if they remove these (Articles), it will only intensify resistance to Indian rule in Kashmir and will have very serious consequences. It may turn militants versus forces to Kashmiris vs India”, said another Kashmiri.

Meanwhile, regional political parties, such as the National Conference and People’s Democratic Party, have spoken up against BJP’s manifesto on Articles 35 A and 370, openly challenging it.

Speaking to Kashmir Post, Shah Faesal, head of the newly launched party, Jammu & Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM) said, “This is a blatant contempt of the Supreme Court because the matter is sub judice. It disturbs the constitutional arrangement between Union of India and Jammu & Kashmir state. It’s a breach of promise, a promise given by then Prime Minister of India to the people of J-K. Article 370 is the bridge that connects the state of India to Jammu and Kashmir. Abrogation will burn this bridge that means that Jammu and Kashmir will regain its sovereign state and then, we will move our watches 15 minutes away from Indian standard time.”

Political commentators believe that such a political assertion by BJP would further alienate Kashmiris, especially the youth. While mainstream political parties are on the verge of irrelevance, a sense of hatred is taking roots among Kashmiri youth. Time is ticking fast. This throws up a key question: Is this the time for experiments in Kashmir?