Article 370 had led J&K to psychological isolation: Union Minister Jitendra Singh
"Article 370 had led to a psychological isolation. That was not just hindering development but also facilitating terrorism."
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Union minister Dr Jitendra Singh says removing the special status given to Jammu & Kashmir under Article 370 will benefit its common people through jobs and better allocation of central funds and end the hegemony of political dynasties and separatists. In an interview with ET Magazine, the Udhampur MP, who handles five portfolios — Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region; Prime Minister’s Office; Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions; Department of Atomic Energy and Department of Space — says the process chosen to remove Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution will withstand the scrutiny of law. Edited excerpts:
Article 370 was revoked by effectively creating a backdoor through Article 367 [dealing with the interpretation clause of the Constitution]. Did the government consider other options too?
I think this was the best option available and what has been done has been done observing all the constitutional norms to stand the scrutiny of law.
Can you tell us about any other option the government considered?
In the absence of a assembly in Jammu & Kashmir, the prerogative and the powers of the assembly lie with the Parliament and therefore, it [abrogation of Article 370] has been done judiciously and in a parliamentary and democratic manner. It has been debated thoroughly in both the Houses, which represent 130 crore people of the country. So the most democratic and constitutionally correct option was chosen.
There is a view that the government revoked Article 370 with a Presidential order in the same manner the Congress government in May 1954 inserted Article 35A [granting special rights to permanent residents of J&K] in the Constitution...
Absolutely not. Article 35A was illegal and unconstitutional. It cannot stand the scrutiny of law. It was attached to the Constitution as an annexure as an afterthought and so could be revoked without much exercise. But an extensive exercise was undertaken to revoke Article 370. Having revoked 370, all the rest has been taken care of.
The Presidential order has been challenged. What will the government do if the Supreme Court issues a stay order?
We are confident that will not happen. Why think hypothetically? If a stay is issued, we will come out with an answer that you can publish the same day. We have done a thorough exercise. The jurisdiction of the Parliament is supreme.
Who in the government first suggested using Article 367 to revoke Article 370?
This has been a collective decision. All the legal opinions and legal inputs were considered. It is not a case of being a brainchild of one person. We function as a team.
When did the plan to end Article 370 start?
You, as a journalist, enjoy the freedom of asking me anything. But I, being a disciplined office-bearer, do not enjoy the freedom of answering this. This prerogative lies solely with the home ministry.
The government took many preemptive steps to prevent any violence in J&K following the removal of Article 370. Are there other steps the government has taken that haven’t yet been reported in the media?
I don’t think these preparations can be directly linked to Article 370 or its revocation. It is just that there are some mischievous elements who have a vested interest in the continuance of Article 370 as also in the continuance of uncertainty in J&K. In order to control these elements, possibly those steps were undertaken.
How do you assess the security situation in the Kashmir valley?
It is much better than before and I have reiterated time and again that militancy is on its way out. And certainly, this is the last stage of militancy.
What are the biggest challenges for the security apparatus now?
The security apparatus is much more capable because the Modi government has followed a policy of decisiveness with clarity, conviction, continuity and everybody appreciates it whether they like or do not like the kind of decisive activity that is happening. The approach being seen in the last few months has not happened in decades. That is why militants, their sympathisers, their promoters and their sponsors are under pressure and facing heat on various cases of hawala, embezzlement of funds and sponsoring of terror activities. Some mainstream political parties are also making noises more out of frustration and their worry at being caught in J&K Bank embezzlement (cases).
Was it necessary to suspend the Amarnath Yatra?
Suspending Amarnath Yatra is a part of the security measure for the safety of the yatris. It is not fair to link the yatra with Article 370. There may be some security inputs not available to you or me but only to security agencies and the ministry of home affairs. I do not think any government spokesperson said the suspension of the yatra was linked to Article 370.
How do you see the current political situation in Jammu & Kashmir?
A handful of mainstream parties and separatist lobbies have survived and sustained their hegemony on the state’s political spectrum for 30-40 years. They have carried on dynastic politics by operating in a vacuum, gaining from the 8-10% voter turnout and getting elected to form governments. They are the ones who are upset and making noises. Otherwise, the common man is not only going to benefit but will also welcome the move.
A common man walking in the streets of Srinagar will rejoice. He or she may not say this openly because of fear, but that fear is also on its way out. For example, when Article 370 is abrogated, and you have all the Union laws operating there, even salaries of government employees, who form a large chunk of the state’s population, will go up tremendously by the way of perks such as HRA and LTC. Who will deny that in the name of [Article] 370?
You said only some politicians are making noises? What will be the government’s stand towards them?
They have come to the end of their political lifespan. They have been exposed. People of Kashmir have realised how their children are being instigated to become stone-pelters to go in front of the line of fire whereas children of these politicians are in safe havens receiving the best of education, best of perks, best of placements abroad and in metros. They do not have any conviction or ideology. Their ideology, if any, is about convenience. That duplicity stands exposed. If elections are held in a free and fair manner where there is a good voter turnout, these politicians will be voted out.
What will be the government’s future course of action for [former chief ministers] Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, who are under arrest?
There is no future course of action. They are welcome to contest elections and decide their own fate.
Home Minister Amit Shah said Kashmir was underdeveloped because of Article 370. What is the government road map for development?
The simple act of abrogation of Article 370 will lead to a floodgate of development. You will have industries, investors, job opportunities. Other avenues available to the youth in the rest of the country will now reach J&K too. Moreover, Article 370 had led to a psychological isolation that created mental barriers. That was not just hindering development but also facilitating terrorism. The sponsors of terrorism could find isolated youth whom they indoctrinated.
Any big projects that Kashmiris can expect in the near future?
Let’s not forget it was PM Modi who announced the biggest package of Rs 80,000 crore that later went up to Rs 1.25 lakh crore for J&K. We have two AIIMs, seven medical colleges, engineering and degree colleges, the highest tunnel in Asia, the highest railway bridge of the world, the express corridor between Katra and Delhi. A series of projects are underway. To add to what you asked, may be the money, which was reaching the state, was not being spent in a fair manner. Now the money from the Centre will get its value.
There will be no pilferage, no corruption. More importantly, with the empowerment of local bodies and panchayats in J&K by extending the 73rd and 74th amendments in the Constitution, brought in by the Congress government [in 1992], funds will go directly to elected local representatives. State government at different points of time did not want that to happen. They were manipulating and using the funds according to their convenience. If the fund, which is not less than Rs 10,000 crore, goes directly to local bodies, development activity is bound to get a boost.
By when can we expect a non-Kashmiri to be able to buy land in Kashmir?
He can do it from today itself. A notification has been passed, issued by the President [Ram Nath Kovind]. But right now there is curfew? The entire state is not under curfew. You can go even today and buy land there.
Will assembly elections in J&K be held this year or delayed further?
As far as the question of elections are concerned, it is not for me to answer. The Election Commission (EC) is an independent body. The Modi government does not believe in interfering in independent bodies. Perhaps the Congress government was doing this by issuing diktats to the CBI and EC. But as a political party [BJP], we are ready for an election in Jammu & Kashmir even today.
When can we expect Kashmiri Pandits to return to the Kashmir Valley?
This is being worked out. The return and the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits in a respectable way can happen only under the Modi government. It could not have happened otherwise. The refugees from West Pakistan, who have been deprived of their citizenship rights for 70 years, have now become citizens.
Ladakh, which borders Tibet, has been split from J&K. Will this have any security implications?
Security implications as far as the boundaries of Ladakh are concerned were being taken care of and will be taken care of. After all, Ladakh has not ceased to be a part of India. As far as making Ladakh a Union Territory is concerned, this has been a long-standing demand. The first attempt was undertaken by the Ladakh Buddhist Association, which submitted a letter to [then prime minister] Jawaharlal Nehru in 1949. I don’t understand why a fresh security issue should happen. Whether Ladakh is a UT or a part of J&K, the borders will be guarded by ITBP [Indo-Tibetan Border Police] and other forces. There is no interference with defence arrangements.
What would you say about China’s objection to the bifurcation of J&K?
China has been making noises even in respect to Arunachal Pradesh. But India enjoys the prerogative of being the master of its own matters. This kind of posturing or the kind of statements being issued by China or for that matter Pakistan will be taken care of by the ministry of external affairs.
Even as the government has abrogated Article 370, Article 371 that gives special status to many states, including Mizoram, Sikkim, Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, continues to exist. Will 371 also be abrogated?
It has been abundantly made clear that Article 371 deals more with development activity and maintenance of cultural identity of these states. It does not give the kind of embargo being imposed by Article 370. It has been reiterated more than once by the home minister that Article 371 will not be abrogated or touched. Even the governor of Nagaland, RN Ravi, said so recently.