Q. Was Jammu and Kashmir ready for the drastic change of removal of its special status?
The year 2019-20, since August 5-6, has possibly been one of the most eventful years. For that matter a historical year since Independence. The Constitutional changes, which happened on August 5, 2019, were the ones for which the nation was ready. The people of India were waiting, but somehow the political will was lacking. Many governments came and went and maybe it was God's will that someone like Narendra Modi should take over as prime minister and accomplish this noble task.
There is concern over the security situation in J&K post abrogation of Article 370.
Till as late as August 5, 2019, all the prophets of doom were saying no one can touch Article 370. They had gone to the extent of saying that if somebody even touches it, there will be earthquakes, volcanoes, bloodshed. But from all aspects, including security, if we go by evidence and chronology, August 6 and the following six months have been the most peaceful festive season in Jammu and Kashmir. This was the time when we had Diwali, Holi, Eid, Moharram. Among national festivals, we had Independence Day and Republic Day.
In the last thirty years in Jammu and Kashmir, there has been not a single occasion when there wasn't any untoward incident on the day of these national festivals. The perpetrators of terrorism in the state and Pakistan-sponsored terror groups would always try to show their presence. This was the only year when no untoward incident took place. So the prediction made by prophets of doom turned exactly reverse. This was also the year when for the first time there were Block Development Council elections in Jammu and Kashmir. This itself speaks for the security situation.
When can we expect a terror-free Jammu and Kashmir?
I can speak from the evidence on the ground that terrorists are on the run. This is going to be the last phase of militancy or terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.
But there is a threat of local militancy and even Pakistan-sponsored terrorism is continuing on the border.
When I say the phase of militancy will be over, I am referring to both. Because the terrorist infiltration from Pakistan has considerably gone down as there is a heavy check now. All kinds of technology are being put to use and the local youth are also realising the futility of it. The ‘life’ of even the most celebrated commanders of terrorists is not more than two years. Now the parents are coming forward to warn their children against falling prey to any kind of allurement to become terrorists.
Pakistan will continue to stoke unrest in J&K.
Pakistan has been trying and it will continue to try. But from the Indian side, it is much more strict now and with the modern technology available, the surveillance is also of a very high degree. It is not only physical surveillance. There is graphic, thermal, satellite-driven surveillance.
The recent killing of a BJP leader in Bandipora in North Kashmir isn't a good sign.
These incidents which we are seeing, which includes the unfortunate incident of one of our BJP worker getting killed, are happening because terrorists are desperate and on the run and trying to attack whatever soft targets they come across.
But now the flushing is going on, for example, in my constituency of Udhampur, there were two districts, which had earned notoriety as far as terrorism is concerned. Doda and Kishtwar have been officially rendered terror-free now. This happened early this year. These were the districts that witnessed many massacres during the last 30 years of terrorism.
China and Nepal have reacted sharply to India's claims on PoJK, Aksai Chin, Kalapani after the abrogation of Article 370.
First of all, it has nothing to do with the abrogation of Article 370. I would not get into the nuances as this is a highly sensitive matter related to security and I will leave it to ministries of external affairs and defence. But Article 370 has nothing to do with it. Whatever is the stand of the government of India and whatever is the stand shared by the ministries of external affairs and defence, we would stand by that without adding to it.
What have been the immediate benefits of removal of special status in J&K?
There were at least 800 laws enacted by the Indian Parliament that was not applicable in Jammu and Kashmir. These are laws that had no effect on the so-called special status, but they were held back for political reasons. For example, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. I don't think any country in the world would have any reservation in implementing it. But it was not enforced in Jammu and Kashmir, maybe for political motives and appeasement of certain sections of society. Similarly, the Dowry Prohibition Act was not applicable. The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments brought in by Rajiv Gandhi government were not implemented in Jammu and Kashmir, despite the Congress being in coalition for so many years. These amendments ensured direct empowerment of local bodies by allowing Central grants for panchayats and municipal bodies to directly reach elected representatives. But this was not implemented and Central grant reached ministers who then routed it as per their discretion. This is the first time it has got implemented and true empowerment of people has taken place in the last six months.
Political parties like the PDP and National Conference spoke of self-rule and autonomy, but does it mean autonomy or self-rule for family or dynasty? True autonomy should have taken birth from the grassroots. So much duplicity was going on in the name of Article 370.
How is the government ensuring good governance in Jammu and Kashmir?
As far as governance is concerned, the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (amended in 2018 ) dealt by the Department of Personnel and Training handled by me, has been implemented in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time. Till date, Jammu and Kashmir had its anti-corruption law, which lacked lustre. If you wanted to fix somebody or let him go, you could do it.
Now, Jammu and Kashmir has a PC Act, which talks of time-bound disposal of cases and after the 2018 amendment, not only the bribe-taker but the bribe giver is also held guilty. Secondly, the jurisdiction of CVC has been extended there. The Right to Information Act is the same as the Centre. All these laws were either not implemented or implemented in a modified or truncated form to suit the political interests.
Citizenship rights were not given to refugees who settled there from Pakistan. The contradictions were huge and this was happening because the political parties were thriving on a captive vote bank.
But now for the first time, Jammu and Kashmir is enjoying a similar kind of liberty and freedom as the rest of India. J&K is the only UT which has got two AIIMS. This happened after the personal intervention of Modi. In the last five years, more than half-dozen medical colleges funded by the Centre were opened in J&K but there was no faculty since the local government did not allow them to purchase land. That barrier has been removed now.
How big is the focus on industrial growth in J&K?
Jalandhar city, which is close to Jammu, is a big business centre but the latter has not. This is because investments were not allowed from outside. All that has been changed with the new domicile law. The COVID lockdown has caused some interruption, otherwise, a big outreach programme had been started by the UT government to facilitate and create awareness for available investment options. They were visualising a huge investment up to Rs 25,000 crore and had started conducting outreach programmes in various cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata. New industrial hubs have been identified in small districts like Udhampur and many potential investors are already keen to go there and set up units.
There is a worry that the new domicile law will change the demography of J&K.
This debate has been raised by those who have a huge vested political interest. It is not the population demography they are worried about, it is vote bank demography. They feel if someone comes from outside and gets citizenship after living there for ten years, as per the domicile law or an IAS officer is allocated AGMUT cadre and after serving there for a couple of years, he will also get voting rights and like that students, Pakistani refugees or Gorkha settlers get similar voting rights, that will impact their limited captive vote bank on which they have been thriving on. Otherwise, if there is a healthy change of demography happening all over the world, why should J&K shy away from it?
There are certain advantages to it. Now people are increasingly realising this facade of demography and debate is cooling down.
When will the delimitation exercise start in J&K?
The Delimitation Commission has been set up and because of the lockdown certain procedural delays happened, but soon thereafter they will start their sittings.
Is the government looking at a timeframe to complete the delimitation exercise?
There was no exact timeline fixed, but in between the COVID pandemic broke out and the lockdown happened so they could not even move forward and fix deadlines. But of course, it is an elaborate exercise, which needs sufficient time to complete.
What was the need for a delimitation exercise?
To put it bluntly, the need for delimitation has arisen from some time. There have been allegations that the 2011 Census exercise was not fair; the embargo on delimitation by the then government was meant to obstruct the normal periodic exercise, which should take place. Delimitation is an exercise, which should take place in democracy from time to time because of the population demography changes, land demography changes, the topography changes. Depending on several parameters, the constituencies are determined for the state assembly. There is also a rotation of the reserved constituencies. So, this is an exercise that has to be undertaken periodically to make it more compatible with a free and fair democracy. But this was not happening and we are only making up for it now.
There are allegations BJP is doing delimitation for vote bank gains.
BJP is not barring anybody from their voting rights so this allegation is unfounded. If this allegation is coming from some quarters, maybe they are apprehensive that after delimitation they will not be able to thrive on that captive vote bank. If they are truly committed to democracy, they should be ready for delimitation and a free franchise. BJP has never shied away from it. BJP has been supporting voting rights all over the country. BJP has never obstructed any procedures and processes but in the natural course, if people of J&K, elect BJP then it is not BJP's manipulation, then there is something wrong on the other side.
How soon will Assembly elections be held in J&K?
They will happen in due course of time and as you know the delimitation exercise is also going on.
Will the government wait for the delimitation exercise to get completed before holding Assembly polls in J&K?
I cannot say right now as this is something for which a call has to be taken by the government depending on the various inputs received by it.
When will the government look into the demand for statehood for J&K?
I agree with you. There has been a discussion on this and I don't need to add anything to it because the Home Minister, Amit Shah, has said on the floor of the House that this is an arrangement for the time being and once the circumstances are congenial, it will be reverted to a state.
The J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 has 24 seats reserved in the state assembly for PoJK. What is the plan for PoJK?
There cannot be any difference of opinion as far as the facts are concerned. PoJK is a part of India and it was forcibly occupied by Pakistan and that too when the Indian forces were on the verge of retrieving. It was one of the many Nehruvian blunders as history records it that prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru went to the Akashwani Bhawan and made the announcement of a unilateral ceasefire without consulting his Cabinet, home minister or defence minister and the territory had to be lost to Pakistan occupation.
The question now is how to retrieve it? Even in 1994, when the Congress government was in power, a resolution was passed unanimously by Parliament saying that the only pending issue between India and Pakistan is of retrieving the illegally occupied part of J&K that is in Pakistan's occupation. So why were successive Congress governments quiet on it for 25 years? Now since the BJP and NDA have shown will to move forward and having accomplished what it has in the last one year, I think we should look forward to it as the next agenda.
What will be the way forward for retrieving PoJK?
These are issues that involve a great amount of technicality and sensitivity and worked out at different levels. But certainly, this is very much on the agenda. It is also the will of the people living in PoK to be part of India because they have been maltreated and given second-degree treatment over the years.
The exiled community from PoJK wants nomination to these seats. Is that a possibility?
The will is there and it is testified from the fact that 24 seats have been kept reserved in the State Assembly for the residents of POJK. Now, how does the government go about it is something we will have to work out. Right now we are seized of the delimitation exercise, once it is done, a thought can be given to this aspect also.
Pakistan is holding elections in Gilgit-Baltistan region of PoJK in September. Your comments.
It has been an accepted position of the government in Islamabad that Gilgit-Baltistan was a disputed area. In other words, it was not their area. Now, suddenly in the last few years, they have changed their stance and expansionist designs have cropped up in Islamabad. An administrator had been appointed there all these years because they had accepted it officially that this territory is not part of Pakistan like the four provinces of Balochistan, Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. As far as POJK is concerned, Pakistan was illegally occupying it. So we reject the move.
Will the government undertake outreach and cultural awareness programmes for PoJK and Gilgit-Baltistan to connect the people there with the rest of the country?
Certainly. This is already being undertaken. Political of course is just one part, but even at the social level, at the level of NGOs, we are holding outreach programmes and discussions throughout the country in different parts—south, north, east, west, northeast. Due to the pandemic and lockdown, it has got disrupted.
How do you see the future of separatists in the Valley, especially after the resignation of Syed Ali Shah Geelani from the All Party Hurriyat Conference?
Separatists have no future. Their past could never have a future because as I always said separatism in Kashmir is by convenience and not a conviction. I wish it would have been better for them if they were separatists by conviction. At least they would have been faithful to their people. They have been unfaithful to their people and trying to bluff them by raising the slogan of separatism. Many separatist leaders are drawing pension as ex-legislators of J&K Assembly, including Geelani. Some of them have a son working in the provincial civil services, daughter working in the education department, daughter-in-law working as a doctor and one of the members of the family also becomes a separatist. So, it is politics by other means. It is not by conviction.
On the one hand, they claim not to be subscribing to the Constitution of India, on the other hand, they are very particular to make use of every privilege made available through the Constitution of India. The point is you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all the people all the time.
They fooled people for three generations and now the young generation in Kashmir are not ready to be taken for a ride. They have seen the earlier two generations suffering and being at a disadvantage and they will not allow themselves to be used in the same manner. So that myth has exploded.
What has also happened is that in the last six years under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there has been a whole new opening of avenues and opportunities particularly for youth and now with the age of social media, connectivity, the youth of Kashmir can realise what he is missing out. He is conscious of the fact that India is on the verge of becoming a global power and the Indian youth is dominating in every sphere of life around the world so why should he be left out on a hollow slogan of separatism that too given by the leaders who themselves are leading a life of double standards.
So is it the end of the road for Abdullahs, Mufti, Geelani?
As far as the dynasties are concerned, not just in Jammu and Kashmir but all over India the feudalist hangover is over. It is the third generation after Independence and it is said that even the Samskara changes after the third generation. Today, people have learnt to test and elect their representatives based on certain hard evidence. So, I don't think simply being the member of a dynasty would be sufficient to reach where you wish to reach.
How do you see the entry of new political parties in J&K?
As far as we in BJP are concerned, the more the merrier. That is the spirit of democracy.
When will the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) go from J&K?
That is something which the Union home ministry has to take a call and they have inputs which we may not be having access to.
Did the special status benefit J&K in some way?
The National Conference or the PDP have used the alibi of Article 370 for their convenience. The so-called protagonists of Article 370 were also not loyal or faithful to it. The used it to carry on their political hegemony. They deprived their daughters of the right to property and citizenship. I can name at least three chief ministers whose own daughters or sisters were deprived of citizenship rights or property rights just because they had married outside J&K. So, this was an anomaly, a miscarriage of history and the principle of justice. Any anomaly cannot stay forever, that is the rule of nature.