The Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency is always in the news during the election season, largely because of the threat of militancy. It was in the news this time, too, by registering only 8.76 per cent voter turnout, the lowest in the country, and also because of the stunning upset of former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti of the Peoples Democratic Party. Anantnag chose National Conference nominee Hasnain Masoodi, a retired judge of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, as its MP. Masoodi polled 40,180 votes, while state Congress chief G.A. Mir got 33,504 votes and Mehbooba 30,524 votes.
Masoodi started his career as a munsif and was elevated as additional judge of the High Court in 2009. He shot to fame in 2015 after he ruled that Article 370, which guarantees the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, has attained permanency in the Constitution. The National Conference hopes to leverage his victory to shore up its position in south Kashmir, a stronghold of the PDP. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Masoodi shared his vision for Kashmir and what he intends to achieve as a parliamentarian.
Less than 10 per cent of the voters turned up to vote in Anantnag.
It was a state-engineered boycott. People did not come out to vote because of the clubbing of the polling booths. Some polling booths were shifted a day before voting, without informing people. Shifting does not happen after the booths are notified. Second, such shifting needs the consent of the chief electoral officer. That did not happen. The polling booth at Nallah Awoora in Pahalgam was moved to a place which was eight kilometres from the nearest habitation. In Shopian, polling booths were shifted from areas where people generally vote in higher numbers to areas that are known for boycott. The administration ensured that voters had to travel four to five kilometres to cast their votes. And en route, they were harassed, abused and heckled.
Are you saying that the administration wanted to favour some candidates?
I cannot tell you that. Maybe the administration wanted to help those who did not enjoy public support. There was a kind of breeze, if not a wave, in our favour. That can be one of the reasons. Accessibility to polling booths was reduced and steps were taken to ensure that people stayed indoors.
Do you think you would have still won had the turnout been higher?
Yes, and with a thumping majority. It would have been historic. Not because there is something great about me or the party, but because we were able to tell the people about the challenges that lay ahead, and connect with them. We were proven right after the administration banned civilian traffic twice a week on the Jammu-Srinagar highway. The Army and the CRPF said they never asked for it. I think it was a message to the people from the administration on what it can do. It can get even worse.
As a first-time MP from south Kashmir, how do you plan to provide succour to its people who have suffered the most in recent times?
People are not aware of the level of atrocities in south Kashmir. There are boys who have been jailed without even a case being registered against them. When an effort is made to get them out on bail, cases are registered against them. When the court grants bail to someone, the police will say they have one more case against him. The government has given the powers of an NIA court to only one court in Jammu. Poverty-stricken families of arrested boys have to travel all the way to Jammu for the hearings. The Constitution guarantees the fundamental right to life and personal liberty. The Supreme Court has said that accessibility to justice is a component of this right. When someone from the remote areas has to attend a court in Jammu, it is denial of justice. I demand that such powers be given to every court. We are planning to provide free legal aid in such cases. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is another issue that we want to focus on. Its scope is so wide that if you cough, even that comes within the definition of an offence under it.
Can the BJP revoke Article 370 of the Constitution, which you ruled in 2015 has attained permanency in the Constitution?
The judgment on Article 370 was based on argument; it was not an emotional outburst. I said you could not tinker, modify or amend, let alone abrogate Article 370. I said it is a permanent feature and could have been done away only by the constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir. When the constituent assembly was dissolved without touching Article 370, we have to presume that they thought over it and decided to keep it. That judgment is not overset, upset and remains valid.
What would be Jammu and Kashmir’s relation with India if the BJP goes ahead and abrogates Article 370?
No article of the Indian Constitution is directly applicable to Jammu and Kashmir—except through Article 370. Article 1 of the Constitution says Jammu and Kashmir is a part of India. If Article 370 goes, so does Article 1. I hope and pray that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah use the huge mandate to carve out a place for themselves in history so that people remember him (Modi) as the man who brought peace to south Asia.
The BJP wants the delimitation of constituencies. Can it be done when Parliament and the J&K assembly have put a bar on delimitation until 2026?
The BJP cannot do it. Now if the J&K assembly is elected and wants to advance the delimitation date, then that is a different matter.
The state is under president’s rule and the governor has legislative powers. Can he not order delimitation?
No, he cannot. You must differentiate between legislative and constitutional powers. The governor has legislative powers, but the delimitation is a constitutional issue. He may amend the Peoples Representation Act that concerns delimitation, but that is not the answer as there is a bar by Parliament on delimitation.
But if there is a disparity in the number of assembly segments between the Jammu region and Kashmir, what is wrong in setting it right?
The Constitution does not permit it. Once the Constitution is amended by the authority competent to do so, then it is okay.