National Conference (NC) leader and Anantnag MP, retired justice Hasnain Masoodi, was camping in Srinagar to pay tributes to party founder Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah on his 37th death anniversary on September 8. However, the party leaders failed to visit the grave on the occasion due to security restrictions. Mr. Masoodi spoke to The Hindu on the party’s strategy and the prevailing situation.
J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik paid tributes to NC founder Abdullah on his 37th anniversary. However, no NC leader was visible at the grave to do the same.
I was the only person to visit the grave on the Sheikh sahib’s death anniversary. It took me three-and-a-half hours to reach there due to restrictions on the way. Most of our leaders remain detained. For five weeks, we have not been able to meet NC president Dr. Farooq Abdullah, also an MP, or vice-president Omar Abdullah. The graveyard of the Sheikh told its own tale on that day. No newspaper seems willing to publish us any more.
The NC will be eventually released. How do you foresee the party’s future strategy?
The Gupkar Declaration adopted on August 4 by all regional parties including the Peoples Democratic Party, the Peoples Conference and the J&K Peoples Movement reflected a joint resolve to defend J&K’s special status. We made it clear that any attempt at tampering Article 370 will be an aggression on the people of the State. That could remain a baseline for all of us to move further jointly. There are chances that the parties will move a step ahead. It remains to be seen whether the parties have a consensus to stick to the internal dimension of the J&K problem or expand its politics to the external dimension too, pushing for a tripartite talks. The NC is of the opinion that dialogue is required to address the external dimension of the problem too. The August 5 episode has forced parties to set new political agendas.
There is a school of thought suggesting whether the conditions under which the Instrument of Accession was signed stays or not. People will eventually understand the consequences of the revocation of the special status. This poison will spread to every institution. Two IAS officers had already resigned on what is happening in Kashmir. Our ranks will only swell. There will be no easy walkover.
People across the country are supporting and celebrating revocation of J&K’s special status.
There has been a brazen attempt to denude us of identity, strip constitutional position and unilaterally bifurcate J&K’s 5,000-year-old history. It’s a deceitful conquest not in territorial sense but on the moral plane. Delhi is celebrating deceit and betrayal. It goes against the fundamental values of India. The parliamentarians start their day by raising the slogans “Jai Shri Ram” in the House. The teachings of Ram are to abide by promises. Lord Ram kept his pledge to stay in 14 years of banvas to see Baharat on the throne. J&K’s special status was also about a pledge.
Most leaders of the regional parties face corruption charges. Why would people rally behind them?
The game plan of Delhi is to discredit and demonise political forces and political families here. And then plant their own saplings. History is witness to how the political classes were demonised across the globe by using the bogey of corruption and create an intellectual content to favour it. General Muammar Qadhafi [of Libya] and Saddam Hussein [of Iraq] are examples of how neo-colonial forces work. The mistakes of leaders are magnified and exploited to dislodge them. All development components expressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech to market Article 370 are false. He mentioned Juvenile Justice, not knowing “Right to Happy Child” was adopted by J&K in 1957 — the first such state in Asia, right to education is up to the university level, right to information is already here. J&K was far ahead in protecting the rights of all communities. We are far ahead of most Indian States on most development indicators like farmers’ prosperity, life expectancy and per capita income.
Will NC be part of future electoral politics?
I am not sure about it. The leadership will decide about it. However, there can be no trade-off on the integrity, autonomy, political sentiment and identity for development. Can one offer a woman to empower her at the cost of modesty? No. Will Bhutan agree to be 30th State of India for fast development? No.
The August 5 episode trampled own Constitution to denude J&K. In 1947 too, the tribal raid was aimed at depriving the people here of any decision-making power. This is also aimed at disempowering people by taking away both special constitutional rights like flag, language and culture, even the right to governance by reducing it to Union Territory. The J&K Assembly is nothing but a municipality now. The land is taken over by the Centre. J&K is not the only State touchy about its flag. Nagaland and Karnataka are equally protective about it. On top of it, there is no freedom to put forth a counter narrative to the Centre’s narrative on Article 370. There is a monologue through advertisements published in local dailies. The other opinions are blacked out. If this is the best decision for the people of J&K, let people also present their viewpoint on it. The way Article 370 was removed was not less than an invasion; no consultation, maintaining secrecy, bypassing State Assembly and disregarding the Constituent Assembly.
Both the State and the Centre claim normalcy is returning in J&K. Is it?
Srinagar Dy. Commissioner Shahid Iqbal Choudhary is now commenting even outside his jurisdiction on “buzzing phones” in areas like Kupwara. It’s projected as normalcy. If he is so concerned about statistics, let him share the number of people booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA), lodged in police stations and shifted to other parts of the country. There is a clear law that no detenu arrested on mere suspicion can be shifted away from his home constituency. People are shifted more than 1,000 km away and there are families who have never been to such areas. They use term “buzzing phones” as indicator of normalcy. In digital world, 90% households had given up landlines and most are used in offices or official residences. Also, people are observing a shutdown voluntarily. Is that a sign of normalcy? Neither restrictions nor shutdown is a sign of normalcy. Even my cellphone is not working despite repeated requests. The permanent escort has been withdrawn too.
Has Delhi pushed the mainstream into the separatist camp?
I am not comfortable with the terminologies like separatists and mainstream. There are two camps in J&K — self-determinationists and resolutionists. The resolutionists like the NC would wean away people from the other side in the past on the plank of Article 370. We would argue that J&K was better off with India because special status, identity and autonomy had been granted and respected. The gulf between the Centre and the resolutionsits has only grown now. We are bereft of our argument against self-determinationists.
National Security Advisor Ajit Dival recently said most people in J&K are happy with the decision.
The People of J&K feel insulted and humiliated. The sentiment in Kashmir valley, the Pir Panjal valley and the Chenab valley is starkly visible. The Centre’s decision has put a question mark on Sheikh Abdullah’s decision to support the Instrument of Accession. His politics was about joining a secular state to protect the pluralistic composition of J&K. Even Maharaja Hari Singh did not adopt Indian Constitution in 1949. Article 370 was adopted as a temporary Article till the final resolution of J&K is achieved through a referendum under the United Nations. The U.N. never closed the J&K case and still has a role. The fact that the members of the U.N. Security Council are meeting on J&K shows it remains an unfinished agenda. The U.N. reference always terms J&K as Indian-administered or Pakistan-administered J&K.
Do you share the fear that J&K will witness change in demography now?
Yes. It’s a real fear. Many leaders have articulated about setting up settlements here. Why would such a big State be turned into a Union Territory?
The Supreme Court has accepted your petitions and sent notices to the State and the Centre. How do you see this development?
The August 5 move of the Centre cannot stand the judicial scrutiny. It was also a massive assault on the Constitution. This is why we believe that the SC issued notices to the State and the Centre. It is not a small development. The SC also sent it to the larger bench. The fact that notices were sent showed that the SC prima facie saw a merit in the case.