Dr. Farooq Abdullah has done it again; a huge U-turn within four days. He linked State and Centre’s stand on impugned Article 35A in and outside Supreme Court (SC) with the forthcoming Civic and Panchayat polls, threatening that if they don’t clarify their stand on it and indicate steps to protect it, NC is out of it. Indeed, it is quite a smart move which many call political blackmailing.
With his increased bonhomie with Modi Government and the new Governor S.P. Malik and his recent’war cry’ of Bharat Mata Ki Jai at all-party prayer meeting for late Atal Bihari Vajpayee at Delhi in presence of PM Modi, RSS Chief and all other national leaders, who could have thought that the same Dr. Farooq Abdullah would embarrass bothPM Modi and Governor Malik by announcing boycott of these polls which he and his party were among the firsts to hail it. It is on this very ground (elections) that SC has deferred hearing on Article 35 A till 19th January next year. All of a sudden, Dr. Abdullah and his party NC became “suspicious” of State and Centre’s stand on this controversial provision.
Farooq has been courting controversies with his outbursts all through his life and nobody could fathom these. His outbursts are not for nothing. It always has relevance to a particular situation and with specific agenda. He has weathered many storms on the turbulent horizons of Kashmir politics but the worst was his defeat at the hands of PDP’s Tariq Hamid Karra in 2014 Lok Sabha election, his first electoral defeat, which forced him to take a brief political sabbatical. He has been constantly reshaping his politics which took him to different types of political discourses from nationalistic to anti-Pakistan to Kashmir centric and at times toeing separatists’ lines and being soft on Pakistan. All these have been contradictory, controversial, communal, divisive and at times, provocative for some.
Eighty one year old political heavy weight Farooq Abdullah has travelled a long distance from his early days of mainstream politics and still kept himself relevant in State as well as national politics. He is a master of changing stances (U-turns too). Forgetting his yesteryears’ popular rants of”bombing militants camps” in PoK and Pakistan and “jail to Geelani and his likes”, Farooq had no issue in expressing his “willingness to work with the separatists for Kashmir resolution” (at the mazaar of Sher-i-Kashmir Sheikh Abdullah on his birth anniversary last year) or justify stone pelting and even picking up gun for the nation (during his election campaign for Srinagar Lok Sabha by-election). He cautioned PM Modi against dividing Hindu and Muslims during debate on Vote of No-Confidence against him in Lok Sabha and on 20th August, 2018 his emotional loud slogan of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and “Jai Hind” fetched him country-wide accolades. But back home he faced heckling and hooting, without giving-in, at Eid Namaz at Hazartbal Shrine, once NC bastion. Later in the day,the angry Farooq blasted pro-Pak separatists and other divisive elements for”destroying Kashmir” and also justified his slogan of Bharat Mata Ki Jai from Islamic point of view. All this earned him the title of “Hero of the Day” at Arnab Goswami’s evening primetime TV show. Farooq Abdullah alone can take diagonally opposite positions and still remain popular.
Politics on Article 35A has polarized the State on communal lines. Mehbooba as CM made a common cause of all Kashmir political parties on Article 35A. Then State Government engaged top legal brains at heavy price to defend Article 35A that face serious challenge on various counts through five petitions. Separatists and Kashmir’s mainstream political parties, traders, Bar Association and civil society had joined hands to whip up emotions on it projecting that tinkering with it would change State’s demography. Kashmir has been observing shut downs on every date of hearing in SC, as if events happening out of court would determine the fate of the constitutional provision. It is good that all major parties including NC and PDP besides Kashmir Bar Association are defending it in SC by engaging senior Lawyers.
Both the Centre and the Governor administration were trying to wriggle out of the tense situation caused by the acrimonious, fruitless and at times,ill-informed debates on this provision. Avoiding backlash, Government of India and J&K Government pleaded for deferment of the hearing pending before the SC since 2014 on the ground of announced Local Bodies and Panchayat elections which plea the SC agreed and deferred its hearing till January 19, 2019, giving a sigh of relief to Kashmiris and the administration.
Much has been written and said on this Article. Besides questioning its constitutional validity alleging that the President exceeded his power under Article 370, it is brazenly anti-women and discriminatory. There is absolutely no second opinion on it as this being the case, constitutional protection was found extremely necessary to safeguard it from being declared ultra-virus. This is what Article 35A has done.
With this background, and without going into the merit of the case, SC Bench did ask some questions. One question asked from the petitioners was that why did they came after 64 years of its enactment. It was aptly answered. If the SC could heara case of centuries’ old anti-women practice in Sabarimala temple, why can’t it look into anti- women provision of Permanent Resident Law of J&K which grants Permanent Resident status to a Pakistani woman on marriage with a local but a Permanent Resident woman loses her rights if married to a non-Permanent Resident Indian. When SC Bench asked the Additional Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta representing J&K Govt about it, his answer was”It can’t be denied that there is an aspect of gender discrimination in it (Article 35A)”. Reportedly, it has angered Farooq Abdullah and his party. Could ASG have denied this truth? How can any counsel tell lie the Apex Court. Politics can thrive on lies to and falsehood but not the law!
Intriguingly, the same Farooq Abdullah has hailed announcement of elections at an official function at SKICC in the presence of the new Governor on 1st September, the very next day SC deferred hearing on Article 35A, and the court proceedings published prominently in media including AAG’s observation on which he has now taken umbrage to justify his boycott call. At SKICC function, he had urged people to take part in the forthcoming elections and said, “It will not settle things between India and Pakistan but will better your life.” Not only that, he also took those elements to task which will try to sabotage this democratic process, saying, “Many organizations will try to sabotage this because they thrive on our problems. See the situation today; hotels and houseboats are empty, traders are weeping… For how long will we die like this and reach nowhere. Things will be resolved one day but we also need to stand on our feet… The forces which thrive on our blood do not want peace here. They will not let it happen”.
It is not that Farooq didn’t remember Article 35A while seeking participation in elections; he actually lashed out at the Centre for raking it up. He said, “What was the need to rake up 35A. Such things sadden the hearts of people here”. Only a week ago, and at the height of tension in Kashmir on Article 35A, the same NC fought Kargil Hill Council election and emerged a single largest party.
Then what went wrong in last four days that changed Farooq’s mind? Nothing happened that could change his mind. Moreover, NC is today better placed to capture most of the Local Bodies in Kashmir than any other party. Personally, Dr. Abdullah’s may not be opposed to these elections but the hawks in NC’s Core Group must have used his position to blackmail Modi Government. Many also feel that NC leaders are scared of militants’ who have warned against participation in these elections. So, they thought it could be better ground to run away from elections. Secondly, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, with his stature and equation with Governor Malik and somewhat with Modi, might get the election postponed on the assumption that without NC’s Kashmir elections may not look credible at national and international levels. And if it happens, the political stock of Dr. Farooq Abdullah as a leader and NC as a party would go up. So, it would be a win-win situation for him and his party.
As per indication the Centre is not going oblige Farooq. Moreover, PDP has announced its participation in election. The NC may be the loser in its game.
This is not the first time that Dr. Abdullah and NC chose to run away from election in the face grave threat to their lives. In 1996 Lok Sabha poll, when the Centre wanted to test the water for reviving democracy in Kashmir, he declined to take the plunge and allowed a cake walk for Congress to grab most of the seats. At that time, the reason for boycott was restoration of autonomy.
Farooq Abdullah’s move has raked up an important issue of far reaching consequence. Should all legal and constitutional issues be settled on the roads and through threats including of secession and political blackmailing? Are Indian courts including the Apex Court Government subservient to the political Government of the day? How does it matter what Govt pleads before SC? The Court takes its own view on the basis of available facts and the merit. Why make ASG’s observations an issue when a battery of Senior Advocates is there to defend Article 35A.
Another dangerous implication of this move is that we don’t need democracy and rule of law and issues should be decided through the concept of majoritarian supremacy. In J&K, if this supremacy is made toprevaileven if it hurts the minorities, then conversely, when applied elsewhere in India it would have serious consequences.
Article 35A is a legal and constitutional issue and let the Apex court settles it once for all. All parties which are agitating so ferociously should have faith in their arguments and their chosen counsels and then leave it to the judgment of the Supreme Court. If SC finds the constitutional law valid, everybody should accept it. And if it holds otherwise, why should there be any problem? In the latter situation, why not settle it through the available route of Parliament (amendment ) after arriving at a consensus between all the stakeholders. There should be no room for scuttling electoral process, threats and blackmail which will set a dangerous trend.