Srinagar: The recent two-day visit of Home Minister Rajnath Singh to Kashmir apparently signals a softening of the position of Government of India (GO) with respect to talks with the Hurriyat and on the issue of Article 35A.
Until Rajnath’s statement on Monday, the GOI had given no assurances to the J&K government that it will defend Article 35A after it was challenged in the Supreme Court. Rajnath said at his press conference in Srinagar that the GOI will not go against the sentiments of “Jammu and Kashmir as far as special status of the state including Article 35A is concerned”.
Also, the home minister expressed his willingness to talk with pro-freedom groups. “The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which detained a number of separatist leaders since June, should not deter those who want to talk to the government,” he said. It was a marked shift from the earlier stance of GOI which persisted with the line that the Hurriyat should hold talks with the state government and within the framework of the Indian Constitution.
“The home minister’s statements have shown a change in the position of GOI. It is a positive development in relation with Kashmir,” Awami Itehad Party (AIP) chairman Engineer Rashid said. “He has spoken on Article 35A as well as on Hurriyat. On 35A he said that the government does not intend to abrogate it, and he did not attach conditions to talks with the Hurriyat, if ever such talks are held. He used words which indirectly signalled that the government wants to talk with the Hurriyat,” said Rashid, who is Member of Legislative Assembly from the Langate constituency.
Article 35A of the Indian Constitution allows the Jammu and Kashmir legislature to determine the state’s “permanent residents”, who are eligible to vote, work for the state government, and own land in the state.
Even as the home minister spoke on Monday morning at his presser, a handout issued by the Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (G), Syed Ali Geelani, reiterated the Hurriyat position that Kashmir is a humanitarian issue which can be peacefully resolved through the Indian Independence Act of 1947.
Political scientist Noor Ahmad Baba said that on the face of it, the statements of the home minister seem conciliatory.
“I can sense a softening of the position of GOI on Kashmir affairs. The home minister talked differently than his colleagues in the government. It was, by and large, a moderate position he took on sensitive issues like Article 35A and talks with the Hurriyat,” Baba said.
He, however, cautioned that people were still sceptical of the messages sent out by the home minister.
“We have to wait and watch. We have to wait for the follow-up and see how the reconciliatory tones and messages translate into action. Till then, people will continue to doubt the GOI,” Baba said.
Political analyst Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussein said that the apparent change in position of GOI might be just posture.
“It seems they have softened their stand with regard to certain issues, but one must not read too much into it. The history of BJP is such that it often opts for soft posturing, as a tactic rather than change in policy,” Hussein said.