It’s almost a year since the tectonic changes of August 5, 2019, were forced on the people of Jammu and Kashmir without so much as a by your leave. It’s still impossible to come to terms with what I saw being rolled out on my television set that morning. Hours earlier, at the stroke of midnight, I had been placed under house arrest and would be shifted to a government guest house by the end of the day.
The nominated representative of the Union government usurped powers, that should have been vested with the legislature and a popularly elected government, to rewrite J&K’s constitutional relationship with the rest of India. The Parliament of India spent less than a day each in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha to change more than 70 years of history, to undo the sovereign commitments made to the people of J&K and to dismember the state.
After the re-election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, rumours started to float about the intentions of the BJP to use its absolute majority in the Lok Sabha to implement its poll promise of abrogating Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution. Fears reached a fever pitch when planeloads of central para-military forces were flown into Srinagar and dispatched all over the state.
The people were treated to categorical denials by the occupant of the highest office in the state, the Governor, that J&K’s special status faced no threat. He debunked the rumours, explained away the additional forces suggesting they were required for Assembly elections later in the year. So what does one conclude from this?
It was understood that so long as J&K remained a part of India, the special status enjoyed by it would remain. This is what makes it all the more distressing to see what was done last year.
J&K has kept its side of the promise by remaining a part of the Union, the last 30 years of militancy notwithstanding. It has participated in the democratic processes and tried to share in the nation’s development, but the promise made with it was not kept. This is one of those moments when it’s important to ask whether it is better to be popular or to be right. Removing J&K’s special status may have been the popular thing to do but going back on a nation’s sovereign commitments is never going to be the right thing to do.
We, in the J&K National Conference, do not agree with what has been done to J&K nor do we accept what has been done. We shall oppose this, our opposition will continue in the highest court in the land in the form of the legal challenge filed in the Supreme Court last year.
We have always believed in democracy and peaceful opposition. Sadly these very democratic rights were trampled on a year ago. Dozens of mainstream politicians were placed in “preventive arrest” and many more under illegal house arrest. In fact, a number of these leaders are still under illegal detention a year later.
The National Conference has lost thousands of workers and office-bearers to militant violence because of our choice to remain a mainstream political party while opposing the separatist politics that grew in the late 1980s. Given the orchestrated campaign against mainstream political parties in most of the national media, particularly at the hands of the ruling dispensation, it’s easy to find oneself asking whether the sacrifices were worth it.
As for me, I am very clear that while J&K remains a Union Territory I will not be contesting any Assembly elections. Having been a member of the most empowered Assembly in the land and that, too, as the leader of that Assembly for six years, I simply cannot and will not be a member of a House that has been disempowered the way ours has.
With almost all of my senior colleagues still detained in their homes, the NC is yet to meet to decide its next political course of action and I will work diligently to strengthen the party, carry forward its agenda and continue to represent the aspirations of the people while we fight against the injustices heaped on J&K in the last one year.