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GOWHAR GEELANI | 22 FEBRUARY, 2015

Green Saffron in Jammu and Kashmir

An unholy alliance?


NEW DELHI: After 60 days of intense parleys between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the deal with respect to government formation in restive Jammu & Kashmir appears to have been "done and dusted".

If sources are to be believed, it is now only a matter of time before a formal announcement to this effect is made.

Credible sources say that a consensus on a carefully drafted Common Minimum Programme (CMP) has already been reached with only the 'minor hiccups' to be removed now. One of the senior most PDP leaders is expected to fly to New Delhi on Sunday to 'seal the deal'.

Both sides have shown some flexibility to remove the "stumbling blocks" and have agreed on a language in their CMP that would show neither PDP nor BJP in bad light or seen making compromises.

The fact, however, is that both have toned down their ideological positions with respect to some critical issues like the AFSPA and Article 370. The sources still maintain that all major disagreements in relation to both contentious issues have been resolved amicably.

While there is no direct mention of Article 370 in the CMP, the BJP is reported to have made a 'compromise' by agreeing to the PDP's demand that the current "constitutional status of the state of Jammu & Kashmir" will not be tampered with.

This is expected to be perceived as a huge concession on part of the BJP with its ‘nationalist’ agenda.

The PDP, on the contrary, aims to sell this 'concession' to the people of the Kashmir valley as a "major victory" but this could also in turn be a "win-win" situation for the BJP because there is no direct mention of Article 370 in the CMP draft.

Meanwhile, the PDP has ensured that the BJP gives a written assurance that the "constitutional status of the state" shall be maintained.

Critics back home will definitely target the PDP for not doing justice with the mandate of the people of the Kashmir Valley by forging an alliance with the BJP in 'lust of power'. Also, they will take a dig at Mufti Mohammad Sayeed for promising big things but delivering nothing substantial in the end.

Article 370 grants special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir under the Indian Union, but this constitutional arrangement has been eroded since the late 1960s. Earlier, Jammu & Kashmir used to have its own Prime Minister in place of the Chief Minister and 'Sadr-e-Riyasat' instead of Governor.

On another critical issue of the AFSPA, the PDP seems to have prevailed over the BJP for whom agreeing to the demand of reducing footprints of the Indian armed forces from civilian areas of Kashmir not have been that easy without getting a nod from the Army.

Sources say that there is no concrete agreement on a time bound revocation of the controversial Act, but, according to the CMP, the army's presence shall be steadily reduced and replaced with J&K Police in areas where the security situation is perceived as "improved". There is nothing new about this.

The Indian Army has been raising serious objections on AFSPA revocation and made its discontent known in this regard, because it is this very controversial Act which gives army personnel complete immunity from prosecution while operating in conflict-hit Kashmir.

According to the Gazette of India, the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) received the approval of the Indian President on the 10 September 1990. The Act, however, was deemed to have come into force on the 5 July 1990. It is an Act that gives certain special powers to members of the armed forces in the disturbed areas in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. "Disturbed area" means an area which is for the time being declared by notification under section 3 to be a disturbed area.

The Governor, may, by notification in the official gazette, declare the whole or any part of the state to be a disturbed area. In relation to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Gazette of India explains, if the Governor of that state or the Union Government, is of the opinion that the whole or any part of the state is in such a disturbed and dangerous condition that the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary to prevent- "activities involving terrorist acts directed towards overawing the Government, striking terror in the people or any section of the people, questioning or disrupting the 'sovereignty and territorial integrity' of India, or causing insult to the Indian national flag, the Indian national anthem and the Constitution of India; etc.

How do the army personnel enjoy immunity under this Act?

Special Powers conferred upon members of the armed forces under the AFSPA can roughly be summarized as follows:

(a) Any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces may open fire if he/she is of the opinion that any person is acting in contravention or breach of any law or order;

(b) He/she may destroy any arms dump or any structure used as training camp for armed volunteers or utilized as a hide-out by armed gangs wanted for any offence;

(c) Arrest, without warrant, any persons who has committed a cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he/she has committed or is about to commit a perceivable offence;

(d) Enter and search, without warrant, any premises to make any such arrest as aforesaid;

(e) Stop, search and seize any vehicle reasonably suspected to be carrying any person who is a proclaimed offender;

(f) Power of search to include powers to break open locks; etc.

According to several top ranked Indian army commanders operating in J&K there are not more than 150 militants active in the entire region.

In this context, it is not out of place to ask why the army is needed in the first place and to operate under the garb of the AFSPA with a literal "license to kill".

Given the PDP's ideology and its self-rule vision for Jammu & Kashmir, it seems very difficult for the party to sell its deal with the BJP as something substantial to the people of Kashmir.

Major sections of the Kashmiri population are seeing this proposed deal as 'betrayal'. The government formation in J&K is now only a matter of time, but this PDP-BJP coalition is largely seen as "unholy alliance" by the majority of Kashmiris.

Also, the resistance camps led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mohammad Yasin Malik and main opposition National Conference will leave no stone unturned to take a dig at the PDP for "staging drama" for two months with the sole aim of 'grabbing' power, and achieving "nothing".

Equally, the challenge for the BJP is to convince the ideological core group RSS and Army that the saffron party has made no serious compromises on its core ideology and matters related to "national security" by agreeing to maintain constitutional status of J&K and phased withdrawal of the AFSPA.

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