NEW DELHI—Revoking the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir through Article 370 of the Indian Constitution will finish pro-India political parties in Kashmir and cause militancy to become stronger, said Nazir Ahmad Laway and Mir Mohammad Fayaz, both members of the Rajya Sabha from the People’s Democratic Party, in separate interviews with HuffPost India on Tuesday.
“This is a historic mistake. People will spit at us. How will we go back to them? Militancy will become stronger,” said a distraught Fayaz, sitting in his official residence in the national capital. “Article 370 acted as a bridge with the rest of India. It was supported by the pro-India elements in Kashmir. We told the people that a special arrangement has been created for us to remain in the Union of India. Now that relationship with India has been broken.”
This is a historic mistake. People will spit at us. How will we go back to them?Mir Mohammad Fayaz, PDP MP, Rajya Sabha
His party colleague in the upper House of Parliament, Laway, was equally distraught. “I don’t think anyone is going to remain in the mainstream. I don’t know whether mainstream politics will exist or not. Everyone will oppose this,” he said.
If there is any chance of survival of ‘mainstream politics’—which is an expression used to signify pro-India politics in the Kashmir valley, where multiple competing political positions ranging from pro-Pakistan to pro-azaadi exist—then the political parties will talk to the people to convince them to stay with India, he added. “We are also people of the mainstream,” Laway emphasised.
Jammu and Kashmir has been under President’s Rule since December, after the BJP-PDP coalition government, headed by Mehbooba Mufti, fell last June. The PDP was routed in the recent Lok Sabha election, with even Mufti losing from the party’s bastion of Anantnag due to factors including anger over the crackdown after Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani’s death, as well as the alliance with the right-wing BJP, which many Kashmiris had seen as a betrayal.
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On Tuesday, while the two PDP MPs spoke to HuffPost India, the Lok Sabha passed a resolution to abrogate the special status under Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir and cleared a bill to split the state into two union territories—one in Jammu and Kashmir with an elected assembly and another in Ladakh without elected members.
The opposition parties were largely unable to counter the BJP’s shock move and arguments, with the Congress especially ending up looking even weaker. Its chief whip in the Rajya Sabha has quit the party, and senior leaders such as Jyotiraditya Scindia have publicly supported the abrogation of Article 370.
Laway, 50, explained why these measures will likely deal a huge blow to mainstream parties once the curfew is lifted. “For the past 30 years, it is the mainstream that has been fighting the militancy. Thousands of on-ground political workers have died doing so,” said Laway.
But now, he says, the situation will become more difficult for mainstream parties in J&K, he says.
“Now when we go back to the Valley, political workers as well as those who lost their loved ones to the militancy will ask us questions and what will we answer them? We would tell people that this is our country and that our kids are being killed in the militancy. Today, we don’t know what has happened. With what face can we ask them to follow us? I think mainstream politics will be finished. People will make us answerable for this, I think. Overall status of mainstream politicians will not be good.”
Tearing some pages does not weaken the constitution, erosion of Article 370 and Article 35A weakens the constitution. That is why we protested.Nazir Ahmad Laway, Rajya Sabha MP, PDP
Both Kashmir MPs briefly grabbed headlines on Monday for their aggressive protests in Parliament after Home Minister Amit Shah announced that Article 370 was being watered down. While Laway tore parts of the Constitution, Fayaz tore his own clothes in protest. This prompted Rajya Sabha chair Venkaiah Naidu to remove both from the upper house.
Though problematic in form, their protests are among the few Kashmiri voices that have been reported so far in the public domain, apart from a few short statements from former Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah and Farooq Abdullah. Mufti and Omar Abdullah continue to be under detention in their homes.
Justifying his actions, Laway said, “It happened within seconds. When Shah saahab gave his statement, we were distressed about what was going on. So we had to protest. When we go back to Kashmir, people will ask what we were doing. From our end we tried to oppose. We are a regional party and we need to strongly resist, otherwise who will people look up to?”.
When asked what did tearing a copy of the Indian Constitution achieve, Laway said, “We are people of the mainstream. We believe in the Constitution. We did that under emotion. Tearing some pages does not weaken the Constitution, erosion of Article 370 and Article 35A weakens the Constitution. That is why we protested.”
His colleague Fayaz countered the opinion that Ladakh had unilaterally supported the changes. “In Leh-Ladakh, people are supportive of this but in Kargil you will see what the reaction is in the forthcoming days. Today (Tuesday), for instance, there was a bandh,” he said. He also claimed that only a small section of the Kashmiri Pandits were supportive of this.
When asked what his party will do next, Fayaz said they will challenge these changes in court but did not go into details.
It is not just political costs that are worrying both MPs, though. During separate interviews, both shared their worries about the well-being of their daughters.
Laway, who has been in Delhi since the beginning of the parliament session, said, “I have not been able to speak with my daughter for the past three days. If a Member of Parliament cannot speak to his daughter, you can imagine what common people may be going through. I have been trying repeatedly for the past three days to reach my daughter. I am sure she may be trying to reach me as well.”
Fayaz said his daughters have taken admissions in schools in Delhi and, if he is forced to go back to Kashmir at this point, he is worried about their education.
Laway used a metaphor to describe the events of the past one week in the way he understands them. “It is unfortunate that when someone has power, they misuse it. It’s but natural, human nature. Today, the BJP has the power of the 303 (Lok Sabha members). When I was young, we would be afraid of the .303 (gun). It’s easy for them to fire from their 303. Now that they have fired it, let’s see what happens,” he said.