Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah just lost three Lok Sabha seats to the PDP. But he’s there heading the troubled state and it is now being said that he has saved face by being forceful in the defence of Article 370. He spoke to Saba Naqvi:
Why do you think this issue has come up now? Is it just an intemperate statement by an MP-minister or is it a considered salvo?
I don’t know. Perhaps the MP never imagined he’d be a minister in the PMO. He may have got carried away. But he has not retracted his statement, only distanced the PM from it. I think there is something more to it. They say they have opened talks with stakeholders. We are one of the stakeholders, but no one has spoken to us.
For those who’d like to revisit Article 370, do you think they would see Israel’s policy towards the Palestian territories as the way to go?
There is an ultra-nationalistic mindset that wants to replicate what Isarel has done in Palestine or China in Tibet or even Pakistan in their part of Kashmir, where they liberally allow people to settle. But that is not the point. There is a deliberate campaign by the BJP to link Article 370 to state-subject laws, created by the Maharaja based on inputs from Jammu, where people were worried about rich Punjabis settling. Even if Article 370 disappears, they can’t get rid of state-subject laws. Only the state assembly can.
What would you say to those who argue that Article 370 is meaningless in the face of huge Indian troop presence in the Valley?
Troops have nothing to do with it. Troops are there because of difficult relations with Pakistan and China. Wars have been fought in my state. Even if Article 370 were to vanish, the troops would remain as long as the international situation remains the same.
You attended the swearing-in of Prime Minister Modi so are you ready to do busness with him? Have you interacted with him and do you have ideological reservations?
His history can’t be wished away but he has been elected by the people and it is in the fitness of things that we do business. I have met him in the past at meetings of chief ministers but have no particular equation. Yes, there was a no-holds-barred campaign against us. We are worried that the special assistance programmes of the Manmohan regime would be withdrawn. Yet we see it as a good sign that Modi invited the Pakistan PM. He did not need to do this. It is the people of my state who suffer the most when there is hostility with Pakistan just as they have the most to gain if relations improve.
Can the J&K assembly be a legitimate replacement for the dissolved constituent assembly of the state?
No, it can’t. I am given to understand that cannot happen. From the side of those who want to revisit Article 370, they can recall a constituent assembly but then the whole point is the accession to India is also open to interpretation and we return to the pre-1947 situation. Even then, you can’t start settling in the Valley unless the state-subject laws are also changed.