Amit Shah's tendentious speech in Jammu could spell an end to J&K's special constitutional status

David Devadas
BJP president Amit Shah drew the battle lines at a rally in West Bengal's Purulia on Thursday as he sounded the poll bugle ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) National President Amit Shah's high-profile rally in Jammu on Saturday to observe the death anniversary of Syama Prasad Mookerjee €" founder of the BJP's predecessor party Bharatiya Jana Sangh €" might indicate an end to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, which Mookerjee died demanding. If it comes to that, it could lead to great turbulence in the Kashmir Valley.

Shah's assertion that one of the chief bases of the BJP's coalition pact with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was that the state would be an 'a-bhin' (undifferentiated) part of India could be read by Kashmiris as signalling that the Centre is heading towards removing the constitutional provisions that guarantee the state its special status.

The BJP chief made several hard-hitting, and potentially controversial statements, in the course of his speech, one of which was that Mookerjee was murdered in jail in Jammu and Kashmir. This will also sound tendentious in the Kashmir Valley, as cadres of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have long maintained that Mookerjee was poisoned, but the state administration has always denied the claim that was never proved.

Shah's claim that Jammu and Kashmir joined India because of the efforts of the Praja Parishad, too, was tendentious. It directly negated the role of Sheikh Abdullah, founder of the National Conference and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister.

It also seemed like a revision of history, for the Hindu Rajya Sabha had, in 1947, backed independence for the state under the maharaja. The Praja Parishad, which primarily evolved from the Sabha, was formed in November the same year largely to oppose Abdullah after he was given emergency powers. The Parishad wound down its activism after Abdullah's arrest in 1953.

Electoral groundwork

Shah's speech laid out his party's election campaign for the Jammu region. He claimed that the PDP-led state government had discriminated against Jammu and Ladakh, though the Centre had sent plenty of funds.

He further castigated the Congress €" the BJP's main rival in Jammu €" alleging that senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad was on the same page as the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief. Shah attacked both the National Conference and the PDP, as well, saying that two families had ruled the state continuously and had engaged in massive corruption.

The BJP chief indicated that Governor's Rule would remain enforced in the Valley, and that development projects would be implemented speedily.

Moreover, while listing the supposed unfulfilled promises of the PDP-led government, Shah made the odd claim that Gujjars and Bakarwals were not given Scheduled Tribe status €" they were when the state was under Governor's Rule in 1992. It is the Pahadi community that demands Scheduled Tribe status to compete with Gujjars.

Critical concern

In case Shah's emphasis on Mookerjee paves the way for the end of Jammu and Kashmir's special status, it could spark a massive rebellion in the Kashmir Valley. It could also become an international issue at a time when a report by the United Nations has made allegations of human rights abuses in the state.

On the other hand, it would allow the BJP to go into the 2019 general elections asserting that it had fulfilled its longstanding agenda on this matter and the triple talaq issue.

Mookerjee's primary demand when he set up the Bharatiya Jana Sangh backed by the RSS was that there should be no special provisions for Jammu and Kashmir. He had also demanded a uniform civil code and the slogan "ek vidhan, ek nishan, ek pradhan", meaning one constitution, one flag, one premier, in 1951. He had resigned the previous year from Jawaharlal Nehru's inclusive all-party first Cabinet when the Republic was established.

A separate constituent assembly was formed for Jammu and Kashmir in 1951, and the head of the state government was called prime minister until February 1964. The state also had €" and continues to have €" a separate flag.

BJP ministers had created a hubbub by refusing to fly the state flag on their vehicles, or have it hoisted at public offices, when the PDP-BJP coalition was formed in 2015. An official notification was issued enforcing the rule that the state and national flags must be flown together.

Since then, there has been speculation over whether Article 35-A of the Indian Constitution would remain.

Also See: Amit Shah in J&K: BJP chief lambasts PDP, Congress, invokes Syama Prasad Mookherjee's 'historic martyrdom'

Governor's Rule in Jammu and Kashmir: Locals fear more 'muscular approach' after fall of PDP-BJP regime

Amit Shah arrives in Jammu; BJP chief's first visit to state since party pulled out of coalition with PDP

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