Mohammad Akbar Lone is one of the two Lok Sabha members of the National Conference party who have not been detained after the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. Lone donned many hats in J&K before he was elected to Parliament from Baramulla constituency this year. He was former minister and speaker in the Omar Abdullah-led government from 2008 to 2014. In an exclusive interview to The Quint post abrogation of J&K’s ‘special’ status, he poured his heart out.
Here are excerpts:
Q. Article 370 has been scrapped, and members cutting across the party lines have supported it. How can you call the process unconstitutional?
Lone: Unless and until there is recommendation from the constituent assembly or state assembly, the president cannot amend or change any version of Article 370. However, they have done it. This is absolutely ‘illegal’. The president has to consider the recommendations of the constituent assembly or the state assembly. Currently the state (of J&K) is represented by the governor. But the governor is the agent of president. Therefore, the president has no authority to pass such an order.
“Successive Congress Govts Diluted Article 370”
Q: You have challenged the abrogation of Article 370 in the Supreme Court. What are the grounds for your petition?
Lone: There are solid legal grounds for our plea. First of all, there is no recommendation or concurrence from the constituent or state assembly. What the president has done is constitutionally illegal. The president has to take it back. I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will direct the president to take it back. We hope there will be some sort of verdict in our favour.
Q: You have been saying Article 370 is the link between J&K and the Union of India. What will you say now that the article has been abrogated?
Lone: Article 370 was the bar. What they did is just ‘trespassing’. Our relation with them (Union of India) was because of the 1947 Accession and Delhi Agreement of 1952. There were hundreds of states which either merged or opted to merge after 1947. J&K was the only state which was a full-fledged “independent country” before 1947. There was an agreement in 1947 when we acceded with the Union of India. It was signed by Maharaja Hari Singh and a representative of the Indian Union. Although the Maharaja had lost the faith of the people, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah allowed him to sign the instrument of accession. But there was a condition that J&K will be a semi-sovereign state within the union. And the Centre will have control over three main subjects—finance, defence and external affairs. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, successive governments of the Congress diluted it.
“We Can’t Take Separatists On Board Our Strategy”
Q: What is the link between the Union of India and Kashmir now?
Lone: Frankly speaking, there is no constitutional link now. There is no relationship with them (Union of India) now. If a third party adjudicates the matter, and both sides put forth their arguments, a path will emerge.
Q: What are the next steps for you?
Lone: All leaders, irrespective of party affiliations, must sit together to work out a strategy. We are not slaves. You can suppress us, but can’t enslave us.
Q: Will separatists be a part of it (the way forward)?
Lone: We can’t go along with separatists. There is no meeting ground between us and them. However, there is a group within the separatists who are moderates, and they can walk with us, if they agree to what we say.
“Must Raise Voice Inside & Outside Parliament”
Q: There is a moral question. Why are you part of the parliament when you are saying the “link” has been broken?
Lone: If I resign, will it serve your purpose? No it will not. We must continue to raise our voice in parliament.
Q: But what purpose did it serve when you were in parliament?
Lone: The day they scrapped it (Article 370 and 35A), I, Hasnain, and 50 to 60 MPs of other parties, staged a dharna in the well of the House. We must raise our voice inside and outside parliament.
“No Reason to Fight Elections for the Union Territory Now”
Q: Will elections be held for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir since the state no longer “exists” as we’ve known it? What will be your party’s strategy now?
Lone: There is no justification to fight elections for the Union Territory. Election for the union territory is ruled out. We should not participate in polls for UT. We should not become party to polls.
“Not Everyone in Jammu Supports Scrapping of 370”
Q: Centre says that the people of Kashmir have supported the abrogation of its ‘special’ status.
Lone: If they think the people support the abrogation of Article 370, why are they being caged in their homes? Why have leaders been detained? This is lava which will explode anytime. It will sweep away everything. The Indian economy is in shambles.
Q: But people in Jammu seemingly support it?
Lone: Not all the people of Jammu support the abrogation of Article 370. Because they will immediately be affected when the land will be sold to non-state subjects. Jammu will suffer more. They are gradually realising it.
(Ishfaq-ul-Hassan is a Srinagar-based journalist, and has been reporting for the last 23 years. He has worked across newspapers and TV channels, and was most recently with DNA. Views expressed above are the author’s and interviewee’s alone. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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