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Debate on Article 370 marked by posturing, says RSS

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is recalibrating its discourse on its demand for the repeal of the contentious Article 370 of the Constitution. A senior RSS leader today said the debate on the contentious constitutional provision for the state of Jammu and Kashmir had become hostage to “posturing”.

Arun Kumar, a top RSS leader, told a gathering comprising academics and students of Delhi University that a “rational” debate bereft of posturing was the need of the hour. Kumar heads the RSS’s J&K Research Centre and his word is considered final on matters related to the state.

Kumar’s comments come just as the BJP is in negotiations to run a coalition government in the state along with Mufti Mohammed Sayeed led People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and there is much interest in how the BJP-PDP common minimum programme will address the issue of Article 370.  

The RSS and BJP have for long demanded a repeal of Article 370 that gives special status to J&K within the Union of India, while political parties dominant in the Kashmir Valley, like Omar Abdullah-led National Conference or the PDP against any tinkering with the constitutional provision. Abdullah had recently said India could lose Kashmir if it repealed Article 370.

The RSS leader said Abdullah’s remarks betrayed his anxiety as Article 370 benefitted only a handful of “Kashmiri speaking Sunni Muslims” of the state, including Omar Abdullah, the Muftis and Hurriyat leaders whose influence was restricted to just five of J&K’s 22 districts. He said the J&K problem wasn’t a Hindu-Muslim problem, and that there were 12% Shia Muslims, nearly 14% Gujar Muslims and 8% Pahadi Rajput Muslims in the state.

Kumar said the importance of J&K wasn’t because of the Kashmir Valley, but the strategic importance of Ladakh. He said Gilgit and Baltistan, currently under Pakistani control, were parts of Ladakh and that India needed to have a plan to recover these regions because of their strategic importance. He said the Shia population of the regions was “strongly anti-Pakistan”.

The J&K study centre will host activists from Gilgit in the coming weeks and tell the world how the Shia populace has suffered. Kumar said it was time the Government of India stopped being defensive on the Kashmir issue, and instead talked about how Pakistan should return Gilgit and Baltistan which were part of Ladakh region. 

Gilgit and Baltistan came under the direct administration of Islamabad in 1949. Kumar claimed that even the Azad Kashmir Supreme Court has recognised that Gilgit and Baltistan were part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. He said 

Kumar said programmes like ‘Make in India’ were fine, but India could again become an economic powerhouse, a ‘sone ki chidiya’, if it recovered Gilgit which is an important trade route to Central Asia, China, Russia and even Europe.

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