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Thanks, Mehbooba, for lifting the veil
May 28, 2004
When, on April 26, Mehbooba Mufti lifted the veil of a woman's burkha in an attempt to expose a bogus voter at a polling booth in the Srinagar parliamentary constituency, the president of the People's Democratic Party unveiled a few other issues as well, which have remained largely concealed even from the thinking man. Below is an enumerated exposition of these issues.
Burkha as a cloak
Mehbooba's act proved beyond doubt that even the professional politician is aware that the veiled dress may cloak a male terrorist as well as fake identity. We had seen the ruse in movies and could never understand why security forces in Jammu and Kashmir demanding the unveiling of people on the road as part of their checks should be deemed by human rights 'missionaries' to be a cause for alienation of the people of that state.
The almost violent reaction to Mehbooba's act by the Abdullah dynasty's National Conference -- threatening to pull out from the election unless the Election Commission took cognisance of that act -- was a classic instance of the 'lady doth protest too much' syndrome and also of a guilty conscience.
Obviously, the National Conference had used the burkha in the past to boost its votes and was now in the defiant mode that characterises a seasoned wrongdoer.
Confusing press reports
The contrasting newspaper reports on a press conference called to announce the Election Commission's decision on Mehbooba's act was a classic case study for any lecturer in any school of journalism. Thus:
The Times of India, The Indian Express, and The Asian Age reported that the Commission had ordered the J&K government to file an FIR against Mehbooba. In its front-page lead story on May 5, The Hindu first stated that the EC had asked the J&K government to do so, but, two paragraphs later, the same report said the EC had 'directed the authorities concerned' to do so. (emphasis provided)
In its frontpage report referred to above, The Hindu and The Indian Express (on an inside page) said the EC spokesman had wanted the case against Mehbooba to be under section 171-C of the Indian Penal Code and under 'relevant provisions' of the Representation of the People Act. However, The Times of India and The Asian Age reports did not mention any case under the RPA. And none of the four newspaper reporters, including the legal correspondent who wrote The Hindu report, questioned the spokesman how 'the full Commission' had decided on recourse to the Indian Penal Code when the IPC is simply not applicable to J&K. Nor did any media man ask why the EC itself didn't want to file the FIR instead of putting the onus on 'the authorities concerned' or the J&K government of which the chief minister is Mehbooba's father.
In the same edition of May 5, immediately below its lead story, the special correspondent of The Hindu reported in a box item that Khwaja Bashir Ahmed, deputy commissioner, Badgam, told him that, as directed by the EC, an FIR had been filed against Mehbooba under section 131 and 135-A of the Representation of the People Act. There was no mention at all by this special correspondent as to why the IPC was not resorted to. The Indian Express reported the filing of an FIR, but did not mention the law/s under which it was done. This writer found out that section 131 [disorderly conduct in or near polling stations] and section 135-A(c) [intimidating... any elector and preventing him... to cast his vote] occur in the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
It was press confusion worse confounded when the Daily Excelsior web newspaper reported that (a) Deputy Commissioner Khwaja Bashir Ahmed, who was also the returning officer for the Srinagar parliamentary constituency, had filed the FIR 'on behalf of the EC' and (b) his FIR was under 'various sections of the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act 1957, besides section 447-A of the Ranbir Penal Code'. Suddenly, therefore, we were confronted by three bits of info: (a) that the FIR was filed by a J&K civil servant 'on behalf of the EC'; (b) the existence of a 1957 RPA exclusively for J&K state; and (c) the existence of a law called the Ranbir Penal Code that had been unheard of till now by even the very knowledgeable outside J&K.
Legal insulation of J&K
If Mehbooba's unveiling act provokes you into wanting to learn about the 1957 RPA of J&K and that state's Ranbir Penal Code, chances are extremely slim that you will find any book depot outside J&K stocking those key legislations. Why, a month ago, a senior advocate who appears in the Supreme Court told this writer that he couldn't locate the crucial J&K state constitution in the Bombay high court library.
Consequently, Jammu and Kashmir has remained for Indians only a bone of contention between us and Pakistan, whereas the fact is that legal documents such as the above three constitute proof of how Article 370 of the Indian Constitution has given such an exalted status to J&K that the latter refuses to integrate emotionally with the rest of India under the guise of so-called Kashmiriyat or 'special status' or separatism or 'autonomy less than azadi' even as 'secularists' refuse to do their homework and believe the myth that Article 370 is pro-Muslim.
Take just one example. Under the leeway provided by Article 370, laws relating to parliamentary elections in J&K and to the J&K legislative assembly elections are not made by the Indian Parliament (as is the case for all other states), but by the J&K legislature. Thus, determining the number of constituencies in J&K, the extent of each constituency, and the number of seats allotted to each constituency there, these have been determined all along by the J&K Representation of the People Act, 1957. This act was passed by the J&K Constituent Assembly when, just prior to its dissolution, it acted as the provisional legislature because the 1957 general election, J&K's first, was on the anvil.
What was done then through the RPA, 1957, is unbelievable. The Abdullah dynasty's National Conference, born and bred in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley that has always been at its command, determined the number of constituencies in the valley and number of seats in them in a manner that left Hindu-majority Jammu and Buddhist-majority Ladakh far behind.
That distortion has continued since 1957 so that, today, of the total 87 assembly seats in J&K, the Kashmir valley has 46 seats while Jammu and Ladakh regions have a combined allocation of 41 seats although the latter two have an aggregate area of 85,534 sq km and a little over 2.5 million parliamentary voters as against the Kashmir valley's area of 15,853 sq km and parliamentary voters numbering a little less than 2.5 million. Therefore, J&K will always continue to have a chief minister from the valley, be he from the National Conference or from the PDP. QED.
Therefore, too, Mehbooba, thanks for lifting the veil and letting us see some truths.