'Knowing him personally, I can safely say that the usually soft-spoken, qualified medical doctor would not have said what he was 'caught' saying if only he had realised that he was stepping on a political landmine across the emotional LoC, says Mohammad Sayeed Malik.
Crudely, Article 370 of the Constitution of India represents an uneasy emotional 'Line of Control' between Srinagar and New Delhi, like the perennially troubled physical LoC between India and Pakistan that separates the erstwhile (pre-1947) undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The first relates to the internal dimension and the second one to the external dimension of the intractable Kashmir dispute. Both dimensions have their respective dynamics, a few of them overlapping. Both are overly exposed to the adverse fallout of developments taking place in and around the conflict-ridden border state. The present political explosion over Article 370 is one such instance.
As has always been the case, there is more heat and very less light in the noisy debate over Article 370, triggered off by a retrospectively wiser political greenhorn from J&K who found himself catapulted right into the Prime Minister's Office in New Delhi.
The ecstasy of elevation seems to have got the better of Union minister of state Jitendra Singh's political judgement, going by his subsequent 'clarification' that he was 'misquoted' in his television recorded maiden ministerial interview.
Knowing him personally, I can safely say that the usually soft-spoken, qualified medical doctor would not have said what he was 'caught' saying if only he had realised that he was stepping on a political landmine across the emotional LoC.
Ironically, the political explosion has pitted the minister face-to-face, among others, with his younger brother, Devender Singh Rana who is the alter ego of Chief Minister and National Conference President Omar Abdullah.
The National Conference and its dynastic leadership, reeling under the crushing impact of electoral defeat at the hands of its arch enemy, the Peoples Democratic Party of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, clutched the god-sent straw in the wind. It is now doing their best (or worst?) to surcharge the atmosphere ahead of the state assembly polls due within the next few months.
Even if the other side seeks to defuse the situation, as indicated by the immediate 'clarification' issued by Dr Jitendra Singh, the beleaguered Abdullahs's interest lies in stretching it as far as they can.
It appears that the hardcore Sangh Parivar elements are, unwittingly, keen to oblige the J&K chief minister and his father, Farooq Abdullah whose maiden shock-defeat in the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency marked a new low in the popularity of their dynasty and its political outfit.
Cross firing across the emotional LoC is beginning to raise political temperature across the board in the multi-religious, multi-cultural state of Jammu and Kashmir which has just come out of a virtual political earthquake in the shape of the unprecedented electoral rout of the National Conference along with its ruling alliance partner, the Congress.
The Congress is also joining the Article 370 row with its own pitch: 'Article 370 is irrevocable.'
The National Conference's position, as also that of the PDP, is that 'Article 370 and accession are Constitutionally, legally and politically inter-dependent. If one goes, the other goes too.'
Indeed, that has always been the position taken by the so-called mainstream political groups in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley. Interestingly, although the separatists are ostensibly 'not interested in this meaningless controversy' their rank and file share the sentiment of their counterparts in the mainstream camp.
Article 370 has, for better or worse, come to be the next most emotive feature of the larger Kashmir dispute after the issue of the state's accession with the Indian Union in 1947.
Although Article 370 continues to trigger emotions off and on, thanks mainly to the Sangh Parivar's inclusion of it into their primary agenda along with other controversial issues touching the interests of the Indian Muslim minority, its latest manifestation also carries a sort of fear factor with the firmly established Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in New Delhi.
This kind of fear psychosis propelled by the National Conference-Congress alliance in the recent Lok Sabha polls is sought to be revived with renewed vigour. The National Conference as well the Congress desperately need some such solid issue to stay afloat in the crucial assembly polls later this year.
Otherwise, their chance of coming back seems to be doomed.
However, it is not clear from here as to whether prolonging this controversy at this early stage of his command also suits Prime Minister Narendra Modi's interests. Dr Jitendra Singh's quick backtracking indicates otherwise. But nothing can definitely be said about the RSS whose hatred against Article 370 remains undiluted.
This issue not only symbolises the emotional demarcation between Srinagar and New Delhi in the wider context, but also has a couple of more delicate dimensions within the three regions of J&K: Muslim Kashmir Valley where Article 370 is generally held to be sacrosanct, Hindu-majority Jammu where the RSS-led anti-Article 370 campaign commands widespread support, and the Buddhist-majority Ladakh region where the demand for 'Union Territory status' is a popular slogan.
Nevertheless, its most worrying aspect is the de-stabilising effect which the controversy is bound to have upon the ground situation in Kashmir. The National Conference feels it has bailed out of its electoral debacle and is preparing to load its political guns again. Dr Jitendra Singh's 'gift' could not have arrived at a better time for the Abdullahs.
All this, however, is only the politics surrounding and shrouding the issue of Article 370. Its legal and Constitutional dimensions that will ultimately determine its fate, if and when that time comes, have by now been clouded by its politico-emotional fallout.
The last time an official position on it was enunciated was way back in 1975. The Kashmir Accord of that year between Sheikh Abdullah and Indira Gandhi begins with the reiteration that 'the relationship between the J&K state and the Union is and will continue to be guided by Article 370.'
Logically, this categoric written official assertion amounts to granting permanency to what originally had been adopted as a 'temporary provision' of the Constitution of India.
Besides, the Constitution of India itself stipulates that Article 370 can be amended 'only with the consent of the J&K constituent assembly' which went out of existence way back in 1957.
Public opinion in Kashmir is unanimous that Article 370 cannot be revoked and this argument has acquired a highly sensitive dimension here. If not checked in time, the controversy has the potential to throw the Valley -- indeed the entire state -- into serious turmoil.
Cross firing across the geographical LoC is amenable to military resolution from both sides but not so along the emotional LoC.
PS: Many here in Kashmir believe that the mysteriously missing Malaysian Airlines airplane might have escaped its dreaded fate if only the flight had been differently numbered, for '370' has become so ominous and so odious.
Image: Relatives of missing Kashmiri men attend a sit-in protest organised by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons in Srinagar. Photograph: Danish Ismail/Reuters