Shakti Sinha, former secretary to Atal Bihari Vajpayee said Article 370, abrogated by the BJP government last year, was a temporary provision for Vajpayee too and he was also keen to have it abrogated. However, he said, whether Vajpayee would have applied the same method as this government applied on August 5, 2019, to abrogate Article 370, is difficult to say.
On the occasion of Vajpayee’s 96th birth anniversary on December 25, Sinha was speaking in a webinar ‘Atal Ji ki Andekhi Duniya’. On the same day Sinha’s book ‘Vajpayee: The Years that Changed India’, was launched. Sinha had worked closely with the former Prime Minister for three and a half years in the 1990s, first as a secretary (1996-97) and later as his private secretary (1998-99). So, the book is an insider’s account of how the late former prime minister thought and worked.
Responding to question of senior Kashmiri journalist Tariq Ali Mir whether the abrogation of Article 370 comes under Vajpayee’s doctrine of “insaniyat (humanism), jamhooriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat (Kashmir’s legacy of amity),” Sinha said, when Vajpayee started his political career after leaving journalism, he was attached to Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) leader Syama Prasad Mukherjee.
“Atal ji was secretary of Syama Prasad Mukherjee. Mukherjee that time took the Kashmir case and would argue there shouldn’t be a separate constitution for Kashmir. Ek desh, ek vidhan, ek pradhan, ek nishan was his famous slogan and Atal ji had also gone with Syama Prasad Mukherjee to the Kashmir border, which he crossed without a permit,” said Sinha.
Sinha said that that after crossing the border without a permit he was arrested, and after one and a half month he died. “Syama Prasad Mukherjee had told Atal ji, ‘Vajpayee, go back and take this fight.’ By that he meant integrating Kashmir into Indian mainstream, to see Article 370 go and it was in the agenda of Atal Ji and there was nothing hidden about it,” he said.
Under the Prime Ministership of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, it was mandatory for an Indian to produce a permit to enter Kashmir. In protest against the permit policy, Shyama Prasad entered Kashmir without a permit and he was arrested. He died on June 23, 1953, after a fatal heart attack in Kashmir while in detention. Nearly two months later on August 9, 1953, Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed as Prime Minister and was arrested in Kashmir conspiracy case.
“Vajpayee’s final goal too was that Article 370 has to go. But it is difficult to say from hindsight whether he would have applied the same method (as of the present government). Atal ji had himself said in the parliament that they are not taking up three issues; Article 370, the Uniform Civil Code and Ram Janmabhoomi for the time being because they were not in strength in the parliament and there is need of strength in the Lok Sabha. He never said we are leaving these issues,” Sinha said.
On April 18, 2003, as a Prime Minister, Vajpayee addressed a public rally in Srinagar along with the then Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. In the rally, Vajpayee stated that issues need to be resolved through dialogue and the dialogue should take place on the basis of justice and insaaniyat. Later on April 23 in the Lok Sabha, Vajpayee elaborated his Srinagar statement saying that he assured the people of Jammu and Kashmir that all issues would be resolved through talks and three guiding principles for dialogue will be insaniyat, jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat.” The phrase stuck.
Vajpayee’s popularity among separatists also grew when Mirwaiz Umar Farooq along with other leaders of his faction of Hurriyat held two rounds of talks with the then deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani in New Delhi on January 22 and March 27, 2004. The Mirwaiz-led delegation also met Vajpayee.
Asked to define Vajpayee’s “dialogue under the ambit of Kashmiriyat,” Sinha said Kashmiriyat was all about living together with love and togetherness, and never alienation or separatism.