The Telegraph
Friday , May 30 , 2014
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Article of faith sturdier than bond of brothers
- Jammu sibling leads charge against PMO minister at centre of controversy over special status

Srinagar, May 29: The “bridge” between Kashmir and the rest of India has pitted brother against brother.

Article 370, which gives Jammu and Kashmir special status, has widened the ideological chasm between Jammu siblings Jitendra Singh and Devendra Singh in the middle of a row over a purported move to scrap the provision.

Devendra is an engineer and his elder brother Jitendra is a doctor. As in choice of subject, so in politics: the younger brother is a leader of the National Conference in Jammu while the elder brother is a BJP MP who has just checked into the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in New Delhi as a junior minister.

Devendra, 48, has been leading the charge in Jammu against any move to scrap the article since Jitendra, 57, was quoted as saying on Tuesday that the new NDA government had “started the process” of repealing it and discussions were on with all “stakeholders”. Jitendra later claimed he had been misquoted.

Devendra, Jammu chief of the state’s ruling National Conference, says the article, which allows Jammu and Kashmir a separate flag, constitution and penal code, is dear to him not only because his party stands for it but also because it is an article of faith for him.

“He (Jitendra) is my real brother, my elder brother but ideologically we are… different. We hold our ideology sacred to our heart. I respect my ideology and he has his own political ideology,” Devendra, considered chief minister Omar Abdullah’s closest aide in the state, told The Telegraph.

“I feel Article 370 is a bridge between the Union of India and the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Any attempt to abrogate it will be detrimental to the people of the state and is likely to have wider ramifications and connotations which could lead to widespread unrest and instability in the state.”

Unlike the Miliband brothers of Britain — who fought each other so bitterly that the elder David Miliband chose to leave London for New York when Ed Miliband defeated him narrowly in the race for the Labour Party leadership — Jitendra and Devendra stayed 2km apart in Jammu.

Jitendra, who has two children, will now have to share time between his residence in Trikuta Nagar in Jammu and New Delhi while Devendra, a father of three, will continue to live at Gandhi Nagar in Jammu. Sources said the brothers had rarely met each other in the past few years because of their busy schedules.

Devendra was part of the National Conference core group that met yesterday and resolved to fight “tooth and nail” any attempt to scrap the article.

Omar had earlier said Kashmir would cease to be a part of India if the article was abrogated because it was the only constitutional link between the state and the rest of India.

Jitendra, an alumnus of Stanley Medical College, Chennai, however, believes the article has done more harm than good and has erected a “psychological barrier” between the state and the rest of the country.

This is not the first time that the brothers have found themselves on opposite sides of the divide.

Devendra was seen campaigning for Ghulam Nabi Azad, whom National Conference ally Congress had fielded against his brother in Udhampur. Azad lost.

Jitendra, a diabetologist who took premature retirement as professor of endocrinology at a Jammu medical college two years ago, rose to prominence during the 2008 pro-Amarnath land agitation in Jammu when he became the spokesman for the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti, the group spearheading the campaign in Jammu. He was also a regular columnist for Jammu-based newspapers.

The land agitation had polarised the state on communal and regional lines, with Muslim-majority Kashmir opposing transfer of forestland to the Amarnath shrine board and Hindu-majority Jammu supporting it. The National Conference, too, had opposed the transfer.

Unlike Jitendra, Devendra, an engineering graduate from Regional Engineering College Kurukshetra and a Group Study Exchange scholar with the Paul Harris Foundation in the US, is a fairly old hand at politics.

He joined the National Conference in 2001 and was appointed media adviser to Omar. In 2007, he was elected member of the state legislative council. After Omar became chief minister in 2009, Devendra served as his political adviser till last year.

As elsewhere, it is not uncommon for siblings to be on different sides of the political divide in Jammu and Kashmir. Hurriyat leader Agha Syed Hassan’s brother Agha Syed Mehdi, who was killed by militants, was in the Congress. Sajjad Lone, similarly, is in mainstream politics while his brother Bilal Lone is a Hurriyat leader.

In Bengal, the brothers Roy — Saugata and Tathagata —have charted different political courses. Saugata Roy is a Trinamul Congress MP while Tathagata Roy is a BJP national executive member.