‘An idea should be battled with an idea’

Shams Khwaja, a Supreme Court lawyer, is the first non-state subject candidate to fight an election in J&K. He is a candidate from volatile South Kashmir parliamentary constituency of Anantnag. A resident of New Delhi, Khwaja’s grand father Khwaja Abdul Wajid was the associate editor of Al-Balagh, an Urdu weekly published by Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad. In an interview with Tehelka, Khwaja tells Riyaz Wani that he was moved to contest from J&K after seeing the inability of the local leaders to properly represent and articulate the situation in the state.

Edited Excerpts from an interview •

You are the first non-state subject who has chosen to contest election in Kashmir. Why?

  I am a Constitutional expert and I was moved by the inability of the current Kashmiri leaders to fight the constitutional breakdown in Kashmir. At the same time, I don’t think that those contesting polls in the state are the real leaders of Kashmir. They, like me, are little more than scarecrows. The real leaders are behind jails now. Take for example Shabir Shah, Yasin Malik, Asiya Andrabi or for that matter Geelani Saheb.

I believe that an idea should be battled with an idea. You must release all jailed leaders and let them express their ideas. And then their ideas can be contested by people like me and the other leaders. Let people then decide. So, why jail them.

You have not been a politician before?

No, I have not been a real politician. I have only had a political interest. Before contesting for Anantnag, I have fought an election from a Constituency in Uttarakhand. I don’t want to say it for reasons of modesty, I am from a distinguished freedom fighter’s family. My late father AA Khwaja was in Indian administrative service. My grandfather Khwaja Abdul Wajid was an associate editor of <Al-Balagh>, an Urdu weekly edited by Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad. The werkly was later succeeded by Al Hilal.

I am a lawyer by profession. Currently, I practice in the Supreme Court of India. So, I am a Constitutional expert. I have done Masters in Biosciences, M. Phil in nanotechnology, PG Diploma in Science journalism and a Masters in Law. My current area of research is developing jurisprudence for nanotechnology for developing nations including India.

This hardly explains your decision to contest from Kashmir and that too from troubled South Kashmir.

My contesting in Kashmir is not about a personal fight and it is not a fight against a person or a politician. It is against a thinking process, a mindset. I think Kashmiris have more or less concluded that the Constitution of India cannot deliver for them. And there are reasons for it. The Constitution of India is not followed in Kashmir. In fact, there is a breakdown of the Constitution in Kashmir. As a constitutional expert, it hurts me. It hurts me when Burhan Wani (slain Hizbul Mujahedeen militant) who hasn’t fired a bullet, hadn’t killed any security personnel was cordoned off and killed.

In the subsequent unrest 98 people were killed and the eyes of 4,000 people were damaged by pellet guns, many of them completely losing the sight. And I don’t think that the leaders in Kashmir are articulating this reality correctly. If I become the MP, I will raise these issues.

You have said your family has a Kashmiri lineage?

Yes my family has a Kashmiri origin. Our ancestors had moved to plains of India around 400 years ago just like the family of Moti Lal Nehru which had similarly migrated from Kashmir. Part of my family had settled in Kolkata with whom we have lost the connection and part in Kanpur where we rose to become Nawabs. I now live in Hauz Khas in South Delhi and have the residence and office at Noida also. So, I can say I basically come from Kashmir.

Article 370 and 35A, which give J&K a special status and enable it define its citizenship laws, have become the central issue in the ongoing election campaign in Kashmir. This is because BJP wants to do away with them if it is re-elected?

My position is that the Constitution of India has given these articles to J&K. What is Constitution of India? It is like making of India. Much like you make, say a table. It involves joining the wood in different shapes and sizes to give it a form. This happened with India too and different states became a part of it in different ways. Some like Kashmir had a special Constitutional arrangement. Some merged and some acceded. Now if you say you don’t accept this Constitutional arrangement, that of Kashmir with India, and want to undo it, then it breaks the original bond that tied the state to India.

Article 370 and 35A are integral parts of the Indian Constitution. We got different states together on mutual terms. But the way J&K has been joined to Union of India, no other state has been. The Union of India under the signature of PM incorporated J&K with special guarantees. So, it was a different kind of bonding.

Also, this bonding rested on the promise made by the prime minister of India Jawahar Lal Nehru that the people of J&K will be allowed to exercise their right to self-determination. It was a commitment by the Government of India. So asking for fulfilment of this right is not unconstitutional.

If you win, what are you going to do as a representative of your constituency?

My idea of doing something for my constituency is different. Even people have asked me this question. But I told them that my primary job will not be to provide roads and drains but to empower them. It will be to put strength in their feet and hands. This is what I promise. I will be there standing with them on the road when they protest and when there is a crisis..

Also, I want to set up a Constitutional Protection Network comprising the lawyers and other socially conscious people of my constituency which will keep tab on the arrests of the youth in the area and provide quick legal help. Even if one person is picked up, the Constitutional Protection Network will be informed. It will then check if arrestee has been kept at a police station. In that case it will work to ensure he is produced before the magistrate within 24 hours. If the arrested person has been put into judicial custody, well and good. If in police custody, it will take care he isn’t tortured.

Would you remain involved in the affairs of Kashmir even after the Parliament election?

I would. In fact, I plan to launch a party which will contest the Assembly election in Kashmir too. Even if we manage to pull off a seat or two, it makes a lot difference in a state where a party (PDP) with just 16 seats managed to rule the state in a coalition with Congress. For now, I am in the process of finding the good candidates in Kashmir who will contest the election.