Tinkering with Article 35A set to trigger alarm bells in Valley

A major controversy seems to be in the offing as the rightwing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), is seemingly trying to alter the Article 35A of the Constitution, which empowers the JK government to define “permanent residents” of the state. The move is being carried out discreetly with the coalition partner PDP in the state kept totally ignorant about it.

A section of BJP sympathisers are steadily pushing the party’s less-noticed promise of altering Article 35A of the Constitution, ‘Times of India’ reported today. 

Interestingly, the article enables the state to provide special rights and privileges that permanent residents can enjoy but has been criticised by BJP as a provision that encourages alienation, deepens the concept of a separate identity and creates a political gap between J&K and the rest of India.

Under the Article, state laws have barred non-residents from purchasing land in the state and the issue is in focus with a Kashmiri woman, Charu Wali Khan, recently filing a petition seeking changes in the constitutional provision as she wanted succession rights though she is settled outside the state.

Responding to her plea, the Supreme Court sent notices to the Centre and state last month. The woman has argued that the state’s laws, flowing from Article 35A, have disenfranchised her. Advocate General K Venugopal told the bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud that the petition against Article 35A raised “very sensitive” questions that required a “larger debate”.

The court referred the matter to a three-judge bench and has set a six-week deadline for final disposal. The bench is likely to deliver its verdict in September first week.

Union minister Jitendra Singh said that since the matter was sub judice, one should wait for the court’s verdict. He said the court verdict would be binding on all. State BJP leaders are vocal about their views as they strongly feel that Article 35A should be repealed.

“Article 35A is a constitutional mistake. It was incorporated through a presidential order and not through the parliamentary process, “claimed Surinder Amabardar, BJP MLC from the state.

The Centre’s stance seeking a “larger debate” set off alarm bells among a section of politicians in the Kashmir valley, prompting CM Mehbooba Mufti’s outburst during the a conference held on Kashmir in New Delhi last week.

Mehbooba asserted Article 35A should not be tinkered with, saying there would be no one to hold the tricolour if provisions regarding special status to J&K residents were altered.

State BJP’s chief spokesman, Sunil Sethi, said statement of Mehbooba on Article 35-A doesn’t depict true picture and is politically incorrect.

He said Article 35-A is introduced in Constitution of India through process of Article 370 and has lead to “only disparity and inequalities in the state”.

“If special rights and privileges to the people of Jammu and Kashmir are tinkered with, then there would be no one in the state to hold the tricolour, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had warned.

She said, on the one hand, “we talk about resolving the Kashmir issue under the framework of the Constitution and on the other hand we flog it”.

“Who is doing it? Why are they doing it? (challenging the Article 35A).

Let me tell you that my party and other parties who carry the national flag there (in Jammu and Kashmir) despite all risks… I have no doubt in saying that there will be no one to hold it (national flag) (if it is tinkered),” she said.

Mehbooba went on to add, “Let me be very clear. By doing all this (challenging Article 35A), you are not targeting the separatists. Their (separatists) agenda is different and it is totally secessionist.”

“But, you are weakening those powers which are Indian and trust India and participate in elections and who fight to live a life honourably in Jammu and Kashmir,” she said.

“If any attempt is made… India will not get a shoulder to carry its national flag in the state,” she said.

In 2014, an NGO had filed a writ petition seeking the striking down of Article 35 A. The case is pending in the Supreme Court. Mehbooba said Kashmir is an idea of India.

“The basic question is how much is the idea of India ready to accommodate the idea of Kashmir? This is the basic crux,” she said.

She recounted how during Partition, Kashmir, even being a Muslim majority state defied the two-nation theory and the divisive separation on grounds of religion and aligned with India.

“There have been special provisions in the Constitution of India for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Unfortunately, with the passage of time something happened somewhere that both sides started doing dishonesty.”

Both the sides, she said while indicating towards the Centre and the state, may be became more greedy and the state had to suffer for the last 70 years.

“Rather than addressing the problem, we took administrative measures like dismissal of government or making charges of conspiracy, sedition…We had all these things against separatists which at times led to their hangings, weapons exclusive to Kashmir and more security measures and increasing number of security people.

“These administrative measures have not helped us to address the idea of Kashmir…,” Mufti said.

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