Just when the debate over abrogation of Article 35A is brewing up into a controversy in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Supreme Court of India on Tuesday admitted a plea challenging the legality of Article 370.
The article 35A in question enables the state to provide special rights and privileges to its permanent residents, however, the rightwing parties including the BJP argue that the provision encourages alienation, deepens the concept of a separate identity and creates a political gap between J&K and the rest of India.
The plea that has been accepted by the apex court argued that Article 370 has lapsed and urged that the separate constitution of Jammu and Kashmir be declared illegal.
The plea in Supreme Court comes at a time when a debate on Article 35A of the Constitution, which entitles the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly to define Permanent Residents of the state, is brewing in political circles.
Just yesterday, the opposition parties in the state put up a united face and declared that they will oppose any move to tinker with the Article 35A. The opposition not only warned of public uprising in Jammu and Kashmir if Article 35-A is abrogated but it also hinted at the fact that the very basis of accession of the state with India can be made questionable if such move is translated into action.
The opposition apart, the ruling party PDP including its ally has been trying to convince the people that no such move is being considered by the federal government, but the issue is so severe that mere statements will not douse the anger that has crept up after the federal governments intentions came out into the open.
What should make the people of the state to worry is that the federal government’s stand on Article 35-A which grants J&K legislature powers to define stateís permanent residents has become uncertain and the state government is not taking the issue as serious as it should have been taken.
Even the legal experts in the state have been advising utmost caution by the state government while handling the matter in the Supreme Court. While the state has filed an affidavit in the court demanding dismissal of the petition filed by a little known NGO, it should not rely on this very step.
Rather than the government should have tried to explore various other options which includes consultation with a battery of senior lawyers in the Kashmir Valley so that any move to tinker or abrogate the Article 35A is nipped in the bud.
The Article, which primarily is the soul of the Article 370 was extended to J&K through the ëConstitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order issued by President Rajendra Prasad on May 14, 1954. It was specifically devised to grant protection to state subject laws that had already been defined under the Maharajaís rule and notified in 1927 and 1932.
If the constitutional provision (Article 35A) is scrapped, J&K will lose all the special privileges including the state subject law, right to property, right to employment, and right to settlement. These privileges will no longer be then restricted to permanent residents of the state as is the position today, but will be availed by the citizens of India as well. The state can turn into any other state where people from any part of India will have all these rights.
This is not for the first time that Article 35A has been challenged in the Supreme Court. Similar petitions have been dismissed by the court thrice in 1956, 1961 and 1970, while upholding the powers of the President to pass constitutional orders.
But this time the intent and the timing indicate that the federal government is cooking up something that will prove to be a major jolt to the unity and specialty of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This time around the government of Indiaís move to not file an affidavit in the SC as a response implies that they are accepting the petitionerís versions.