Srinagar: Several community leaders in the Jammu region, including Hindus and Sikhs, have said they are against the scrapping of Article 35A. They and most of the Muslim community leaders in Jammu said they were with the people of Kashmir in their fight against the RSS-BJP’s efforts to undermine the state’s special status.
Gujjar civil society activist and member of Gujjar Charitable Trust, Chowdhry Masood, who belongs to Poonch, told Kashmir Reader that the people in Poonch, especially the Gujjar community, stand for the special political interests of Jammu and Kashmir.
“We want Article 35A to be a permanent feature of the Constitution,” Masood said. “The Government of India should not tinker with Article 35A, like it has done with Article 370, reducing it to a shell. It is not in the interests of the state to abrogate 35A. We oppose it. The government should refrain from adding fuel to the fire.”
He said that Gujjar community did have complaints with the state government, but it is more a sort of quarrel between two brothers.
“When it comes to home, we can’t allow it to burn,” Masood said. “Besides directly affecting the state’s residents, scrapping of 35A will weaken the democratic forces in Kashmir. You can’t end militancy by abrogating the special law. We want peace. We will not support such a nefarious move.”
He said the Gujjar community makes up 15 percent of the state’s population and its future lies with the collective interests of the state.
District President Rajouri of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Amir Shamsi, said that people in the Pir-Panjal region were worried over the RSS-BJP efforts to scrap Article 35A.
“Our position on Article 35A is the same as it is in Kashmir. We stand by the bigger politics of Kashmir,” Shamsi said. “There is political uncertainty prevailing in Rajouri and other areas. We have conducted several meetings related to this issue and we have resolved that we will collectively fight those who want to scrap the Article.”
He said that the Hindus of Jammu will be the worst sufferers if Article 35A goes. “The Hindus of Jammu will become unsafe,” Shamsi said. “We are holding meetings with Hindus and Sikhs and Muslims, to make them understand the importance of this provision. We have also asked Imams to speak on the issue on Fridays.”
In the Chenab Valley region, the head of Muslim Action Committee Baderwah, Sharif Sartaj, said that there is unanimity among people to resist any move to abrogate Article 35A. He also said that the abrogation of 35A would affect Jammu more than Kashmir.
“We are also holding a seminar in Jammu to make people aware of Article 35A and the repercussions if it is repealed,” Sartaj said.
Abdul Qayoom Mattoo, member of the Islami Shura in Kishtwar, said that people were “extremely angry” at the talk of removing Article 35A.
“People are extremely angry over this attempt to remove Article 35A here in Kishtwar region,” Mattoo said. “We are with Kashmir on this issue. We observed bandhs and will follow other (protest) calls to protect this provision,” he added.
He said the people of Kishtwar demand that the pre-1953 position should be restored in Kashmir.
“We want complete restoration of our autonomy which has been snatched by India,” Mattoo said, who is also the Imam of a mosque.
In the plains of Jammu, the opinion on whether to keep 35A or not seems to be divided. However, there are very strong voices among civil society who want it to remain intact.
Former cabinet minister and head of the Global Party, Babu Singh, said that Article 35A was the first amendment incorporated in the Constitution to give special rights to Jammu and Kashmir. “This article empowered the state. The forces that are hell bent on tinkering it, they are committing a wrong. We want this Article, as it strengthens the position of the state,” said Singh, who was the state’s finance minister during the Congress-PDP government.
Singh, who is also founding member of the Nationalist Jammu and Kashmir United Peace Movement – an amalgam of five civil society groups representing different regions of Jammu – said that Article 370 has already been eroded and reduced to an empty shell.
“If Article 35A goes, the state will become more India-centric,” Singh said, who won his past elections from Kathua. “We have to take a broader outlook and approach the issue from a reasonable angle. If you see it from a communal point of view, things will go awry. We as citizens of the state want to advocate peace and settlement of Kashmir issue through dialogue.”
The Jammu Kashmir State Akali Dal (Mann) group, a body representing Sikhs, has supported the retaining of Article 35A.
In Ladakh, the Chief Executive Councillor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Dr Sonam Dawa Lonpo, refused to speak on the issue.
“I can’t speak on the issue,” he said in response to a question on Article 35A.
However, former minister and senior Congress leader from Ladakh region, Nawang Rigzin Jora, said he was strongly in favour of retaining the article.
“We are in favour of retaining Article 370 and 35A. Our position is clear,” Jora said.
Already, the region’s powerful institution, Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust (IKMT) had urged people to defend Article 35A. “We appeal (to) all the stakeholders of the state of J&K to rise above partisan politics and get together against tinkering of Article 35A,” it said.