“Article 35-A is our identity. Defend Abrogation of 35-A” written at the end of a wedding invitation card is the core description of Kashmir’s sentiment with regard to the individuality and identity of Jammu and Kashmir. The invitee, a resident of Waterkhani Drugmulla (Kupwara), solicits his guests to ‘grace the occasion of marriage ceremony of their beloved son by their presence’ but the concluding lines also impress upon them to defend the Article-35. This sentiment echoed on Kashmir streets as a mere rumour about 35-A being heard in the Supreme on Monday sent a wave of unrest all across the troubled valley forcing authorities to close down the school and colleges to maintain law and order. The shopkeepers rolled down their shutters while youth clashed with police deployed at troubled spots prompting police to fire tear-smoke shells to disperse them. Over a dozen students were reported injured in Shopian. Apprehensions that the top court may dilute Article 35-A has united Kashmiris of all hues including separatist and pro India to hold protests cautioning against any such move. Article 35A of the Constitution gives special rights to Jammu and Kashmir’s permanent residents. It disallows people from outside the state from buying or owning immovable property there, settle permanently, or avail themselves of state-sponsored scholarship schemes. It also forbids the J&K government from hiring people who are non-permanent residents.
The petitions against the validity of 35-A are being heard in the Supreme Court on August 31. While separatist have asked people for a decisive struggle, pro India groups like National Conference and PDP too have joined the chorus. Former chief minister Mahbooba Mufti has cautioned New Delhi that any move to do away the special status of the state would have dangerous consequences. National Conference patriarch and former chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah seemed more emphatic and categorical. He said that he would not hesitate to shed his blood for the protection of the state’s special status. The separatist leadership has called for two-day shutdown on August 30 and 31 as a mark of protest against any tinkering with the constitutional position of the state. As reports say that the state government headed by newly appointed Governor Satya Pal Malik has decided to defend the validity of 35-A, it makes a joint cause for Jammu and Kashmir and government of India should not disregard it. Former governor N N Vohra had taken a neutral position on 35-A as instead of defending the case in the apex court, he had petitioned for postponement of the hearing as the state was going for local bodies elections. It is encouraging that the presentation has taken a clear stand quite in tune with the public sentiment.
Voices of opposition against revocation of 35-A are coming from Jammu too. Around 300 lawyers of different courts in the region, last month, supported the continuation of the constitutional provision that safeguarded the rights of the people of the state. In a latest, a senior BJP leader, Rajesh Gupta too has come in support of the continuation of 35-A arguing that repealing the constitutional provision would open gates for outsiders to settle in Jammu that would have adverse impact on the economy and job opportunities in the region. That makes the issue Jammu and Kashmir versus New Delhi. The people in power at the centre should understand the emotions of the people of Jammu and Kashmir with regard to the state’s individual character. “Azadi” or “right of self-determination” may not be the slogan of every state subject of Jammu and Kashmir but the special status that the state enjoys under Article 370 and 35-A of Indian constitution is closer to heart every resident of Jammu and Kashmir.
Saner voices at national level, who have some knowledge of politics and power in Kashmir, too have warned of the threats involved in tampering with Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. It would be in India’s national interest that the central government listens to saner voices. BJP which is ruling at the centre should think beyond the arithmetic of election gains. The party may get some votes in the name of 35-A but it is ultimately India that would lose.