AS the Supreme Court is likely to hear the petitions against the continuation of Article 35-A of Indian constitution on Thursday, a wave of unrest is sweeping the trouble-torn state. Ahead of the hearing, On Wednesday, Kashmir is reeling under a protest strike called by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL). The rotest strike shall continue on Thursday as well. Apprehensions that the top court might dilute Article 35-A is a matter of concern for all shades of political opinion—separatist as well as pro India. While National Conference and PDP has already warned of serious consequences if 35-A was abolished, the latest to voice his concern is Sajjad Gani Lone. The Peoples’ Conference chairman, who has close political affinity with the BJP, said on Tuesday that the alienation in Kashmir was due erosion in special status Jammu and Kashmir had under the constitution of India. The separatists are already up in arms. That has made the continuation of Article 35-A and 370 of Indian constitution as a joint case for the political leaders in Kashmir.
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. 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 too have expressed similar views. On Wednesday normal life was paralyzed under shutdown called by separatists. The shutdown would continue on Thursday as well. Jammu and Kashmir government, which is presently headed by the Governor N N Vohra in absence of an elected government, has submitted to the Supreme Court to defer the hearing till an elected government was put in place. The state counsel, Shoab Alam, in a written plea to the Supreme Court, has said that “The present matter involves a sensitive issue regarding a challenge to Article 35A of the Constitution of India… It will therefore be requested that the matter may kindly be head when an elected government is in place”. Voices of opposition against revocation of 35-A have come from Jammu too.
Sometime back around 300 lawyers of different courts in the region, last year, supported the continuation of the 35-A as it safeguarded the rights of the people of the state. 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 to 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. Some newspapers have editorially commented that India would have no legal claim on Kashmir if Article 370 is removed. 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.