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On Article 35A

As members of the Concerned Citizens’ Group, we visited Kashmir recently, from 17–19 August 2017. This was our third visit since the formation of our group. We met with some representatives of prominent political parties, office-bearers of the Jammu and Kashmir Bar Association, college students, as well as civil society representatives from Srinagar, Anantnag, Shopian, Pulwama and Kupwara in North Kashmir.

As members of the Concerned Citizens’ Group, we visited Kashmir recently, from 17–19 August 2017. This was our third visit since the formation of our group. We met with some representatives of prominent political parties, office-bearers of the Jammu and Kashmir Bar Association, college students, as well as civil society representatives from Srinagar, Anantnag, Shopian, Pulwama and Kupwara in North Kashmir.

The most disquieting conclusion of these interactions was that, as compared to our previous visits, the sense of dismay and despondency among the people had grown considerably. The proximate reason for this was not merely the lack of dialogue with the Kashmiris, but also due to the fact that tourism had plummeted, the hotel business was in dire straits, there was flight of capital, and an overall economic downturn. This had led to greater unemployment and economic distress in the region. The situation was much worse than the previous two years.

At the same time, the distance between the Kashmiri youth and the rest of India seems to have increased. This was evident from the fact that even those people, who would engage in reasonable dialogue earlier, were now using the language of the militants and the separatists. There were complaints, not only about the military approach to the problem of Kashmir, but also in terms of a judicial or constitutional aggression against its people, through attempts to undo Article 35A of the Indian Constitution, which ensures special rights for the permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

There was an overall opposition to the efforts to revoke Article 35A of theConstitution. In fact, the judicial raking up of the Article 35A issue seems to have pushed the demand for azaadi to the background, if only temporarily, as people consider the attempts to alter the provisions of special rights of people of J&K, an existential threat to the Valley’s demographic profile.

People believe that revoking Article 35A could potentially lead to a demographic change in J&K, as sale of land and property in the state will be facilitated for outsiders. This was completely unacceptable to the people of J&K.

The simmering anger also stemmed from the belief that the central government was a “passive collaborator” in the petitions filed before the Supreme Court. This belief was strengthened, not because of the statements from the ruling party at the centre and its frontal organisations, but rather by the central government’s attitude itself. Kashmiris openly alleged that the judicial attack on J&K’s special status was being “stage managed” by the central government.

They recalled that Article 35A had been challenged in the Supreme Court earlier, but each time the central government had filed a counter-affidavit. This time, not only had the central government refrained from filing a counter-affidavit, the attorney general even argued for a wider debate on this constitutional provision.

The Kashmiri people are asking why the state government has been left to single-handedly defend Article 35A, and whether the central government bears no responsibility in defending the Constitution. A lack of clear answers to these two questions has led the Kashmiri people to doubt the intentions of the central government.

They suggested that the government had erred in the Supreme Court and,instead of keeping quiet, could have easily informed the apex court that the issue was a political one that merited greater discussion in Parliament. Alternatively, if the government felt that there were some issues with Article 35A, in the context of the fundamental rights of the women of J&K and their marriage to men outside the state, then the government should have argued that the matter be referred to a nine-judge constitutional bench.

There is a general belief, however, that if Article 35A is revoked through a judicial decision, there would be widespread trouble in the state. Some even proclaimed that if Articles 35A and 370 are tampered with, we would witness “an uprising like none other.” It is also expected that there will be an inevitable breakdown of the alliance between the Peoples Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, if Article 35A is struck down by the Supreme Court.

Yashwant Sinha, Air Vice Marshal (retd)

Kapil Kak, Sushobha Barve,Bharat Bhushan

New Delhi

Updated On : 9th Sep, 2017

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