Article 35A debate: Deferred Supreme Court hearing gives Kashmir a breather, but state, Centre must find a political solution
Locals who have witnessed the 2016 unrest fear Jammu and Kashmir may slide into a disastrous agitation if the Supreme Court repeals Article 35A of the Constitution
Hearing on the politically contentious constitutional provision, Article 35A was slated for Monday, but the Supreme Court deferred hearing by eight weeks.
In Kashmir, people across ideological and political lines were keenly awaiting the outcome of the petition, which had called for striking down Article 35A of the constitution. There have been a total of four petitions filed in Supreme Court challenging the article. The main petition was filed in 2014 by then lesser-known NGO, "We the Citizens" on the grounds that Article 35A was illegally added to the Constitution as the article was never put up before the Parliament.
The hearing has created a debate in the state’s political circles for the last three months while mainstream political leaders from the Valley have threatened major protests if there was any tinkering with the article.
The Centre’s refusal to support the state government, which has been seeking dismissal of the petition, has already raised alarm bells in the state and has cast a shadow on the Centre-state relations.
Earlier, Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, had told a bench headed by former chief justice JS Khehar that given the "sensitive" nature of the issue, the Centre wanted a “larger debate” on it.
Separatist leaders on Sunday had threatened widespread protests in Kashmir. In a joint statement, Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik had urged the people to "launch a mass agitation if the Supreme Court delivered a verdict against the interests and aspirations of the people of the state".
People in the Valley say that there would be another spell of protests and chaos if a verdict had come in the favour of abrogation of Article 35A.
"If the construction of a few huts by a shrine board in Sonamarg in 2008 could give rise to such a huge uprising, imagine the depth of an upcoming agitation if the article is scrapped," Shafat Mir, a local journalist told Firstpost.
Locals who have witnessed the unrest that followed the killing of former Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in 2016 fear the Valley may slide into a disastrous agitation once again.
While speaking to Firstpost, a resident from South Kashmir said, “Tinkering with article 35A will bring back the unrest and nobody in the Valley wants bloodshed on the streets. The government too should take into consideration that the issue is too sensitive to deal with and should settle it by the political means."
Article 35 (A) gives special rights to Jammu and Kashmir’s permanent residents. It disallows non-residents of the state from buying or owning immovable property, settling permanently or from holding a government job in the state.
The attempt to dilute Article 35A of the Constitution is being viewed in Kashmir as an attempt to disregard and breach the state’s special status.
The political parties are not the only one concerned about the abrogation of the constitutional provisions of Article 35A. The locals also see it as an attempt to pave way for outsiders to raise settlements in the state and change the demography.
"There are various issues related to Article 35A. It’s all about Center-state relationship. People have the right to stand for Article 35A and they have the right to protest for it as well. If it is abrogated, the PDP government will lose the moral right to be in government," Irfan Kullar, a Congress leader told Firstpost.
"I believe that the central government is well aware of possible consequences in the Valley, and that’s why the Attorney General told the court that it should adjourn the hearing on the petitions against Article 35A of the Constitution by six months. It’s a time buying attempt,” Javid Wani a political expert told Firstpost.
He also said, “The honourable court does not want to stir up a controversy and is buying the time as it has done in certain crucial cases and want it to be subsided by amicable political means".
Whatever the outcome may be during the next hearing, it is clear that fear of another unrest looms large over the Valley while people eagerly look for the return of calm.
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