Mehbooba Mufti-Farooq Abdullah meet over Article 35A shows how crucial the issue is for Kashmir

On Tuesday, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti surprised everyone by dropping at the residence of National Conference president and former Union minister Farooq Abdullah at his Srinagar residence to discuss the prevailing crisis over Article 35A of the Indian Constitution that has been challenged in the Supreme Court.

According to reports, Abdullah has suggested to the chief minister that she should consult other parties with an aim to create a wider consensus among “like-minded parties in the battle to prevent Article 35A being struck down in the Supreme Court.”

Political observers in Kashmir see the development as a warning shot by Mufti, who — by discussing the issue with the NC patron instead of meeting the leadership of her alliance partner BJP
— has sent out a subtle message that the clock can be turned back and she can build a broad coalition of mainstream political parties to save the remnants of Article 370.

File image of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. PTI

File image of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. PTI

The Centre, whenever such an eventuality has arisen in past in the apex court, has always defended the case of the Jammu and Kashmir. But Mufti seems to have been pushed to the wall in this case by the manner in which the country's attorney general, obviously representing the Centre's point of view, called for a "larger debate" on the issue, casting an ominous shadow on the future of the alliance.

Mufti had recently warned the Centre that if there was any tinkering with Article 35A of the Constitution, there will be no one to shoulder the tricolour in the state.

If Mufti is able to pull off a grand coalition of regional parties to work against the abrogation of state subject laws, what will the future of the state look like?

But the question remains: Will the National Conference, PDP, Congress and other regional players come together to save the special status and state subject law of the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir? If the developments in the Valley are any indicator, it is quite likely to happen as the anger against the mainstream political players is spreading like wildfire.

There is no doubt that the abrogation of Article 35A has a potential to put Kashmir on a fire which will be beyond anyone's control.

The anger is already simmering over the killings of teenage boys, who have recently chosen the path of militancy and are being killed every other day. The issue of Article 370 and Article 35A is a political hot potato that has the potential to unite people cutting across political ideologies.

Article 35A is a provision in the Indian Constitution which saved the ‘pre-existing State Subject Law’ of permanent residents of the state and their special rights and privileges. It was added through the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 1954, issued under Article 370.

According to the law, there is a complete ban on the acquisition of immovable property by the non-permanent residents of the state, like in Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, and other states. The law defines permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir, confers on them the special rights and privileges and also imposes restrictions on non-residents acquiring any property in the state.

In 1846, when the Dogra Maharaja brought the territory from the British empire under the Treaty of Amritsar, he introduced the State Subject Law in order to safeguard the interests of his subjects from the onslaught of outsiders in January 1927. The order was in response to a demand made by Dogras and Kashmiri Pandits, who feared that Punjabis were a threat to their stranglehold over their jobs.

Apart from imposing a complete ban on the acquisition of immovable property by the non-permanent residents of the state, the law also declares that a non-resident of the state is disqualified for registration in the electoral roll as a voter and is disqualified to hold any government job in the state.

The state unit of the BJP has been maintaining that there would be no tampering with or challenge to any of the constitutional provisions of the state, including Article 35-A till its alliance with PDP remains intact.

“I have already said it and I am saying it again: We are not interested in tampering with any of the constitutional provisions of J&K, be it Article 35-A or Article 370,” BJP’s chief spokesman for Jammu and Kashmir Sunil Sethi said.

Former Union Minister and senior Congress leader Saifuddin Soz said on Tuesday that coming together of Opposition parties is the first step. "The parties have adopted the right stance on Article 35-A. The mainstream parties in J&K and the Hurriyat Conference are on the same page on this issue," he said.

“The trick that the RSS wants to play by asking the Supreme Court of India to revoke Article-35 A, has the potential of creating commotion in the country, especially in Jammu and Kashmir State,” he added.

The state government in its draft objections likely to be submitted to the Supreme Court on Wednesday has stated that accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India is “limited in scope and not absolute.” Sources said Mehbooba had told her top party leaders that they should be ready for any eventuality if the article is struck down in the Supreme Court. That could well mean the end of the BJP-PDP alliance on the state also.

What will follow in Kashmir Valley is much more dangerous than what anyone can assume. "It will spark an agitation on a much higher scale than 2008 Amarnath land row," Abdullah had said recently. The land row, besides crippling the economy and dividing the state along communal lines, resulted in the killing of nearly 60 civilians, mostly teenaged boys. No one wants a repeat of that in Kashmir.

Updated Date: Aug 09, 2017 09:43 AM

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