New Court Order: Tipping Point for Coalition?



The new legal twist to the ongoing beef ban controversy wherein a petitioner –retired law Professor  Afzal Qadri has filed a PIL against the Ranbir Penal Code challenging its Constitutional validity has made the JK Hight Court issue directives to the state. The Court while admitting the petition has given the government a week’s time to file its response. The High Court has also said that it will have no objection if legislators will go ahead and repeal the old law. While the legal implications of the PIL can best be analyzed and assessed by a legal expert, the issue being one that has generated intense controversy , debate and even protests in Kashmir, warrants public scrutiny. Apparently, the petitioner has essentially alleged that that the stipulations of the Ranbir Penal Code violate individual freedoms which are guaranteed by the Constitution and also implicate the state in proselytizing a certain religion. Given that the petitioner has taken the legal route, the Court has perhaps no choice but to listen and act on the PIL. The battle is now on and the matter will either be decided on the respective merits of the cases in contention or go to the legislature for a final and binding decision.

This twist in the saga goes onto demonstrate that law is not blind, so to speak. And that a judicious approach towards resisting an act or action that is held to be detrimental and offensive by broader society can not only be effective but yield rewards. While the exact denouement of the cases that the controversy has yet to pan out and remains to be seen, it is also a fact that the state has to listen and even yield to the judiciary. An apparently political and politicized gambit under the cover of legality –the resuscitation of the beef ban law or the archaic Ranbir Penal Code- probably aimed to jar the sensibilities of Kashmiri Muslims and show them their place can be countered with a legal approach or offensive. This has broader implications and lessons for Kashmiri society as a whole: instead of gut level, visceral,  knee jerk reactions to provocations, issues and controversies, there are ways and means to respond more effectively. The PIL filed by Professor Qadri is a case in point here. Collective action then need not be violent. It can be well thought out and planned in a way that generates and yields maximum dividends.

This is, insofar as the general and generic import of the whole saga especially the counter PIL is concerned. Then there is the political angle and repercussions that are significant. Now that the High Court has directed the government to basically respond, how will the current regime- BJP-PDP coalition respond? Obviously, this will be a tough call given that the nature of the response can either strain the coalition or render the PDP more distant and estranged from Kashmiris. Either way, the contradictions inhering in the coalition will be starkly exposed and if things get stretched further , the state will be thrown into another bout of uncertainty. All in all, we live in what Terry Pratchett called ‘interesting times’. 

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