On Article 35A, a word from the home minister of India  

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The home minister Rajnath Singh offered a long awaited assurance to Valley on the fate of Article 35A.  In his press conference, Singh said the central government would do nothing that goes against the sentiments of people of the state. “We won’t do anything that goes against the wishes and sentiments of people of Kashmir. We will respect them. The non-issues are being made issues”. Singh added that the government had not initiated the case nor had it gone to the court. He also didn’t reveal whether the BJP government would defend the case  in the upcoming hearing in the supreme court. So far, central government  has not done so. The Attorney General of India K K Venugopal told the court that the government wants a larger debate on the issue,  something that signalled to Kashmir that the ruling BJP was not averse to tinkering with the law as it was consistent with its longstanding position on the issue.

 

It is the longest visit of the home minister and comes amid the surging levels of violence in the state and the deep political uncertainty generated by the apprehended repeal of the Article 35A which enables the state government to define the state subject laws. Though earlier J&K Government had planned a grand rally at Sher-i-Kashmir Park where Singh was also supposed to speak, it was inexplicably called off after the opposition National Conference leader Omar Abdullah tweeted that Singh would announce the centre’s support for Article 35A.

 

In recent months home minister has intermittently talked of the efforts being afoot to achieve a “permanent solution” to Kashmir issue.  Nobody knows the contours of this solution but from the way the centre has approached the situation in the state, there are reasons to view such a solution sceptically. The BJP’s longstanding agenda on Kashmir has been integrationist. It sees the complete merger of Kashmir into India as the only solution to the lingering problem. So the party’s absolute control over India is believed to have empowered the party to execute its longstanding ideological agenda in Kashmir, one of them the abrogation of Article 370. In fact, the ongoing efforts to do away with the Article 35A has only further validated the suspicions.  Is the party thus moving towards the realization of such an agenda in Kashmir? This is hard to tell.  And at least for now, the home minister has calmed the nerves on this score. 

 

For Kashmir the only thing that people wanted from the home minister’s meeting was an honest assurance that the centre will protect Article 35A. So far senior functionaries in the central government have maintained cryptic silence on the fate of the article which had deepened the unease in Valley. Only exception was the assurance to the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti by the Prime Minister Narendra  Modi during a meeting in July. However neither the PM nor his office publicly confirmed the assurance. Nor did any senior BJP leader speak in favour of the Article. Instead some of them have publicly called for the Article’s revocation. In fact, in a meeting with Rajnath Singh, the BJP delegation demanded the abrogation of  the Article 35A as, according to them, the country and J&K has suffered because of it. But we hope the home minister’s assurance is not only words but is translated into action. And the first test of this assurance will be the next hearing of the case. Kashmir now expects the central government to file a counter affidavit in the court to strengthen the J&K government’s argument that the law is an inalienable part of the special position granted to the state in lieu of choosing to accede India as against Muslim majority Pakistan.

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