Home Minister Rajnath Singhs statement that the centre will not go against the sentiments of the people of Kashmir on Article 35A has gone a long way to relax the tension that was building up in Valley over the apprehended repeal of the law. Both Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and the opposition leader Omar Abdullah have welcomed the home ministers assurance. So have the common people who looked forward to home ministers visit to hear just this assurance. Pro-freedom groups, on the other hand, have chosen to not react. But this doesnt detract from the significance of the home ministers statement which came just in time to stop the prevailing runaway paranoia over the uncertain fate of Article 35A to plunge Valley into yet another extended unrest.
Singhs statement was the first public assurance by any top central government functionary about the continuation of the Article 35A, albeit not as specific as Kashmir would have liked it to be. More so, after the state BJP delegation which earlier met the home minister had demanded the abrogation of the law as, according to them, it had been detrimental to the country and the interests of J&K. Also, BJPs longstanding position on J&K sees the revocation of the Article 370 and the Article 35A as pre-requisites for complete integration of the state into Indian Union.
In fact when the home minister was assuring the journalists that the centre will not do anything which goes against the sentiments of people of J&K, a senior RSS leader was holding a closed door meeting of Sangh pracharaks in Jammu city to intensify campaign against the continuation of the Article 35A.
Also, after analysing the home ministers assurance critically, it becomes clear that he stopped short of revealing whether the government would defend the case when it again comes up for hearing in the court. So far, central government has shied away from doing so. Instead the Attorney General of India K K Venugopal told the court that the government wants a larger debate on the law, an observation that triggered alarm bells in Kashmir. Kashmir saw it as a signal that New Delhi was open to tinkering with the law which enables state government to define state subject law and forbids outsiders from settling in the state.
Therefore it is still what the centre does in practice about Article 35A that remains the touchstone about the professed sincerity of its words. People now expect the words to be matched by the deed. And this sentiment was aptly articulated by Omar Abdullah in his tweets shortly after the Singhs press Conference. He said the Union government must now file a counter affidavit in the Supreme Court to defend 35-A to carry the assurance forward. This certainly should be the logical next step.
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