In a welcome statement, the Union Minister of State for Home Hansraj Gangaram Ahir has said that there is currently no proposal to scrap Article 370 which gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Ahir was replying to a written question by the BJP MP Ashwini Kumar, who asked whether the government was committed to scrapping Article 370 of the Constitution. The answer will certainly go some way to calm the deep anxiety in Kashmir as to the fate of the Article 370 under the Narendra Modi government. But it is unlikely to address the nervousness about the Article 35A which is currently facing challenge in the Supreme Court. And New Delhi has so far given little no solid assurance that it will defend the law in the court.
And there is a reason for it. The BJPs longstanding agenda on Kashmir has been integrationist. It sees the complete merger of Kashmir into India as the only solution to the lingering problem. The partys absolute majority in parliament including now in Rajya Sabha too 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.
In Kashmir the only thing that people want is 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 has deepened the unease in Valley. Only exception has been the alleged assurance to the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a meeting in July last. However neither the PM nor his office publicly confirmed the assurance. Second time, the home minister Rajnath Singh too offered an indirect assurance during his visit to the state in November last. But no senior BJP leader has spoken in favour of the Article. Instead some of them have publicly called for the Article’s revocation. In fact, in meetings with the senior functionaries from New Delhi, the state BJP delegations have demanded the abrogation of the Article 35A as, according to them, the country and J&K has suffered because of it. But we hope Ahirs assurance is not only words but is translated into action. And the first test of this assurance will be the next hearing of the Article 35 in Supreme Court.
Kashmir now expects the central government to file a counter affidavit in the court to strengthen the J&K governments argument that the law is an inalienable part of the special position granted to the state in lieu of choosing to accede to India as against Muslim majority Pakistan. It is the Article 35A that makes Article 370 special. Rest of its provisions have been battered beyond recognition. So, more than Article 370, which is anyway too difficult to revoke, Kashmir wants centres assurance about protection to Article 35A.
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