Centre Should Defend Article 35A

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The upcoming hearing of the case about Article 35A in Supreme Court has once again caused deep anxiety in Kashmir. People are apprehending the worst. Last Friday, the civil society groups held a roundtable conference at a Srinagar hotel to discuss the issue. They called for deferring of the case till the time J&K   has an elected government. Ever since, the civil society activism against any change in the law has only become stronger. In fact, now the people as a whole have become involved. From traders through shikarawallas to auto-wallas, everyone is protesting the sinister move.

Several legal challenges have been mounted against the   Article 35A which governs the Valley’s state subject laws. For Sangh groups, it is the Article 35A and not Article 370 which comes in the way of settling people from other parts of the country in J&K. They believe that the only way to resolve Kashmir issue is through a sweeping demographic change in the state.

The Article 35A was extended to the state through a 1954 Presidential Order. It gives protection to the state subject laws in J&K whereby outsiders are not allowed to settle or acquire property in the state. The legal challenge to such constitutional safeguards and the speculation about their apprehended outcome has created a fraught situation in J&K and if nothing is done to pre-empt this assault, Kashmir could be headed for another unrest  sooner than we expect it.

The ongoing case about the article has united divergent ideological and political groups in the state. And one can understand why. Perhaps never before has New Delhi been perceived to be making as concerted a bid to mess with the state’s leftover special constitutional position as in the past four years – albeit, some of this perception reinforced by the BJP ’s ideological stance on the state.  The party has appeared to be in a tearing hurry to pursue its longstanding agenda on the state.

This has reinforced an existing narrative in Kashmir, aided by the history of the past seventy years, which sees New Delhi always conspiring to undermine the state’s autonomy, not stopping even at its drastic erosion so far but working opportunistically to see the end of it.

 The paranoia about a perceived hostile centre allegedly conspiring “to dilute Valley’s Muslim majority character” has made people deeply insecure. It has brought into full play the issues of land and identity, hitherto more or less dormant elements of the ongoing conflict which operated so far largely along political and militant dimensions.

 But despite all this deep sense of apprehension and foreboding pervading the air, the centre has not deemed it worth its while to reassure the people of the Valley. Now that the Valley seems on the verge of yet another unrest, it is time the centre speaks. But,  as of now,  there’s little clarity on what is going to happen. True, Governor N N Vohra has also called for deferring of the case, it is unclear whether the centre will heed him or not. Here is hoping that the centre does as the consequences of doing away with the law will be catastrophic for the state.

 

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