Article 35-A: How Can We Pre-Empt The Disaster

SRINAGAR — Kashmir looks forward with a bated breath to the Supreme Court’s next hearing later this month of the petition challenging the validity of the Article 35-A which grants special citizenship rights to the J&K citizens and bars outsiders from buying land in the state and becoming its citizens.

On August 6, a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar deferred the hearing to the week commencing August 27. The matter was initially listed for hearing before a bench comprising the CJI and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud. While deferring the petition, the CJI observed that he would hear the centre on the case “and to some extent the J&K government, which has a minimal role”.

The CJI’s observation has rung aloud in Kashmir and further deepened the anxieties. People in the state, more than ever, suspect that the union government wants the law to go. The fears are not unfounded. 

Repealing J&K’s special status has been a part of the core agenda of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP which now rules not only at the centre but more than two-third of the states. The NGO, ‘We the People’ which has filed one of a clutch of other petitions is alleged to be allied with the Sangh groups. This is why the union government has refused to defend the law in the court.

The situation now is more tenuous as J&K is also under Governor’s rule and therefore directly ruled by the centre. There is thus little hope that the state government will be able to defend the law well. This has created an extraordinary situation in the state. 

Making the matters worse, both the centre and the state government have offered no assurances. In any case, such assurances would be of little value in a court case unless the centre chooses to put up a strong defence by filing a counter-affidavit which it hasn’t done so far. And in its absence, the fate of the Article 35-A will depend on what the apex court makes of the petitions challenging the constitutional provision.

This calls for every peaceful effort in Kashmir to pre-empt the disaster. So far, while civil society groups have joined hands to protest the removal of the law and Hurriyat has also closed its ranks, the mainstream parties have chosen to do it individually. The need of the hour is for all the mainstream parties, defending the continuance of the Article 35-A, to join hands. Let NC, PDP, Congress and the other smaller parties come together and make a representation to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the dire need to protect the all-important constitutional provision.  Last year, the then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had sought the support of National Conference leader Dr Farooq Abdullah. But there has been no replication of this effort when the danger is even graver.

Now the newly-floated J&K Civil Society Coordination Committee has taken the initiative to bring everybody together on the issue and it is a welcome effort. The JKCSCC has also called for shutdown on August 27 when the Supreme Court is likely to hear the issue again. The need for unity now cannot be overemphasised and every effort made in this direction should be encouraged and supported.

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