Article 35A: Fear of Friday

The scheduled hearing of Article  35A on Friday has put Kashmir on edge again and set to tip into fresh turmoil. The apex court is hearing a clutch of petitions challenging the validity of the constitutional provision that grants special citizenship rights to people of J&K and forbids people from other parts of the country to settle in the state. On August 6, the court had deferred the crucial hearing on the petition to the last week of this month. The adjournment of the case had offered a breather but did not address the apprehensions which have since only further deepened. The run up to the fresh hearing has witnessed protests and shutdowns in Kashmir. Hurriyat has even issued a call for a sustained agitation in case the court issued an adverse judgement. Civil society groups have mobilized to resist any change. And what is more, the mainstream political parties have also joined in and supported the protests. This has created a broad across-the-board alignment on the issue.

There are also voices which support the abrogation of the Article 35A but they are confined to Jammu and a part of Ladakh. Among the political parties, the BJP is the leading voice supporting the repeal of the crucial constitutional safeguard arguing it is ultra-vires of the constitution as it was applied directly through a presidential order and not enacted by the parliament.

But a predominant majority of the state opposes removal or any tinkering with the law. And the anxiety runs so deep that any adverse decision could throw the state into disorder.  What has reinforced the unease is that the centre has refused to defend the law in the court and the Governor led state government isn’t expected to be in a position to put up the best defence.

On the ground it is mainly the separatist and civil society groups which are leading the campaign. Tension and tempers run high.  Separatists have justified their fight for the retention of the Article 35A by arguing that doing away with the constitutional provision will detrimentally impact their struggle for Azadi and pursuit of right to self-determination through a UN-facilitated plebiscite. The local newspapers are filled with news about the protests, statements, editorials and analysis in defence of the Article 35A. And the focus on the constitutional provision has generated reams of commentary and analyses in the national media.

Everybody is looking forward to next hearing of the case. A sense of suspense looms large.  The majority of the people of the state believe that the attempt to abrogate the constitutional provision is designed to alter the demographic character of the state. The implications of an adverse judgement will thus be horrific.  It confronts the majority of the people of the state with an existential challenge. Here is hoping that the Supreme Court is seized of the extraordinary nature of the case and what its decision could entail for the country and J&K. Here is hoping that the all-important law is left untouched. Only in such an approach to the law lie the seeds of a future reconciliation and resolution of Kashmir.  


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