Supreme Court has once again deferred the hearing on the Article 35A case to January 2019. Though this has come as a momentary relief to a predominant majority of the people of the state who dont want the critical constitutional provision to go, the anxiety persists as to its eventual fate.
The adjournment came after the court accepted the pleas of the Attorney General of India K K Venugopal and Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir government respectively that the issue of Article 35A was “very sensitive” and as such hearing be held in January or March 2019 keeping in mind the law and order aspect and the upcoming Urban Local Bodies and Panchayat polls.
The decision at once relaxed the prevailing tense situation in the Valley. The apprehended repeal of the state subject law had put the Valley on edge. Over the past two weeks the tension had risen to a flashpoint. Barring a few, the opposition parties in Valley have closed the ranks. So have social groups. The issue has also created a deep sense of uncertainty in the society at large.
Before the adjournment of the hearing, Hurriyat had called for a sustained protest campaign which culminated with a complete hartal on August 30 and 31 when the court was supposed to hear the case. And in case of an adverse judgement, there was a direction to start the agitation. However, the amalgam has now deferred the programme. But the uncertainty has by no means abated.
The evolving situation has created a moment of existential import for the people of the state. If the law is revoked or diluted it would open doors for a massive demographic change in the state.
Though last year, home minister Rajnath Singh had offered some assurance saying the union government wouldnt go against the sentiments of people in the state, there has been little follow-up action. The government has chosen not to defend the law in the Supreme Court and the state administration under Governor has also become weak in its defence. Last year Attorney General of India Venugopal had told the court that the central government was not keen on filing a counter-affidavit in the case, and wanted a larger debate on the issue.
By not filing the affidavit, the union has thus kept its options open and made the issue uncertain. It also means that by abstaining from filing an affidavit, they have committed themselves to a position that Article 35A should or shouldnt remain
This has sent alarm bells ringing in Kashmir with people fearing that the NDA government wanted the law to go. The fears are not unfounded. Repealing J&Ks special status has been a part of the core agenda of the Sangh Parivar. And the NGO, We the People which has filed the petition is alleged to be allied with the Sangh groups.
There is thus a widespread disquiet in the population at large. And understandably so. The Article 35A is critical to the special status of J&K. If it is tampered with, this will be the last nail in the coffin of the Article 370. There will be nothing left in the special status to protect. The state government thus can’t be found wanting in its defence of the all-important constitutional privision. But this defence shouldn’t be confined to word only. The people want their government to be seen acting too.
New Govenor Satya Pal Malik has a onerous responsibility to step up to the occasion and reassure the people as to the fate of the law. Among the priorities that he has underlined for himself, the new Governor has talked about winning the confidence of the people. Reaching out to people on Article 35A offers him one such opportunity. And now is the time for him to do so. It is the biggest CBM he can offer to people. At the same time he will prove his bonafides as the states first politician governor.