Kashmir valley observed complete shutdown on August 5 and 6, against the attempts by certain RSS- backed organizations to tinker with Article 35-A through the intervention of Supreme Court of India. Despite differences in political opinions and political ideologies, majority of the residents in Jammu and Kashmir have shown resentment and opposed the idea of abrogation or any amendment to Article 35-A. Amidst all the tension and chaos in the state, any reference to tinker with the Article is bound to raise tempers and deepen the resentment towards New Delhi, which has a potential to take the state towards more chaos and bloodshed.
Article 35-A of the Constitution of India provides special rights to permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir. By virtue of this Article only permanent residents of the State can own the land and other immoveable property in the State. It also allows only the residents of Jammu and Kashmir to take up state’s government jobs and also avail scholarships. It also allows the state legislature to decide who the permanent residents of the erstwhile princely State of Jammu and Kashmir are. The Article also commands that no legislative act coming under it can be contested for violating the Constitution of India or any other law.
Unlike Article 370, the Article 35-A has been missing from the public discourse in the State and India until recently. The Article came into prominence after a right wing NGO “We the Citizens” filed a petition against the special provision in Supreme Court of India. Supreme Court of India on August 6 adjourned the hearing on the petition until August 27.
The history of Article 35-A goes back to 1954 when it was incorporated into the Constitution of India by an order of then president of India Rajendra Prasad. There seems to be much nitty-gritty involved in the legality of this Article vis-à-vis State’s relation with the dominion of India. Many mainstream politicians have expressed the view that this Article provides the only link between the State of Jammu and Kashmir with India. With any amendment or scrapping of the Article, all the provisions and controls, which dominion of India has over the State, they opine, will become null and void. On the other side, the NGO that has filed petition against it in Supreme Court of India and their supporters see it as discriminatory in nature and “unconstitutional”. They have raised question over it being a permanent provision. In this scenario and keeping the political upheavals in the history of Jammu and Kashmir in mind, there is every reason for the people in the State and especially Kashmir to be wary of efforts to tinker with the Article 35-A. The history of Jammu and Kashmir’s relation with dominion of India is a very contentious issue. There is a common perception that many of the special provisions that were accorded to the state have been done away with by one way or the other. The relation that was subject to the final resolution started with India controlling State’s foreign affairs, communications and defense. It has been extended to almost all other areas in connivance with a few chosen state subjects against political and other benefits. Doing away with the Article is the last ditch effort to take the State into the dominion of India against the wishes of its people. There are apprehensions that these efforts are being made to change the demography of State. The scrapping or amending Article 35-A which together with Article 370 prohibits non-state subjects from owning the land in the state will allow the people from outside the state to buy and own land and property in Jammu and Kashmir. The Kashmir-based mainstream politicians as well as the Hurriyat camp, that is pressing for the final resolution of the Kashmir issue, see the filing of petition against the special provision as a ploy to completely erode what is left of the autonomous character of the state. For Hurriyat any decree favoring the petition will harm its movement for right to self determination.
This is also one of those rare moments, when Kashmir based mainstream politicians including those from Kargil and Chenab valley and Hurriyat camp are on same page. People in the state across the board, barring some exceptions, have opposed the filing of petition and expect the Supreme Court of India to dismiss it. Supreme Court of India has dismissed few similar petitions earlier. But gauging from the reports how unprepared the state government is to present its case, people have all the reasons to be apprehensive. All major political parties, besides Kashmir Bar have made themselves party to the case, but the efforts may fall short in view of incoherence and proper defense. There should be efforts made for dismissal of the case in Supreme Court, rather than make efforts to defer the hearing. Until its dismissal is ensured, the sword will keep hanging over the people of the state, especially Kashmir. On the other hand any tinkering with the Article will have serious consequences.