Kashmir is on edge and set to tip into fresh turmoil. And this time the trigger has little to do with the militancy but the ongoing case about Article 35A in Supreme Court. 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 deferred the crucial hearing on the petition to the last week of this month. The run-up to the hearing witnessed protests and shutdowns in Kashmir. Hurriyat had even issued a call for a sustained agitation in case the Court issued an adverse judgement. The adjournment of the case, therefore, offered a breather but did not address the apprehension which has since only further deepened. Civil society groups have mobilised to resist any change. Hurriyat has called for the continuance of the protests. 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.
“We owe it to our future generations to safeguard and protect our political identity and special status that our ancestors and our founding leaders fought for,” the National Conference Omar Abdullah said while addressing his party workers in central Kashmir district of Budgam. “The forces that are sponsoring these elaborate assaults on the state’s special status have been inimical to the state’s interests and political identity from the very first day and we fought them then and we will fight them now.”
Similarly, the former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said the scrapping of the law would be against the “basic structure of the constitution.” After the Supreme Court deferred the hearing of the case, Mehbooba took to Twitter to articulate the grave situation prevailing in the state.
“The constitution of India is the supreme law of India which has conferred special status to J&K. Any attempt to fiddle with it will amount to violating its basic structure,” Mehbooba wrote. “The people of J&K placed great faith in our country by rejecting the two-nation theory which was divisive & driven by religion. Instead, we chose a democratic and secular India. Now it is for the nation to respect that decision in its entirety. Instead of attempting to
dilute J&K’s special status they should embrace it and treat Kashmiris with dignity”.
But on ground it is the mainly the separatist and civil society groups which are leading the campaign. Tension and tempers run high. The local newspapers is filled with news about the protests, statements, editorials and analysis in defence of the Article 35A.
“The court judgements, as warned by the legal experts in the Valley, tend to be unpredictable. But the stakes in case of the Article 35A are too high to be left to perceived capriciousness of the court orders,” an editorial in a local daily said. “The implications of an adverse judgement will be horrific. It confronts the majority of the people of the state with an existential challenge”.
Everybody is looking forward to next hearing of the case in the Supreme Court. 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.
“By taking away this safeguard, BJP-RSS combine is trying to make settlements in Kashmir like Israel in Palestine to change the demography and hence to bury the Kashmir dispute for all times,” a statement issued by the Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies said. “Even a layman understands that any change in the demographics of the state by removing the safeguard to our exclusive rights on our land will alter the ratio of population.”
On the other hand, justifying their fight for retention of Article 35A, separatists have said that doing away with constitutional provision will detrimentally impact their struggle for Azadi (freedom).
“We want the rulers of India to know that every Kashmiri would protect the state subject law with his blood and life,” JKLF supremo Yasin Malik said while addressing a protest. “They know their right to self-determination will be automatically snatched from them if state subject law is scrapped”.