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Opening a new can of worms

Article 35A debate sharpens divisions
Srinagar | Posted : Aug 13 2017 1:33AM | Updated: Aug 12 2017 11:46PM

A petition challenging a constitutional provision Article 35-A that grants exclusive rights to buy immovable property, access to jobs and scholarships to the permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir has boiled down to communal and political polarisation in the state. A non-governmental RSS-linked organisation, “We the Citizens”, has argued that Article 35-A is “unconstitutional”  as the President of India had no powers to amend the Constitution. But Kashmiri legal experts and leaders believe that Article 35-A is a perfectly valid constitutional provision. What has muddied the waters is the fact that the Centre did not file a counter affidavit, as it had done in the past; this has deepened the fears that the RSS-BJP combine was stubbornly pursuing its long-term agenda of rendering the majority Kashmir Muslims to a minority in their homeland, violating all the constitutional guarantees  to them offered  by the founding fathers of the Indian nation.

The Kashmir Muslim opinion is clear and unanimous: it is a betrayal of faith. The state may be in for an agitation as violent and comprehensive as was witnessed in May 2008 when mere 40 acres of land were sought to be transferred to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. The move by the then government of Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, in which the PDP was a coalition partner, was seen as  the execution of a plan of Hindu settlements in Kashmir. Now this petition is seen as an extension of that plan.

If the Agenda of Alliance — the governance document  of the PDP-BJP  government — is  to be read in a fair manner, then it is incumbent upon the Modi government  to defend this Article in the apex court. The Agenda of Alliance mentions it clearly that despite the differing positions of the two parties on the constitutional status of J&K, considering the political and legislative realities, the present position will be maintained. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has claimed that she has the Prime Minister’s assurance that that Article 35-A and Article 370 would be respected. The onus is on the Prime Minister to honour that assurance.

Editorial, The Tribune