Among the many issues that the state of Jammu and Kashmir faces today, Monday’s hearing of the revocation of Article 35-A has become a major concern for its citizens, mainstream politicians and separatist leaders alike. All have come together to oppose any fiddling with this constitutional article, that defines the “permanent residents” of the state.
Article 35-A was brought into the Indian Constitution under Article 370 in 1954, adding to the earlier presidential order of 1950. The article gives rights to the “permanent residents” of the state and without it, the region will lose its special status — something mainstream politicians have been claiming to have been taking care of. But for separatist leaders, safeguarding this constitutional right has also become an issue for all, including traders, state government employees, civil society groups and lawyers. All of them have been protesting and threatening to go on strike.
If the act is indeed revoked, it will heavily impact the mainstream politics in the state, while separatist politics will remain the same — perhaps even intensify, proving the pro-freedom leaders’ argument that the Central government is undemocratic as always. Such a move will not only intensify the anti-India sentiment manifold, but also turn it more violent. This issue will further disintegrate the region and hurt it economically and in terms of human lives and sentimental values.
Leaves mainstream politics with nothing
The Peoples Democratic Party and the National Conference have always sailed on the plank of safeguarding what has remained unique to the state — the special status granted by the Constitution. The PDP even went on to claim that the alliance with the BJP was to secure this, since only regional parties can relate to the people’s issues, especially in the Kashmir Valley.
On Friday, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said that fiddling with state’’ special status will have catastrophic ramifications for the entire country. “My father took great pride in the special status that Jammu and Kashmir enjoys under Article 370. He would often mention that while the people of the state have made great sacrifices for larger goals, we need to safeguard what we already have.”
This is the common stand taken by the state’s mainstream political parties. For NC, that won the 1996 election, the special status is a foundation for its never-accepted “Autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir” demand. Without special status, the state loses any of the tiny constitutional autonomy it had left — leaving nothing for mainstream parties to protect. Both the PDP and NC will have no relevance in the state if the Article is gone. But for the separatist leaders, this vindicates their stand against India.
Greater impact on Ladakh and Jammu
While the state is divided into three regions — Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh, the major impact of this act is also likely going to be on the latter two. In Kashmir, the era of protests and uncertainty has neither stopped and is unlikely to end in near future. Whoever is planning to benefit from the revocation of this Article, has her/his eyes are on Ladakh and Jammu, where possibilities increase.
It was in this context that more than 300 lawyers from Jammu division unanimously passed a resolution for “strengthening and retention” of Article 35-A on Friday. During the meet, advocate KK Pangotra said that it is only the people of Jammu who will be “adversely affected by the influx of a huge population from other states of India as no one will settle in the Kashmir Valley”. He stressed that only the “resources of Jammu will be exploited” and “at the cost of Jammu people”.
The sense of worry has increased even for people in Jammu, who see the influx as a major threat. The issue of article 35-A is not one for the Valleyites or separatist leaders alone, as it is perhaps the only issue that brings together the people of the state irrespective of caste, religion and political ideology. In Ladakh, which has been a prominent space for tourists from all over the world, the move will have an impact as any private company or non-state person will be able to move and set up base, which will lead to constant crisis and conflict in the mountainous region.
The Kashmir Valley continues to be up in arms against the Central government and it will continue doing so, whether the Article remains or goes away. However, the change is only that it will turn violent to a much larger extent than even the 2016 uprising. As already reported, even the police force that is supposed to maintain law and order, may also go on revolt. Monday will be crucial for the future of Jammu and Kashmir as a state, its mainstream politics, separatist leadership and the state legislature’s relationship with India and the ongoing conflict.
The author is a journalist and editor of The Kashmir Walla