J&K: BOND­ING OVER AR­TI­CLE 35A

Me­hbooba Mufti reaches out to ri­val par­ties to build a con­sen­sus against the move to al­ter the state’s special sta­tus

India Today - - INSIDE - By Asit Jolly

Are we wit­ness­ing the be­gin­ning of a grand coali­tion of re­gional par­ties in Jammu and Kash­mir over ap­pre­hen­sions of an im­mi­nent move to di­lute con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sions that guar­an­tee the state special sta­tus? In a bold and sur­pris­ing move, chief min­is­ter Me­hbooba Mufti called on arch ri­vals, the Ab­dul­lahs, on the evening of Au­gust 8. The meet­ing with Na­tional Con­fer­ence pres­i­dent Fa­rooq Ab­dul­lah and his son and former CM Omar was held at Fa­rooq’s Gup­kar Road home. Me­hbooba said it was to seek their coun­sel and sup­port on the threat to J&K’s special sta­tus. The per­ceived threat has arisen from the cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s re­fusal last month to op­pose a 2014 pe­ti­tion in the Supreme Court seek­ing ab­ro­ga­tion of Ar­ti­cle 35A of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Ar­ti­cle 35A, is­sued in 1954 un­der Ar­ti­cle 370, em­pow­ers the J&K leg­is­la­ture to de­fine ‘per­ma­nent res­i­dents’ of the state and their rights and priv­i­leges. As it cur­rently stands, the law bars non-res­i­dents from ac­quir­ing im­mov­able prop­erty in the state, reg­is­ter­ing as vot­ers, and hold­ing jobs in the state gov­ern­ment. Iron­i­cally, the pro­vi­sion repli­cates the 1927 State Sub­ject law in­tro­duced by J&K’s erst­while ruler, Ma­haraja Hari Singh, on per­sis­tent de­mands from lo­cal Do­gras and Kash­miri Pan­dits, who feared los­ing their pre-emi­nent sta­tus in the Do­gra ad­min­is­tra­tion to out­siders from neigh­bour­ing Pun­jab.

An­a­lysts be­lieve Me­hbooba’s un­prece­dented over­ture—not just the meet­ing with the Ab­dul­lahs but also with state Congress lead­ers and other po­lit­i­cal groups in the Val­ley—is clearly meant as a sig­nal to ally BJP. While she has pre­ferred to not speak out on most other is­sues, in­clud­ing the re­cent ar­rest of se­nior Hur­riyat sep­a­ratists on ter­ror-fi­nanc­ing charges (see: The Ter­ror Con­nec­tion), Me­hbooba isn’t minc­ing words on this one. “It’s a chal­lenge for all po­lit­i­cal par­ties in J&K, who swear by the J&K Con­sti­tu­tion and the Con­sti­tu­tion of In­dia. There’s hardly any­thing left in our special sta­tus, and if Ar­ti­cle 35A is tam­pered with, we will cease to ex­ist,” she said af­ter meet­ing the NC lead­ers. She de­scribed the move as a

“death knell” for main­stream po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the Val­ley.

Ear­lier too, on July 28 in New Delhi, Me­hbooba had courted con­tro­versy by say­ing that no one in J&K would carry the na­tional flag if there was any move to tin­ker with the con­sti­tu­tional sta­tus of the state. The NC has taken a firm po­si­tion on the issue. Omar says any de­bate on the le­gal­ity of Ar­ti­cle 35A has to ac­com­pany a de­bate on the ac­ces­sion of J&K to In­dia. Per­haps for the first time, ev­ery main­stream party with a pres­ence in the Val­ley is in agree­ment. “We are all to­gether in this,” said Me­hbooba, ac­cept­ing Fa­rooq’s ad­vice on hold­ing talks with “other like-minded par­ties for a broader sol­i­dar­ity on the issue”. She has an­nounced plans to call an all-party meet­ing in Sri­na­gar.

Sai­fud­din Soz of the Congress has also en­dorsed the moves to build con­sen­sus: “The par­ties have adopted the right stance on Ar­ti­cle 35A,” he says. “The main­stream par­ties in J&K and the Hur­riyat Con­fer­ence are on the same page on this issue.” Per­haps star­tled by Me­hbooba’s ma­noeu­vres, the state BJP unit has­tened to clar­ify that it does not favour “tam­per­ing with any of the con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sions of J&K—Ar­ti­cle 35A or Ar­ti­cle 370”. The party’s cen­tral lead­er­ship, how­ever, re­mained typ­i­cally ret­i­cent.

SONU ME­HTA/GETTY IMAGES

COM­MON CAUSE

J&K chief min­is­ter Me­hbooba Mufti (above) and NC’s Omar Ab­dul­lah (left)

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