As the petition seeking the repeal of Article 35A is coming up for hearing in the Supreme Court next week, Kashmir has been gripped by tension. Separatist groups, mainstream parties, traders and business bodies have threatened to launch an agitation if the Act was tinkered with.
The possibility of a repeal of Article 35A — which grants special privileges and rights to the permanent residents of J&K and debars non-residents from buying land or property, getting government jobs, or voting in the Assembly elections in the state — has evoked strong resentment in the volatile region.
The latest to join the bandwagon to defend Article 35A are 27 organisations of traders, businessmen, industrialists, hoteliers, transporters and fruit growers who warned that the “hereditary state-subject law of Jammu and Kashmir will be protected at any cost”.
“This matter is related to the life and death of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and we all are ready to spill our blood to safeguard this law,” the traders warned on Monday.
The Article 35A — incorporated in the Constitution in 1954 — has been in the eye of a storm for the past several years since a petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking its repeal. The petition was filed by a New Delhi-based NGO, We the Citizens, before the Supreme Court in 2014 and is scheduled for hearing on August 6.
Residents fear the repeal of the Article would threaten the majority status of Muslims in the region and also open a floodgate for non-locals to purchase property and settle in the state, which is illegal under the existing law.
The fear has been accentuated by the separatist and mainstream leaders, including legislators, who have warned of an agitation against attempts “to tinker” with the law.
“Any attempt to tinker with the distinctive status of Jammu and Kashmir will be opposed tooth and nail,” said Aijaz Mir, a Peoples Democratic Party legislator from south Kashmir.
Congress legislator from north Kashmir Usman Majid said: “If Article 35A is scrapped, it will engulf whole India. If Article 35A is scrapped, it will lead to a civil war in Kashmir. If the BJP and RSS think that this war will remain restricted to Kashmir, they are living in a fool’s paradise,” Majid said.
“If they do (repeal the law), they will invite trouble for entire India and the region. Article 35A is our right and we will not tolerate any attempt to fiddle with it,” said Majid, who is also a former minister.
While mainstream political leaders have adopted the rhetoric of separatists and are issuing threats to launch an agitation, the separatist leaders have called for a two-day shutdown in the region and have described any attempt to change or repeal the law as a “serious assault launched against the people of Kashmir”.
“We want to make it clear that Kashmiris will not take this attack on them lying down. Any and every attempt made at changing the demographic nature of the state will be resisted,” three key separatist leaders warned in a joint statement.
Setting aside their differences and business rivalries, representatives of 27 Kashmir-based trade and industry bodies on Monday vowed to protest against all attempts being made to abrogate Article-35 A, which they fear will dilute the special status enjoyed by Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370.
The representatives from tourism, horticulture, transport and industry also urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the petition challenging Article 35-A as the litigation “was adding fuel to Kashmir unrest and that fiddling with the case would be catastrophic”.
The Supreme Court on August 6 is scheduled to hear the case challenging the Article 35A, which empowers the state legislature to define permanent residents of the state.
Present at a joint press conference, more than two dozen trade leaders extended their support to the two-day strike call given by the Joint Resistance Leadership on August 5, 6.
Members of the business fraternity said different trade bodies would be holding protests to safeguard the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
Industrialist and spokesman of the joint body of Kashmir Inc. Mubeen Shah said no counter filed by Government of India to a PIL challenging validity of Article 35A showed its “complicity”.
“Earlier all such petitions would get dismissed before their admission by the Supreme Court only because of the prompt and appropriate defense by successive governments at New Delhi. This time a situation has come up when the Government of India has bizarrely declined to defend its own provision of the Constitution as it has not filed any counter to the PIL,” Shah said.
Shah said tampering with Article 35A will snatch the rights of the original citizens of Jammu and Kashmir regarding immovable property and other facets.
“Outsiders would be afforded a right to establish their settlements in length and breadth of the state pushing away the original citizens. It is pertinent to say that the purpose behind this PIL is devious to change the demographic character of J&K and alter the nature of dispute that is internationally recognized,” Shah said.
“This matter is related to the life and death of the people of Jammu Kashmir and we all are ready to spill our blood to safeguard this law,” he said.
President Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation Muhammad Yaseen Khan said instead of listing the hearing of the “sensitive case”, the Supreme Court should dismiss the petition of the NGO “We The Citizens”.
“Like other Kashmiris we have always sacrificed for the cause of Kashmir and we won’t mind to sacrifice everything including our trade when our existence is at stake,” Khan said.
Khan said the petitions aimed at weakening the special status of the state and changing its demographic nature in accordance with “interests of right wing elements” had been taking shape for the past four years.
“Timing of such cases looks conspiring. Any fiddling with Article 35A will only push people of the state toward a do or die situation and onus of any such extreme step will lie on New Delhi,” Khan warned.
The organisations that were present at the press conference included Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries, both factions of Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation and Kashmir Economic Alliance, Kashmir Economic Alliance, two factions of Federation Chamber of Industry of Kashmir, Jammu Kashmir Socio Economic Coordination Committee, Kashmir Economic Forum, Jammu and Kashmir Contractors’ Coordination Committee, Kashmir Center for Social and Development Studies (KCSDS), J&K JCCOPS, Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers and Dealers Union, Western Bus Service, Haji-Pir Transport Company, Kashmir Motor Drivers Association , Western Motor Transport Company, New Kashmir Transport Company, Star Transport Company, Tourist Taxi Operators Association. Joint Coordination Committee of Taxi Associations Parimpora, All Kashmir Auto Rickshaw Drivers Association, Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Association, JK Hoteliers Club, Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industries Kashmir, House Boat Owners Association, Batamaloo Traders Association and All Traders Joint Coordination Committee Batamaloo.
A joint statement issued by the Kashmir Inc said “ Our state subject laws have been under attack ever since a PIL was filed by RSS-backed NGO ‘We the Citizens’ and admitted by the Supreme Court of India that challenges the validity of Article 35A of Indian constitution. It needs to be reminded that Article 35A affords a protective shield to the hereditary state subject law of Jammu and Kashmir that is in existence since 1927.”
“After admission of this petition, the Supreme Court also took cognisance of four other petitions filed by various groups and individuals and clubbed all these with the main petition. History is witness to the fact that Article 35A was enacted in the Constitution of India in the year 1954 and since then several petitions were filed by different groups and individuals to challenge this Act,” the statement reads.