The recent coming-together of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and leader of opposition Omar Abdullah surprised many. The fact that both – Mufti of J&K PDP and Omar of NC – had to step on the same political platform and sing the same tune, is an evidence of the anxiety that has gripped these parties in the recent spate of events. Triggered by a writ petition filed by an NGO to the Supreme Court, the said article; Article 35A was sought to be struck down. The petition said that government, under guise of Articles 35A and 370, has been discriminating against non-residents who cannot have any property rights in J&K, and neither can get government jobs, nor can vote in local election.
The apex court has directed the central government to explain the legal aspects and its standing in the proposed annulment of the said article. Centre, in July responded by saying the matter has to be taken, by interpreting the law, by a three judge bench.
J&K being an integral part of India, cannot and should not be placed in a position where the state government is bestowed with powers so large, so as to have discriminatory practises. Article 35A was inserted in Constitution in 1954 through a presidential order which gives the state to decide ‘permanent residents’ of J&K. With the BJP government at centre, which has time and again made clear their wishes to repeal article 370, the abrogation of 35A might serve as a precursor to what lies ahead.
Both NC and J&K PDP are dead against even the debate to repeal Article 35A, let alone the repeal itself. Both have warned of mass protests and a complete alienation of Indian state among the youth as a repercussion of any such step.
The reason that they are putting forward is, that the repeal of the article 35A will lead to an influx of settlers from outside J&K which will change the demography of the valley. Neither do they have any convincing data to support the claim, nor are they being logical in opposing the repeal; because if repealed, it has huge potential for the economic growth of the region.
A quick analysis of the demography of J&K throws some startling facts. From 1961 to 2011 the Muslim population, as a percentage of whole, has remained constant at 68.31%. The Hindu population has dwindled a bit to 28.43%. The horrific crimes against Kashmiri Pandits led to their exodus, properties of which were bought by other Muslims and not by Hindus of Jammu or Ladakh.
The valley has refused to allocate land for ex-servicemen of the region, Pakistani migrants and Kashmiri Pandits. The empirical evidence is a blow for the claims made by both the valley based parties. Further, the article 35A and article 370 are discriminatory to all Non- Kashmiri Indians, and all Kashmiri women. If a Kashmiri woman gets married to an outsider, she would no longer be a Kashmiri, which is not the case with a male. Same would happen with the progenies of a couple having just one member Kashmiri. This is in disagreement with articles 14, 15, 16 and 19; all of which give rights based on place of birth. A migrant to Pakistan is still a state subject, while those immigrating in Kashmir from outside (other than POK) are not. Further, opening up the state to outsider funding and property rights would ensure long overdue development of the local population – ones trying to do business and live a prosperous life – not the ones pelting stones. There are many practical flaws in the article but it still enjoys the support of regional political party for obvious reasons.
The reality is that the regional parties like NC and PDP fear to lose the support of Muslims of the valley.
This is not the first time, that absolute majoritarianism has been witnessed in the region. In 2008, Muslim majority population amounting to lakhs erupted to violently protest a harmless gesture by the government to allocate 0.4 square kms of land to Amarnath Shrine Board. The land donation was supposed to benefit the Hindu pilgrims in their journey to one of the most pious and holy place of worship. The Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb went for a toss in the valley which has more than 95% Muslim population. The majoritarian society which is not ready to give a land area as small as 0.4 square kms would never agree to let go of their privileges which they have been enjoying as a result of the treaties that Nehru signed. This is the eventuality that both NC and PDP sees, is what makes them reluctant to even discuss the repeal.
Kashmir is 95% Muslim. Jammu is 66% Hindu and rest are Muslims. Ladakh, the third distinct region is Buddhist majority with Muslims coming close by in numbers. The state of J&K is actually a cluster of distinct areas, people with different ethnicity and religion. Overall, Muslims are the majority in Kashmir and decisions are forced on the minority population since independence. The debate which might lead to repeal of the special status enjoys full support of both Hindus in Jammu and Buddhists in Ladakh. It is the Muslims of the valley who are in majority who have held the long due process to ransom in domineering acts. The regional parties, NC and PDP are reluctant to consult representatives of Jammu – BJP – and that of Ladakh – Congress – fearing that their unfair demands would be discarded.
With BJP being the largest party in both the houses, and also a part of J&K government; it is high time they initiate the process of debate on articles 370 and 35A. The illusion of article 370 being untouchable has long been shed with Supreme Court snubbing the clamours of J&K high court’s assertion of ‘sovereignty’ of the state and its statement that constitution of J&K is equal to constitution of India. The regional parties will vouch for their vote banks, but a just decision needs to be taken to end the discriminatory practises and let interests of people of Jammu and Ladakh not get subdued by the clannish demands of people from valley.