35-A

As D-Day over 35-A approaches, floodgates might open in ‘indifferent’ Jammu, Ladakh

Cartoon: Anis Wani.

Tensions are rising in Jammu and Kashmir as verdict on Article 35-A is coming up on August 6. While any tinkering with the state subject law is seen as New Delhi’s new Frankenstein in Kashmir, it’s the deafening silence of Jammu and Ladakh which betrays the Valley’s vociferous campaign on the issue.

Behind many media-peddled myths and misconceptions, the situation is indeed going south in Jammu. After massively and decisively voting BJP to power in 2014, the region is now buckling under the rising Sangh sway.

Lately, when a veteran editor from the valley went for his business as usual in the city of temples, he could hear a growing-disturbing whisper.

“I met some traders and politicians there, and to my surprise, many of them were blaming BJP for the mess in the state,” the editor, sounding doomsayer, said. “A couple of them even cursed RSS bigwig Shama Prasad Mookerjee as well as the person who invited and introduced him to Kashmir!”

But the discussion flipped once they came to know that a Muslim journalist from Kashmir was around.

The editor’s experience perhaps acts as a window to peep into the shifting psyche in a part of the region mainly dominated by the Baniya community driven by business interests. The community’s silence on the issue is linked with their massive mandate to the party they voted for, and is now at the forefront of the Article 35-A abrogation campaign—BJP.

But many are already questioning Jammu’s silence over the issue, as they believe the region will bear the brunt once the ‘flood gates’ are opened.

“The people of Jammu could not even tolerate a few thousand Rohingyas,” said Mohammad Yaseen Khan, prominent valley-based trade leader. “One can only imagine the situation when an onslaught of lakhs will descend upon them.”

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The way things are shaping up at the moment, make it a Kashmir-centric campaign, said Khan, a strong votary of Article 35-A.

“But the matter concerns the entire state,” Khan said. “Therefore, the government of India will have to think a thousand times before tinkering with it.” In the face of the valley’s rising rage, other parts have started reacting as well.

Many meaningful voices from Pir Panjal region and Kargil have assured their support to Kashmir campaigners, Khan said. “They’re in constant touch with us and are backing the campaign.”

ALSO READ: Protesters in Poonch march against assault on Article 35-A, raise Aazadi slogans, to follow Hurriyat call

His own inputs and interactions with varied voices from Jammu make Khan certain that a vocal minority affiliated with the BJP-RSS camp is speaking for the silent majority in state’s winter capital.

“Majority in Jammu, Poonch and Rajouri districts understand it well that if the state subject law is fiddled with, they’ll be the biggest losers,” Khan said.

While BJP has always maintained that the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Ladakh are different from Kashmir, however, in this case, some of their representatives beg to differ.

“Ladakh will definitely suffer, if the law is tampered with,” said Nawang Rigzin Jora, former state minister and Congress MLA from Leh. “This is a very big issue as it is related to our identity. It will allow the non-state subjects to come here and settle down and take away the economic opportunities which actually belong to the locals of Ladakh.”

The lawmaker fears that the outsiders will cash in on the opportunities in the state’s tourism sector and take away the privileges which are exclusively available to the locals at the moment. Jora’s state Congress boss seconds him.

If the ‘floodgates’ are opened, said GA Mir, state Congress president, Jammuities will be the biggest losers — not only economically, but culturally as well.

“Unofficially they know that nobody is going to tamper or abolish it,” Mir said. “Because till now the government of India has been in JK’s favour. Even the Home Minister on his recent JK visit said that the state’s special status won’t be tampered with.”

Mir said Congress’ big Jammu cadre is firmly backing the Article 35-A. “Many in Jammu understand it well that the law is the only strength provided to the region. They know that if the floodgates are opened, Jammu and Ladakh will lose more.”

ALSO READ: Hearing on Article 35A: Is the State Govt’s defence ‘extremely weak’?

But as things are turning out, abrogation of Article 35-A mainly seems to satisfy BJP’s vote-bank politics. Ever since its advent to power in Delhi, BJP has been talking about the removal of Article 370, 35-A. In fact, when the BJP-PDP coalition government was formed in JK in 2015, BJP leader and MoS Home, Jitendra Singh said they’ve started working on the abrogation of JK’s special status.

Even as the newly-appointed state BJP chief Ravinder Raina called the Article 35-A a ‘constitutional blunder’ lately, the Save Article 35-A campaigners from Kashmir filed a couple of counter-affidavits in Indian Apex Court, seeking dismissal of the Sangh-sponsored petitions.

Already Kashmir’s Biz Community has charted out a week-long protest calendar against what’s being termed as a ‘judicial attack on the special status of the state’. The protest has been supported by the Joint Resistance Leadership, too.

Amid all this, a talk in the town is that the Supreme Court of India might refer the case to a larger bench for a ‘larger debate’.

“But how come the Supreme Court can reopen the case after 48 years even after a large bench of the top court has already unanimously decided to protect the Article 35-A,” said Sampat Prakash, veteran trade union leader, during a protest in Srinagar against the ‘judicial assault’.

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As the first person who defended the Article 35-A, Prakash was detained in 1968 after he filed a writ petition over the law, when a large bench comprising eleven judges was constituted. “Attempt to remove it is a conspiracy of the Hindu nationalists headed by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It has to be saved, otherwise a French Revolution like situation will arise in the State,” he warned.

But as the ire is intensifying and the road ahead looks twisted, the Kashmir-based editor—who lately returned from Jammu after mapping a ‘shifted mood’—believes that despite the majority’s silence on the ‘judicial assault’, “BJP