PDP party member Naeem Akhtar, in an opinion article in The Indian Express has said that the scrapping of Article 35-A would close the ‘last opening’ of reconciliation in Kashmir and in South Asia.
“This won’t be the first judicial challenge to the constitutional scheme governing J&K to safeguard local laws of the state, mainly the “state subject law” which was introduced by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1927. This law came in response to apprehensions which prevailed then among the Dogras of Jammu and Kashmiri Pandits having monopoly over government jobs and landed estates about the Punjabi Muslim elite which had started acquiring land and poached on jobs in J&K. After Independence, it became the only tool of residents of J&K to safeguard their identity but many in the rest of the country could not sympathise with this genuine feeling. So it came under judicial challenge time and again but stood the test even of a five-judge constitutional bench,” he writes.
He says that the apprehension is heightened this time round as the Union government, instead of defending the case has left it in the hands of the Supreme Court.
“That can be attributed to the ruling BJP’s agenda of scrapping the special status of the state altogether. The state government under the PDP organised the best possible legal defence but the governor’s administration, in spite of NN Vohra’s deep understanding of the sensitivity of the issue and his empathetic stance, is generally seen as an extension of the Union government. So it seems to an ordinary citizen of the state a lost case, which it may not be, given its strong legal standing,” he says.
He says that there a lot of contemporary factors in the arrangement. Quoting the recent Assam NRC controversy, he asks that ‘If there is a citizenship register for the country, which is good, why can’t a state under the same constitutional scheme have its own citizenship register?’
“The state subject law has served J&K and the country better than its absence would have. The state is a collage of ethnicities, all of which have flourished in a model that should guide other states. Just an example: J&K has almost the same ratio of Muslim and non-Muslim population in reverse order as that of West Bengal. Look at the services of both states for a fair assessment of that claim,” he says.
He calls the secretariat building as ‘a unique building in today’s fractured, exclusivist world, housing officials and clients from all major religions in right proportions, not mirroring symbolic representation like our national institutions’. He states how the Kashmir Administrative Service has more non-Muslims than Muslims.
“Finally, scrapping of the special laws would close the last opening for reconciliation in Kashmir and therefore in South Asia. Handing out a final defeat to people of the state at the hands of their own country would come in a situation where even status quo could mean victory for them, so necessary for redeeming the 70 year-old jumla of winning hearts and minds of Kashmir,” he says.
In the end, he says, “It may only be a judicial issue, but in it could be seeds of the future — whether we continue planting chinars in Kashmir or thorny bushes from the scorched plains of the country.”