Court Hearing on Validity of Article 35A

Can any person, even if he is a politician of sorts, claim to get a correct feel of the pulse of people of a large and complex state like Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in a matter of few days numbering less than a week.   The state has three distinct regions of Jammu (Hindu dominated), Kashmir valley (Muslim dominated) and lastly Ladakh (Buddhist/Muslims).   Given his time frame of a few days, Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar (MSA) could not have spent more than 24 hours in any of the three regions if one makes allowances for his travelling time. Assuming MSA was on the move and working non-stop for these 24 hours in each region, it is highly improbable that he met a lot of local people with independent opinions. In all probability he only met some of his own party workers who would have convinced him about what he terms in his article titled ‘Explosive Article’ in The Week dated September 16, 2018 as ‘The whole state is simmering; not just the Muslims and separatists, but literally everyone- the Kashmiri Pandits, the Ladakhi Buddhists, the Jammu Dogras and other Hindus.’ The reason for this simmering as per MSA is the mere fixing of the date for hearing of the petition on constitutional validity of Article 35A.  How MSA came to this sweeping conclusion is anybody’s guess since he certainly does not have any known supernatural mind reading powers of the public at large. If he had such powers he and his party would not have got the rude shock they did in the 2014 national elections.

The statement by MSA does need a bit of analysis. When he says Kashmiri Pandits, he is certainly referring to Hindus residing in the valley. Frankly today not many are left in the valley after the forced exodus of 1990-91. The few that are left there live in a state of constant fear from the terrorists, separatists and even locals Muslims. Most of them would have no opinion today since what they say hardly matters in the valley. The properties of those who were forced out have already been taken over by their onetime Muslim brethren and therefore Kashmiri Pandits would hardly have any issue with Article 35A being heard in Supreme Court. Some of them, particularly those still living in the valley, may even welcome its removal if it means a changed demography of the valley in years to come. MSA’s reference to Ladakhi Buddhists too seems to be rather farfetched. Most locals in Ladakh would look for more interaction with rest of India that will invariably translate into more business and employment opportunities for them. As far as their land and resources are concerned, they know that government at the centre is not so short sighted that there will be no safe guards in place if and when Article 35A is repealed. It may not be wrong to assume a similar stance for Ladakhi Muslims since they are not part of any separatist movement in Kashmir. So it is highly unlikely that Kashmiri Pandits or Ladakhi Buddhists are simmering because of the impending hearing of Article 35A.

MSA next talks about Jammu Dogras. By using the term ‘Jammu Dogras’ he is segregating them from Kashmiri Pandits as also giving them a separate identity from rest of Indians – in particular Hindu Indians. That is deliberate and mischievous in intent without any doubt. Anyone who has ever visited Jammu region would realise that people of the region are as much Indians as anyone else in any other part of the nation. The people in the region understand and believe in the fact that they are part of India and their future lies in a unified India. Therefore for most of them Article 35A is hardly an issue. It is also true that they may lose a little if this article is abolished, but the region as a whole would rather pay that price than be either part of an independent or Pakistan controlled Jammu & Kashmir. So Mr Aiyar’s pronunciation of Jammu Dogras simmering because of Article 35A is not plausible at all.

That leaves the Muslims and separatists from the list given by MSA. For separatists it really does not matter whether Article 35A exists or does not exist. After all they are either looking for a J & K that is part of Pakistan or is an independent state depending on which outfit they belong to. Therefore Article 35A has no relevance to their cause. That leaves the Muslims in the state or more precisely in the valley region. Yes, they would certainly be worried or in MSA’s words simmering. If Article 35A is done away with, the obvious next move by the government may be to bring the evicted Pandits back in the valley. That would certainly not go well with local Muslims who were a party to the forced eviction of Pandits from their ancestral homes. If the Government brings in some outsiders, albeit in a controlled manner, that too would be seen by local Muslims as part of a sinister design to change region’s demography even if government’s intentions were noble and aimed at development of the region. Local Muslims will be sceptical of any move by the government irrespective of the intent. Removal of Article 35A would also mean bringing the region progressively within the overall framework of governance of the nation including applicability of taxes. That once again would become a soar issue since of J&K has enjoyed too many privileges including tax exemptions for too long. Yes, Mr Aiyar, Muslims in the valley will fume, simmer and protest – you have got that part absolutely right. But that necessarily does not imply that it is also right as far as the nation is concerned.

It is surprising that MSA forgets that J&K is not the only state where there are restrictions for non domiciles to own property or to take up local government jobs. States in North East too have similar if not exactly same provisions. Even states like Himachal Pradesh have many restrictions for non domiciles. Yet all those states are part of Indian Union and their interests are protected. If that be so there is no reason why J&K and its subjects will not get similar protection. Can anyone in his right mind even think for a moment that it will be a free for all in J&K the moment Article 35A goes away? For someone like MSA who was a cabinet minister at the centre it is indeed very naive to think so. But then for Mr Aiyar BJP bashing comes above everything else – even if it means spreading false canards that may affect the nation adversely. Claiming that fate of J&K will be similar to the fate of Pakistan occupied Gilgit – Baltistan if Article 35A is repealed is as farfetched as hoping India and Pakistan would be one nation again at some point of time in the future.

For over seven decades J&K has continued to enjoy a very special status. The fact that J&K is part of India irrespective of what Pakistan, United Nations or anyone else thinks too is irrefutable. Therefore at some point the state will have to be integrated within the Indian Union to bring it at par with other states barring a few special provisions as required. It will be futile to wait for a good time to consider such integration since some dissent and unhappiness will always be there. There is another important fact to be understood in this regard. For the integration process to be put in motion, it will be imperative to have a very strong and committed leadership at the centre that not only has a vision but also the courage to uphold national interests above everything else. This is where Mr Aiyar and his party have always failed despite having ruled the nation for over six decades. Such leadership traits have always been alien to Congress’ leadership barring may be Mrs Indira Gandhi. Is it any wonder then that Mr Aiyar has the views that he has?

Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.

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