Away from the attention that Article 370 usually invites, a section of BJP sympathisers are steadily pushing the party’s less-noticed promise of altering Article 35A of the Constitution, which empowers the J&K government to define “permanent residents” of the state.
The article enables the state to provide special rights and privileges that permanent residents can enjoy but has been criticised by BJP as a provision that encourages alienation, deepens the concept of a separate identity and creates a political gap between J&K and the rest of India. Under the Article, state laws have barred non-residents from purchasing land in the state and the issue is in focus with a Kashmiri woman, Charu Wali Khan, recently filing a petition seeking changes in the constitutional provision as she wanted succession rights though she is settled outside the state.
Responding to her plea, the Supreme Court sent notices to the Centre and state last month. The woman has argued that the state’s laws, flowing from Article 35A, have disenfranchised her. Advocate General K Venugopal told the bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud that the petition against Article 35A raised “very sensitive” questions that required a “larger debate”.
The court referred the matter to a three-judge bench and has set a six-week deadline for final disposal. The bench is likely to deliver its verdict in September first week. Union minister Jitendra Singh said that since the matter was sub judice, one should wait for the court’s verdict. He said the court verdict would be binding on all. State BJP leaders are vocal about their views as they strongly feel that Article 35A should be repealed.
“Article 35A is a constitutional mistake. It was incorporated through a presidential order and not through the parliamentary process,”claimed Surinder Amabardar, BJP MLC from the state. The Centre’s stance seeking a “larger debate” set off alarm bells among a section of politicians in the Kashmir valley, prompting CM Mehbooba Mufti’s outburst during the Foundation Day celebrations of her PDP party. She asserted Article 35A should not be tinkered with, saying there would be no one to hold the tricolour if provisions regarding special status to J&K residents were altered.