Rifts between the PDP and BJP, alliance partners in Jammu and Kashmir, have widened, with the former joining ranks with the opposition parties like National Conference and Congress to oppose the latter’s move to abrogate Article 35A of the Constitution, that may allow people from outside the state to own properties and work in government jobs.
The National Conference called for a meeting to resist any such moves, while Congress termed it a consistent effort by the BJP government at the Centre to end special status accorded to the state.
This new-found bonhomie between PDP, NC and Congress comes after the central government pleaded before the Supreme Court that it was ready to have a discussion on the scrapping of Article 35A, while the state government opposed such a move.
State BJP leaders have maintained that the provision is discriminatory since it bars people from outside the state to own properties in Jammu and Kashmir, which prompted a furious reaction from Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who said that tampering with the state’s subject rights would ensure there was “nobody left in Kashmir to hold the Indian flag”.
Even as the Superme Court has put off a hearing on the contentious petition challenging 35A to September, the issue has already snowballed into a major controversy. NC and PDP have both warned of an agitation, while BJP has said political parties are raking up the issue to ensure that there was a “bloodbath” in Kashmir.
BJP chief spokesman Sunil Sethi told Firstpostthat “there were some political parties which are inciting the people”. “There is no move to alter the state’s constitutional position, but efforts are being made to give an impression that the Constitution is being altered. They are inciting people, because these parties are left without any agenda. Whether it is NC or some other political party, they want people to come on roads,” he said.
He added that if the NC or Congress had a point to make, they may do so before the apex court rather than incite people on religious or regional lines.
Former chief minister and NC working president Omar Abdullah warned the state would face a much bigger agitation than what was witnessed in 2008 over transfer of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board, which was perceived by the separatists as a ploy to change the demographic character of the state.
Article 35A, which was introduced in the Constitution through a Presidential Order in 1954, confers special property and settlement rights on the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Constitutional expert Shiekh Showkat said, “The Constitution gives every citizen of the country the right to reside in any part of the country. Our state subject law can be challenged on that basis. However, that is protected under Article 35A.”
Article 35A bars non-state subjects from being employed with the state government, acquisition of immovable property in the state, and settlement and right to get scholarships and other forms of aid which the state government provides.
Jammu and Kashmir, which has its own constitution, defines the rights of the state subjects. As per the state constitution, anybody who on 14 May 1954, was the state subject of Class I or of Class II type or had acquired immovable property in the state and has been a permanent resident of the state shall have the special property rights.
The constitution also recognised the rights of those who have moved to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and it was envisaged that “any person who before 14 May, 1954, was a state subject of Class I or of Class II, and who having migrated after the first day of March 1947 to the territory now included in Pakistan, returns to the state under a permit for resettlement in the state or for permanent return issued by or under the authority of any law made by the state legislature, shall on such return be a permanent resident of the state”.
Showkat said that Class I and Class II state subjects were those “who received rights of permanent residence through naturalisation”.
The state constitution also referred to the Dogra era rule notification No 1-L/84 of 20 April, 1927, and 1932, to define the class of state subjects. As per the order, Class I state subjects are persons born and residing within the state before the commencement of the reign of Maharaja Ghulab Singh and persons who settled here before the commencement of Hindu ‘samvat’ year of 1942. Class-II state subjects are persons who settled within the state before the close of ‘samvat’ year 1968, and have since permanently resided and acquired immovable property. Furthermore, a bill to make a provision to define or alter the definition of the classes of persons who are, or shall be, permanent residents of the state has to be passed by the majority of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of the legislative Assembly.
State Congress vice-president GN Monga said that efforts at abrogating Article 35A are part of BJP’s policy to end special status of the state. “Any move to abrogate Article 35A would be opposed tooth and nail. Since BJP came to power, a sustained movement has been launched to weaken the special status of the state.”
Sethi accused the Opposition parties of trying to “flare up passions”. “The accession of the state took place much before 35A was introduced. Other states have also acceded with India. Neither scrapping of Article 370 or Article 35A will effect the accession of the state. Jammu and Kashmir has acceded with the Indian Union, which is final and non-negotiable,” he said.