‘One aspect of J&K that irks the BJP is the inability of people from outside states to buy land in the state’

  • Mudasir Ali
  • Publish Date: Aug 19 2017 10:23PM
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  • Updated Date: Aug 19 2017 10:23PM
‘One aspect of J&K that irks the BJP is the inability of people from outside states to buy land in the state’

                                                        Photo: Mubashir Khan/KI

Former chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir Omar Abdullah tells Kashmir Ink that the move to abolish Article 35A is part of "a much larger game" geared to change the special position of J&K. He thinks that the centre’s refusal to file a counter-affidavit in Supreme Court against the petition challenging the state subject law leaves it vulnerable to repeal. He also blames J&K Government for putting up a weak legal defence of the law. Excerpts:

The state government asserts it has put in best defense in the battle for protection of Article 35A. Your comments?

Their defense is extremely weak and has far too many gaps for other side to exploit and leaves us highly vulnerable to 35-A being overturned. I beg to differ when the government says that they have put the best defense. I believe that the counter affidavit filed by the government in the Supreme Court is extremely weak. The arguments that could have been made and should have been made are not being brought out as forcefully as should have been done.


Have you gone through the counter affidavit filed by the state in the Supreme Court?

Yes, I have read the counter affidavit. I have also gone through the petition that has challenged the Supreme Court. As a layman if I feel that this defense is weak, I am sure that lawyers and the judges will feel the same.


How do you see the government of India’s decision not to support state’s stand in the SC for dismissal of the petition?

The state government’s position is made worse by the fact that New Delhi has not become a party to defending Article 35-A. The centre’s support to the state government would have made the state’s case much stronger. But New Delhi’s decision not to support the state’s position renders our case that much weaker.


There are petitions being heard by the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court challenging J&K’s special position as well as the state subject laws. There are also allegations that the brain behind these petitions is BJP and other right wing groups which have a long standing demand for abrogation of Article 370. Do you think there is a link?

Of course, there is no denying. If you see the background of these organisations that are filing the cases, there is clear link between them and BJP and its related organisations. Take for example the case of Article 35A. It is obvious that the people who are behind it have links with BJP, RSS, VHP and Sangh Parivar. And the government of India’s silence on the issue suggests it’s not just the think-tank operating in isolation but a much larger game that is aimed at changing the special position of J&K.


And is this game being played for 2018 general elections in India?

In shorter terms yes, this game is being played for 2019. But in longer terms it will have foreseeable implications on future of Jammu and Kashmir.


Has the focus of these rightwing groups shifted towards Article 35A because they know it that Article 370 can’t be altered?

The BJP knows it quite well that there is no legislative rule to overturn Article 370 without dismembering accession of J&K to Union of India. The one aspect of J&K that irks the BJP and its supporters is the inability of people from outside states to buy land in the state. For that to change, they don’t need to alter Article 370. They just need Article 35A to be struck down and that is what they are doing. It is a move to change demography of the state and it will happen when people from outside will buy land in the state.


If Article 35A is scrapped will it have impact on larger political question of Kashmir?

The implication will be everywhere to be seen. People from outside will buy land, apply for jobs here. It will have disastrous impact and then it will have an impact on larger question of Kashmir issue.


The Chief Minister has shown willingness to work with opposition parties for drumming up support for protection of Article 35A. She also met National Conference President Farooq Abdullah to discuss the issue. Do you see it as a good beginning?     

The state government was late to wake up to the threat to Article 35A and that too only after I raised the issue in the Assembly. The government had left defending the case to the standing counsel who is not qualified to fight a case like this. The Chief Minister has recognized that she can’t take the issue lightly, but it took the meeting by the opposition parties on Article 35A for her to realise the gravity of the situation.


Don’t you think the issue demands that mainstream parties should unite in this fight?

The responsibility lies with Mehbooba as head of the state and an ally of BJP to convince the government of India to become a party to the case in the apex court and also convince BJP that it needs to ensure withdrawal of the petition against Article 35A from the court. She definitely needs to do these two things. If anybody is in the position to exercise the authority or some sort of forcing, it is the Chief Minister as she is an ally of the government…it is she who needs to explain why her authority and her recommendations are not working.  We are in the Opposition. We can at best highlight the issue and agitate over it. She (Mehbooba) is an ally of BJP and BJP is the one which is for abrogation for the Article 35A. How is it our fault? If it was a united fight, the state government would have involved us earlier.  When I raised the issue in the Assembly a year ago, that time the Chief Minister gave a wishy-washy commitment that her government will ensure special status of J&K is protected.


You have said it on couple of occasions that any debate on Article 35A will reopen the debate on accession. What does it mean?  

It is hypothetical but feasible to assume that if special status wouldn’t have been granted to J&K the accession would not have taken place. Therefore any debate on Article 35-A would reopen the debate around accession of J&K to Union of India. If you are debating special status, you are in effect reopening the debate around accession. The fact that the special status was required for accession to take place means that accession and special status are two sides of the same coin. You can’t alter or debate one without seeking to alter or debate the other.


What will be the fallout of the scrapping of the Article 35 A?

The Article 35A is a ring fence around the state subject laws and other special privileges enjoyed by the citizens of J&K. Therefore its scrapping will have huge ramifications. We will lose all the privileges. The reaction will be instantaneous and automatic. You will not have to agitate the people as there will be massive outpouring and anger on the streets against the move to alter demographic character of the state. The coming together of the opposition parties and the subsequent meeting of the Chief Minister with the National Conference president and leaders of other opposition parties indicates the gravity of the situation and shows how serious the issue is. That tells us how serious crisis, both legally and constitutionally, J&K is facing.


The Hurriyat leaders have warned the government of India against any tinkering with the Article 35A?

I don’t understand why they would agitate over Article 35A when they don’t recognize the Constitution of India. How does it matter to them what happens to the Article 35A? Why are they agitating about this constitutional provision when they don’t recognize the Constitution at the first place? It is the mainstream parties who will agitate as we profess to support that Constitution and we believe that solution must be found in the Constitution.


But it is an issue that concerns everybody?

They didn’t protest on GST but on Article 35A they profess to take stand on the Constitution they don’t believe in. Why did (Syed Ali Shah) Geelani surrender on GST? What deal did he strike with the government then? He is the same person who during my tenure threatened agitation on property tax when we were discussing it in Assembly but surrendered on GST.