Article 35A fallout: MLA Engineer Rashid says ready to join Hurriyat
“I am ready to join Hurriyat,” read the headline of the press statement issued by the J&K legislator Engineer Rashid.
The statement was issued in response to Hurriyat G chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s call for the mainstream politicians “to join pro-freedom ranks”. It came in the wake of the apprehended repeal of the Article 35A which forbids outsiders to settle and buy land in the state.
A petition challenging Article 35A is due to come up for a fresh hearing in Supreme Court.
On 18 July, a division bench of Chief Justice JS Khehar and Justice DY Chandrachud had referred the petition to a three-judge bench and set six weeks for its final disposal.
While Attorney General of India KK Venugopal represented the central government, senior advocate and the constitutional expert Fali S Nariman assisted by J&K’s Advocate General Jahangir Iqbal Ganai represented J&K.
A bigger betrayal?
However, with the central government refusing to file a counter-affidavit to defend the law, there is a widespread disquiet in Valley about the court’s decision. The general thinking is that the case is part of a larger conspiracy to deprive J&K of its already hollowed-out special constitutional status under Article 370.
The Article 35A is considered as the lynchpin of the state’s special status as it protects the existing Muslim majority character of the state. The constitutional safeguards were granted to the state as part of its negotiations to join the Government of India as against Pakistan in 1947.
The anticipated repeal of the Article 35A has now galvanised the politics in the state with the ruling PDP, the opposition National Conference and some other smaller Valley-based parties making a common cause against “the attempt to scrap it”. Engineer Rashid’s Awami Ittehad Party is one of them.
“It is not the time to blame each other but work for a resolution of Kashmir dispute and stop New Delhi from carrying out annihilation of the state’s special status. New Delhi is working towards changing the disputed nature of J&K,” Rashid said while addressing a hastily called press conference here.
“Geelani Sahab’s appeal to mainstream parties carries significance and relevance and sincere voices need to respond,” Rashid added.
Rashid said that he had met Geelani Sahab several times over the last eight years and offered him his support.
“This Geelani Sahab has also endorsed through his statement some three years ago,” Rashid said adding that Mirwaiz Molvi Omer Farooq had also expressed support for his politics.
“Mirwaiz has also said that he (Rashid) is working for fulfilling aspirations of people. He also said that pro-freedom leadership and he are on the same page regarding (Kashmiris’) right to self-determination,” Rashid said.
Rashid appealed to “other saner voices” in mainstream politics to take Geelan’s offer seriously. He also said that he was seeking an appointment with Geelani, Mirwaiz, Yasin Malik and other separatist leaders so that the offer could be discussed with sincerity.
“I am open to the idea of even quitting the Assembly, in order to represent the aspirations of Kashmiris, if Geelani Sahab has some concrete roadmap to offer,” Rashid said.
Considering all odds
Earlier on Tuesday, Chief Minister Mehbooba drove to the residence of the National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah to discuss the ways to preempt the revocation of Article 35A. Abdullah asked Mehbooba to “lead the campaign” and create a wider political consensus over the issue both within and outside the state.
Ever since, other opposition leaders have also held consultations with Mehbooba. State Congress chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir too has assured that his party would extend full support to the government over the issue.
Mehbooba has already warned the Centre against the repeal of the law and cautioned about its detrimental fallout on the mainstream politics in the state. She has said, in no uncertain terms, that any tinkering with Article 35A will make it difficult for the mainstream “to shoulder the Indian flag” in Kashmir. Other leaders of the party have also openly voiced their dissent.
“If the court rules against it, the article will be gone. Technically, we won’t be able to do much. We are rallying the public opinion and using all the legal means at our disposal, that is all we can do,” top PDP leader and the state government spokesman Naiem Akhtar told Catch.
“We believe in democratic methods. We believe in the Constitution of India. We are not separatists. We can’t pick up guns. We will use all methods. We hope we succeed in preventing the repeal as that will be a disaster,” Akhtar said.
When asked what could happen if the Article 35A goes, Akhtar said the fallout could be far-reaching. “It is not only Jammu and Kashmir which will suffer. The entire country, in my opinion, will have to contend with its fallout,” he explained.
And to the question about a possible revocation’s effect on the mainstream politics in the state, Akhtar said it will deal a severe blow to their credibility and render them redundant. “It will leave us nowhere. There will be only one stream then. There will be no mainstream. It will sweep off everybody. It is an existential threat,” he said.
The other side
On the other hand, noted J&K lawyer Zafar Shah expressed grave fears about the continuance of the Article 35A.
“The state needs to worry. As I said there is a paradox here. While the state government, in which the BJP is a partner, has filed a counter affidavit in the Supreme Court against the NGO’s petition, the BJP-ruled Centre has decided against it. Therefore, the state government needs to be cautious,” Shah said.
“Previously, whenever such petitions were filed, the central government took a clear-cut stand. But this time, the response of the central government has made the position ambiguous,” he added.
Shah said that given the nature of Article 35A, the Supreme Court should dismiss the petition. “But we must realise that judicial decisions are unpredictable. The state government must work hard on its arguments,” he said adding that the other stakeholders who want to safeguard the state’s special status need also to make representations before the Supreme Court.
“The state can only present arguments. But whether or not the special status remains or not is, to a large extent, in the hands of the central government,” Shah added.
Now Rashid’s announcement that he is ready to join Hurriyat has lent some drama to the ongoing political tumult in the state.
But the BJP, on the other hand, remains defiant.
“The time has come when the people of Jammu and Kashmir should say goodbye to Article 370 and ask the Government of India to revoke Article 35 A,” J&K BJP spokesperson Prof Virender Gupta said in a statement.
“The prevailing situation in the Valley shows that the Article 370 has created a separatist psyche and acts as a breeding ground for separatist emotion,” Gupta added.
Meanwhile, Mehbooba Mufti met with PM Modi today (Friday) in Delhi to discuss the issue.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen