Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said on Friday that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s response to her plea that the state’s special status should not be tampered with was “very positive”. Mufti, who met Modi here in the afternoon, said she raised the recent discussion about removal of Articles 35A and 370 during the meeting.
“I told the Prime Minister that J&K is in a difficult condition, and the situation is slowly improving. But the people of J&K feel their identity and their existence is going to be in danger (and that) a message should go out that no such thing is going to happen,” she said. “The response of the Prime Minister was very positive”.
Sources in the PDP, however, said that “an assurance isn’t enough, because the people who are petitioning courts against J&K’s special status are all directly or indirectly affiliated with the Sangh”. A senior PDP leader said, “This issue is extraordinary, and it doesn’t seem that the BJP understands how we view it fully. Article 35A (which grants J&K legislature powers to define the state’s permanent residents) forms a red line for all us. No mainstream political party in J&K, especially with a core base among the majority (Muslim) population, can afford to cross this red line.”
Pointing out that J&K rejected the two-nation theory in 1947 and “shook hands this country”, Chief Minister Mufti said, “When the entire subcontinent was going through a very difficult situation, J&K, despite being a Muslim-majority state, took a different decision and joined our country, Hindustan. J&K is the crown of this country…. The idea of India has to accommodate the idea of J&K.”
She said that J&K has its own “special diversity” and is “different in everything”. “The agenda of alliance between the coalition partners (PDP and BJP) is based on an agreement that there will be a complete status quo on Article 370. We have agreed that there will be no fiddling with Article 370 and the special status enjoyed by the state in the union. And no one among us (BJP or PDP) can do so”.
“(Our situation) is like a person who is trying to his head out of water and you push his head down and drown him,” she said. “That is not helpful at all. Things were returning to normal slowly and slowly. We were trying put balm on wounds, and suddenly a discussion regarding (removal of) Article 35A started. This has had a very negative impact on the situation in J&K. That shouldn’t have happened.”
Mufti had earlier met Home Minister Rajnath Singh. The meeting with the Prime Minister was important also because it comes after Mufti publicly questioned ally BJP on the issue and warned the Centre saying, “if the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir is tampered with, or the Permanent Resident Act (35A) removed, there will be no one to carry the Indian flag in the Valley”.
On Tuesday, Mufti had also driven to the home of arch-rival and National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah to seek support for “safeguarding the special status (of J&K) that is under serious threat”. This was the first such instance where the two major rival parties in J&K have made a common cause on any issue. Mehbooba had called attempts to tamper with Article 35A a “challenge for all political parties in J&K who swear by the J&K Constitution and the Constitution of India”. She had also warned that “it will be a death knell to mainstream” in the state.
A senior PDP leader said that although Modi’s response to Mufti has been positive, “we will get the real answer in a few days”. He said, “If the BJP tones down its rhetoric on Article 35A and J&K’s special status, that will suggest there is a change. This case is coming up for hearing by the end of this month, and we will see whether the Attorney General files a counter-affidavit favouring J&K — that will conclusively tell us how things are going.”
He also said, “The national leadership of BJP has stayed silent on the issue and instead let the J&K unit come out in support of removal of Article 35A. They (BJP national leaders) are telling us that they haven’t done anything and that they can’t do anything in a matter that is in court. But we understand that the issue isn’t legal. It is purely political, and if BJP’s top leadership is committed not to fiddle with J&K’s special status then nothing will happen. We know that petitions being filed one after another do not come out of thin air”.
According to the PDP leader, the Centre has been “playing a snake and ladder game with us ever since we joined this coalition. We move a few steps up, and there is a new challenge that pushes us down by a dozen steps. That has to change, otherwise there is no meaning to this coalition.”
He said, “We are yet to come out of the unrest that started last year and we are in a situation where the majority (of people in the Valley) across party and ideological divide feels that their very existence is under serious threat. The removal of Article 35A does not mean just an end to our special status, it is read and understood as the beginning of a massive demographic change. That makes its ramifications for everyone of us very dangerous.”
When BJP and PDP formed a coalition government in J&K, the two parties agreed not to disturb the “present position on all the constitutional provisions pertaining to J&K” including its “special status” in the Indian constitution. Four months later, an NGO challenged J&K’s permanent resident law, which disallows any non-J&K resident from settling down in the state and buying land or properties, getting government jobs or voting in the assembly polls by questioning the constitutional validity of Article 35A of the Constitution. This provision that empowers the J&K Legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state was added to Article 35 through a Presidential order called “The Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order 1954” and was issued under Article 370. This was a major Presidential order that superseded the first such order issued in 1950 which had provided a framework for the division of the powers between J&K and New Delhi under Article 370.
Subsequently, the J&K Constituent Assembly convened on October 31, 1951 adopted J&K Constitution on November 17, 1956. The J&K Constitution defined the Permanent Resident (PR) of the state: people who are state subjects on May 14, 1954 or those who have been residents of the state for 10 years and have “lawfully acquired immovable property in the state”. However, it empowered the J&K legislature to make any law altering the definition of PR but only if it is passed by a two-third majority.
The PR law wasn’t a new addition but mirrored State Subject law that had been promulgated by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1927. In J&K, every political party that has Muslims as its core base is vehemently opposed to any tampering with the special status. The Sangh outfits, however, are unanimous in their understanding that the only way to permanently end the Kashmir dispute is to alter its demographic makeup by settling people from outside the state within its borders with rights to acquire land and property and voting rights in Assembly polls. In its Assembly election manifesto, the BJP had promised to “provide land at cheap rates for establishment of Sainik Colonies in major towns” so that retired soldiers are settled in the state.