Two former J&K Chief Ministers, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti and National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah, Monday warned that any tinkering of Article 35A would trigger political upheaval, with Mufti underlining that “it would be difficult for those who raise the flag of this country to even shoulder it” in the state.
Article 35A bars Indian citizens, other than those who are permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir, from seeking employment, settling in the state, acquiring immovable properties or undertaking any trade or business if the state makes any law to that effect and it cannot be challenged before any court.
Five petitions challenging Article 35A — it was incorporated in the Constitution in 1954 by an order of President Rajendra Prasad on the advice of the Jawaharlal Nehru Cabinet — are before the Supreme Court. The main petition filed by Delhi-based NGO ‘We the Citizens’ has been pending since 2014.
Addressing a press conference in Srinagar, Mufti said: “If anything like that happens (tinkering with Article 35A), its consequences would be — I have said it earlier and my words were not taken well — that it would be difficult for those who raise the flag of this country to even shoulder it. If it (Article 35A) is attacked, I don’t know that which flag the people of Jammu and Kashmir would raise after dropping the Tricolour.”
Calling for a joint strategy, across the mainstream political divide, to safeguard the special position of the state, Mufti said she is already in touch with National Conference. “I am in contact with Omar Abdullah sahib. I have talked to him. We all should sit together to make a strategy, so that Article 35A is not attacked.”
She said that tinkering with Article 35A would delegitimise J&K’s accession to India. “This is a Muslim majority state which acceded to India under certain conditions — and the condition is Article 370 of which Article 35A is a part,” she said. “Any unnecessary fiddling with or tampering with it will undermine and nullify the very contract that legitimises J-K’s accession to India. I want it to be noted down,” she said.
Mufti said it would be a test for the Supreme Court to decide the petitions challenging the special constitutional position of the state. “We have high regard and respect for the Supreme Court. Today is again a test for Supreme Court. I hope that before taking a decision, the Supreme Court will keep in mind that our relation with the country, the bridge is Article 370 and Article 35A is a part of it,” she said.
“Whenever there are elections, Jammu and Kashmir unfortunately becomes part of it in the entire country. Before the 2014 elections, Afzal Guru was sent to the gallows in a hurry. There is no assurance from the Government of India. My humble submission is to the powers in our country, don’t play with fire. It will have dangerous consequences. Because if you fiddle with it, the question then wouldn’t be how to save Article 35A but how to save Jammu and Kashmir,” Mufti said.
Omar Abdullah too said if the special constitutional character of the state is fiddled with, the situation would be worse than Arunachal Pradesh. “If you play with Article 35A in Jammu and Kashmir, the situation would turn worse than Arunachal Pradesh. I am not threatening you. I am telling you the truth. My duty is to warn you, rest is your choice,” he said.
Abdullah said he was told that the J&K government had taken over a city hotel to turn it into the administrative headquarters fearing that the “situation would turn out of control”.