As the Supreme Court begins hearing later this month a petition challenging Article 35A of the Constitution, which ensures special status for Jammu and Kashmir, a BJP MLA from the state has lent support to the law and indicated that the BJP is backing abrogation of Article 35A to get votes in rest of the country.
Gagan Bhagat, the MLA from RS Pura, in Jammu division, has asked people of Jammu, where many are believed to be in favour of the law being struck down, to discuss the issue and raise their voice in support of Article 35A.
Addressing a small group of party workers, Bhagat said, “Ab party toh khadi hai ki hum hatayengey hi. Kyun hatayengey, mai bataunga – kyunki bachaney ke liye uskey pas Jammu-Kashmir hai, lekin leney ke liye unko pura Hindustan hai. Unhonay 300 seaton ki baat karni hai, aap ki do seaton ki baat nahi karni. Agar Jammu se aap log vote nahi bhi dalogey unko farak nahi padega (The party is adamant in having it abrogated. I’ll tell you why – the party has only J&K to save but it has to take care of the entire country. It does not have to speak for only two Parliamentary seats in Jammu, but for 300 seats across the country. It is not going to affect them even if people of Jammu do not vote for them).”
Bhagat confirmed to The Sunday Express that he made the remarks supporting continuation of Article 35A.
Sunil Sethi, BJP’s chief spokesperson in J&K and chairman of the party’s disciplinary committee, on Saturday said, “He has ridiculed the party and the high command. Such activities are intolerable…. I have informed the party president; he is seized of the matter.” He said, “The party will act in the matter since it involves gross indiscipline.”
Former J&K chief minister and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti said she is “relieved” that defending Article 35A is “not confined to a region or religion” any longer.
Mufti tweeted, “Heartening to know that two MLAs from BJP, Rajesh Gupta followed by Dr Gagan (Bhagat), have raised their voice in defence of Article 35-A. Defending the special status of J-K is not confined to a region or religion anymore. People of the state have realised its importance & sanctity…. Today I feel relieved that regardless of political views or affiliations, we are all on the same page…”
Gupta, MLA from Jammu (East) constituency, denied having made a statement on Article 35A. Sethi said it is another Rajesh Gupta, not the BJP legislator.
In a video of the meeting, which is being shared widely on social media, BJP MLA Bhagat is heard telling party workers that he supports Article 35A because if it goes, then the youths in Jammu division will not get any job. “Forget government jobs, one may not get a job even in the private sector, or land to construct a house. The rich people from other states will buy all your land…. Land that is available at Rs 1 lakh per marla will rise to Rs 10 lakh per marla overnight,” he said.
He said, “Jammu will suffer the worst if Article 35A is struck down, but I see people of Jammu writing on Facebook, expressing their views against it…. Aap log Jammu-kashmir ko achi tarah se jantey hai (you know the situation). Outsiders who know that Kashmir is disturbed will buy land in Jammu, especially Jammu district. People (in Jammu) will not get land on the roadside, towards Samba, or along the national highway. Shops and land along the under-construction circular road will be bought by them (outsiders)…you will not be able to able do business even on a rehari (pushcarts because) they (outsiders) will run the reharies and have jobs in state government and private sector.”
Dogras and other local people will not get any opportunity of livelihood, he added.
Bhagat said Hari Singh, the then king, banned outsiders from buying property in the state because local Dogras are “simple and clean-hearted people”, and cannot compete with outsiders. Stating that the issue is very important for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP leader said, “Sometimes, we also have to speak against the party line.”
Bhagat was recently served a notice by the BJP disciplinary committee after his photographs with a woman student went viral. After his wife complained to the party against him on this, the committee recommended Bhagat’s suspension for three months and asked him to sort out the matter. If he failed, the committee recommended expulsion from the BJP. Bhagat has denied any relationship with the woman and claims that the photographs were morphed.