August 2017 News

ARTICLE 35-A ROW: Omar Raises Alarm, Says Govt's Defense 'extremely Weak'

9 August 2017
Greater Kashmir
Muddasir Ali

Srinagar: With the clamour for safeguarding Article 35-A growing in Jammu and Kashmir, former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Wednesday raised an alarm, saying the state government's defense for protection of the constitutional provision 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 have gone through the counter-affidavit filed by the state government in the Supreme Court to defend the Article 35A. I believe that the affidavit 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,' he said in an exclusive interview with Greater Kashmir at his Gupkar residence here. Omar said: 'I beg to differ when the government says that they have put the best defense. As a layman if I feel that this defense is weak. I am sure that lawyers and the judges will feel the same,' said Omar, adding the state government's position is made 'worse' by the fact that New Delhi has not become a party to defending Article 35-A that confers special rights and privileges on state's permanent residents. The Article was extended to J&K through 'Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order issued by President Rajendra Prasad on May 14, 1954. It was specifically devised to grant protection to state subject laws that had already been defined under the Maharaja's rule and notified in 1927 and 1932. The Supreme Court, which is hearing the petition against Article 35A, filed by a little known NGO 'we the citizens', has referred the matter to a three-judge bench last month and set a six-week deadline for its final disposal. According to Omar, the government of India's support to the state government would have made the state's case 'much stronger'. But, he said, the New Delhi's decision not to support the state's position 'renders our case that much weaker.' He said the challenge to the Article was 'part of a larger design' to abrogate the special status of J&K. 'If you see the background of these organisations that are filing the cases, there is clear link between 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 and RSS, VHP and Sangh Parivar,' said Omar. 'And the government of India's silence on the Article 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.' Omar alleged that the state government was 'late to wake up' to the threat to Article 35A and that too only after he raised the issue in the Assembly. The government, he said, had left defending the case to the standing counsel who 'is not qualified to fight a case like this.' Omar said that 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'. He said 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 (BJP) don't need to alter Article 370. They just need to have Article 35A struck down and that is what they are doing. It is move to change demography of the state and it will happen when people from outside will buy land in the stateand then it will have an impact of larger question of Kashmir issue,' said Omar. To a question about the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti's meeting with National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, Omar said she 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'. Omar said 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 governmentit 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,' said Omar. Asked whether mainstream politicians should quit if Supreme Court strikes down the Article 35A, Omar said the government should 'certainly quit if it won't be able to defend the Article'. '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,' said Omar. He reiterated that any debate on Article 35-A would reopen the debate around accession of J&K to Union of India. He said 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 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,' he said. The demand for abrogation of the Article has evoked strong opposition in J&K, with the Chief Minister herself issuing a stern warning to government of India last month over any tinkering with Article 35-A, saying there would not be nobody left to hoist tri-colour in Kashmir if it is done. Legal experts have cautioned that if the Article 35-A is scrapped, J&K will lose all the special privileges including the state subject law, right to property, right to employment, and right to settlement. Terming the Article 35A as 'ring fence' around the state subject laws and other special privileges enjoyed by the citizens of J&K, Omar said its scrapping will have 'huge ramifications' in J&K. '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,' he said. The former Chief Minister said 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 show how serious the issue is. 'That tells us how serious crisis, both legally and constitutionally, J&K is facing,' said Omar. HITS OUT AT HURRIYAT: Omar hit out at the Hurriyat leaders for threatening to launch an agitation over the Article 35A saying '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,' Omar said. '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 as the Chief Minister threatened agitation on property tax when we were discussing it in Assembly,' said Omar.