At a time when the Centre is trying to restart the political process in Jammu and Kashmir by urging the apex court to put off its hearing on the contentious Article 35A of the Constitution till the local body polls are over, National Conference President Farooq Abdullah is stirring the pot. Since the state is under governor’s rule with the Assembly under suspended animation after the BJP withdrew support to the Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP government, it was incumbent on the Union home ministry to restore the rule of law and kindle political aspirations.
The Centre began by installing a veteran politician in Raj Bhawan, shaking up the bureaucracy, controversially replacing Director General of Police S P Vaid and announcing the local body poll schedule— not necessarily in that order.
With the situation on the ground no better than what it was during Mehbooba’s tenure, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s claim last week that a separate constitution for J&K was an aberration, gave Farooq an opportunity to tap into the popular resentment in the Valley. He first said his party would boycott the civic polls till the Centre spells out its stand on 35A and escalated it by threatening to stay away from the 2019 general elections as well. That put the PDP in a bind.
A few days later, Mehbooba echoed Farooq.
But the Centre has partially articulated its position already on 35A, with Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta telling the SC last week, “It can’t be denied that there is an aspect of gender discrimination in it.” Article 35A, incorporated in the Constitution by a 1954 Presidential Order, accords special rights and privileges to J&K citizens. Among other contentious issues, it denies property rights to a woman who marries a person from outside the state.
With the saffron brotherhood pushing for 35A to be struck down, the Modi government cannot possibly take a different stand. It can at best opt to stay neutral in the SC like it did with Article 377, which was subsequently read down in a landmark judgment. Would that help?