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NEW DELHI: Away from the attention that Article 370 attracts, some members and supporters of the Bha­ratiya Janata Party (BJP) are steadily pushing the party’s less-noticed promise of altering Article 35A of the Indian constitution, which empowers the government of India-held Kashmir to define permanent residents of their state. The article enables the state’s government to provide special rights and privileges that permanent residents can enjoy but has been criticised by BJP as a provision that “encourages alienation, dee­pens the concept of a separate identity and creates a political gap between the disputed region and India”.

State laws have barred non-residents from purchasing land in the disputed region and the issue has come in focus with a Kashmiri woman, Charu Wali Khan, recently filing a petition seeking changes in the constitutional provision as she wanted succession rights though she is settled outside the state.

Responding to her plea, India’s Supreme Court sent notices to the central government and the state last month. The woman has claimed that the state’s laws, flowing from Article 35A, have disenfranchised her.

Advocate General K. Venugopal told the bench of Chief Justice J.S. Khehar and Justice D.Y. Chand­rachud that the petition against Article 35A raised “very sensitive” questions that required a “larger debate”.

The court referred the matter to a three-judge bench and has set a six-week deadline for its disposal. The bench is likely to deliver its verdict in the first week of September.

Union minister Jitendra Singh said that the matter was sub judice, one should wait for the court’s verdict.

Local BJP leaders are vocal about their views on the article. “Article 35A is a constitutional ‘mistake’. It was incorporated through a presidential order and not through the parliamentary process,” claimed Surinder Amabardar, a BJP MLC.

The Centre’s stance seeking a “larger debate” set off alarm bells among a section of politicians in the Kashmir valley, prompting Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s outburst.

She asserted that Article 35A should not be tinkered with, saying there would be no one to hold the tricolour in India-held Kashmir if provisions regarding special status of Jammu and Kash­mir residents were altered.

By arrangement with the Times of India

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2017