BJP mulling changes in Article 35A on ‘permanent residents’ in Jammu and Kashmir?

A section of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sympathisers is pushing the party to bring changes in the Article 35A  of the Constitution which empowers the Jammu and Kashmir government to define “permanent residents” of the state and allow only state subjects of  to settle down and buy property there, according to a media report.

The BJP has criticised the provision, asserting that it encourages alienation, deepens the concept of a separate identity and creates a political gap between the state and the rest of India.

Last month, after J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti warned against tinkering with 35A saying that there would not be anybody to hoist the Tricolour in Kashmir in that eventuality, her ruling ally BJP countered her saying that the Article has done more harm to the State than any other provision of the law.

The state unit of the BJP said that while the party stands by the Agenda of Alliance with the PDP and won’t seek alteration of existing constitutional position, “it is equally true that Article 35-A has done more harm to the state than any other provision of law.”

The party said all efforts of the state government and the Kashmiri people should be towards the protection of the these humane values and identity, instead of raking issues of Article 35-A and Article 370 which have led to inequalities and have retarded the state’s growth due to “self-isolation”.

“We are greatly shocked and surprised by the statement of Mehbooba that by challenging Article 35-A, the nationalist forces in the Valley get weakened and that… India will not get a shoulder to carry its national flag in the state”, BJP state spokesperson Virender Gupta told reporters here.

Under the Article, state laws do not allow non-residents to purchase land in the state and the issue is in focus with a Kashmiri woman, Charu Wali Khan, who recently filed a petition seeking changes in the constitutional provision as she wanted succession rights though she is settled outside the state.

Responding to her plea, the Supreme Court sent notices to Centre and state last month. The woman has argued that the state’s laws, under 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”, says a Times of India report.

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

Following Mehbooba Mufti’s remarks, Union minister Jitendra Singh Union minister Jitendra Singh said the tricolour is “sacrosanct” and termed the chief minister’s remarks as “shocking and ridiculous”.

He said that since the matter was subjudice, one should wait for the court’s verdict. He said the court verdict would be binding on all. State BJP leaders are vocal about their views as they strongly feel that Article 35A should be repealed.

“Article 35A is a constitutional mistake. It was incorporated through a presidential order and not through the parliamentary process,” Surinder Amabardar, BJP MLC from the state, was quoted by Times of India as saying.

The BJP in its Assembly election manifesto had promised that it would give voting rights to all the settlers in Jammu and would also give land at cheap rates to retired Army officials in all the major towns of J&K.