Rivals Unite? Mehbooba Mufti visits Farooq Abdullah’s residence to defend J&K’s special status under Article 35(A)

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti called on National Conference president Farooq Abdullah on Tuesday to discuss the political repercussions arising from an alleged attempt to abrogate a constitutional provision that confers special rights and privileges on “permanent residents” of the state.

The Supreme Court is set to hear a petition filed by Delhi-based NGO ‘We the Citizens’, which demands that Article 35(A) of the Constitution be repealed. While separatists have called for a shutdown on July 12, Farooq Abdullah on Monday warned of an uprising “far stronger” than the 2008 Amarnath land row if any such action was taken.

Confirming the impromptu meeting at Abdullah’s residence, government spokesperson and senior minister Nayeem Akhtar said: “Farooq Sahib is a very senior leader. The chief minister called on him to discuss the prevailing political situation.”

Omar Abdullah, former chief minister and the National Conference president’s son, confirmed that a major part of the meeting dealt with Article 35(A). “A significant part of the meeting was taken up discussing ways to protect Art 35A. Dr Sahib suggested that Ms Mufti consult other parties,” he tweeted after the meeting.

According to National Conference spokesperson Tanvir Sadiq, Abdullah advised Mehbooba Mufti to “create a consensus not only in Kashmir but Ladakh and Jammu too”.

The party president had chaired a meeting of opposition parties in Srinagar on Monday to discuss reports of attempts to abrogate the article, and the need to unite in this regard. “I don’t know if (attempts are being made to abrogate) Article 35(A), but one thing is certain – we are ready to fight this,” he told reporters after the event.

Abdullah said the people’s fury should not be taken for granted. “People are never tired. Never say people are tired. If such a decision is made, you will see a mass uprising. Don’t forget that people rose overnight when the Amaranth Yatra (land agitation) thing happened. So, (any attempt to abrogate) Article 35(A) will result in a far greater revolt, and I wonder if they will be able to hold that,” he added.

The Delhi-based NGO had filed the writ petition seeking the annulment of Article 35(A) in 2014. Last month, Mufti had warned that there would be “nobody in the state to hold the Tricolour” if the rights and privileges of its residents were tinkered with. The statement drew a sharp reaction from the state BJP, which held that the article had done “more harm to the state than any other provision of the law”.

These utterances have already created unease in the Valley, where people are wary of attempts to deprive the state of its special status. Under Article 35(A), citizens from other parts of the country are not allowed to acquire immovable property in Jammu and Kashmir, take up employment under the state government, avail of state-sponsored scholarship schemes, or settle permanently within its borders.

Terming the attempts to abrogate the article as a “ploy of Indian rulers and their Kashmiri stooges”, separatist leaders claimed that the Centre was trying to create a Palestine-like situation in the state. “This kind of law is implemented in places that comprise forests, glaciers and waterbodies. Jammu and Kashmir, being such a land, needs this protection to safeguard the ecological balance. By eradicating this law, RSS-backed Indian rulers want to fulfil their old dream of turning Kashmir into a Muslim-minority land and change its demography – like Israel did in Palestine,” a joint statement issued by Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik stated.

They threatened to “call the people of Kashmir onto its streets” if attempts at degrading the state’s constitutional status were not halted.

In July, attorney general KK Venugopal told the bench headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar that the NDA government was not keen on filing an affidavit in the case, and wanted a larger debate on the “very sensitive” matter. The court then referred the case to a three-judge bench, which will now hear the case.

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