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Double-speak on 35-A
Rajnath's assurances are not enough, Centre needs to spell its stand and challenge the petitions pending in SC
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Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh's assurance on Article 35 A remains tricky and hollow as long as the Centre continues to hesitate from countering the petition in Supreme Court challenging the validity of Article which defines the state subject and bars people from outside Jammu and Kashmir to acquire immoveable property in the state. Singh's measured words both in Srinagar and Jammu during his visit to Jammu and Kashmir betray a hint of calculated illusionary trick. On Article 35 A, he maintained "whatever our government does, we will not do anything against the sentiments of the people here", elaborating in Jammu "sentiments of all the people of Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir. That should have been reassuring only if he had appended the remarks with an assurance that his government will do everything under the sun to respect the sentiments of the people of all regions of the state. A categorical assurance without getting drawn into the abstract element of "not doing anything" was much needed to signify a shift in the Centre's stand on the issue, if there was any. It is pertinent to recall that previous statements emanating from New Delhi earlier this summer by senior ministers sought to call the Article 35 A "unconstitutional and illegal". Even at that time the case was sub-judice in the court, an excuse that the union home minister now used to make any explicit comment on the issue. Without any clarification on whether there is a change of stance on the issue, there is every reason to believe that the cryptic remarks carry a tinge of mischief. It would be premature to begin getting jubilant over these remarks which on their own do not amount to a convincing assurance. Instead of talking about challenging the legal petition in the court, Rajnath averred that central government has not initiated any process on this issue, adding "we have not gone to the court". This ambiguity does not allay the fears of RSS-BJP trying to use litigations to dilute whatever little is left of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

Taking Rajnath's statement on face value, he may is not lying in claiming that the Centre has not approached the court but it is important to probe the antecedents of the obscure NGO 'We the Citizen', unknown till this petition was filed. Nothing so far is known about the possible political connections of this group that appears to have propped up overnight. The Supreme Court has already clubbed this petition with another one filed by a woman, Charu Wali Khanna, a Kashmiri by descent, who has challenged the Article 35 A and Section 6 of J&K Constitution claiming discriminatory provisions of the law which forbid her from buying property in the state. The petitioner maintains that her ancestral family had shifted out of Kashmir during the Afghan period, much before the creation of the state. Whether these petitioners have any connection with the Hindu right wing groups is not clear but the remarks of senior ministers challenging the validity of Article 35 A makes an ideological connection. The Centre has not made any clarifications other than stating that the government has nothing to do with the court cases. The scenario in its totality makes the government's position completely unclear. The assurance of 'Centre not going against sentiments of people' is meaningless if the Centre is not only going to silently watch as someone else continues to wave the red rag but add some initial fuel to it by speaking the same language. The government must make its stand clear and if it really intends to protect the sentiments of the people of the state, it must intervene in the litigation to protect the constitution. Double-speak will only add to confusion.

News Updated at : Thursday, September 14, 2017
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