(Repealing of Article 35-A creates an apprehension among Kashmiris of being swept away by the rich from the mainland. On the contrary, Kashmir may turn into something which no one could have imagined!)
The controversy regarding the article 35-A has now been in the news for sometime. The shut downs called by various organizations to show the resentment of the masses against tempering with the Article 35-A of the Constitution have been total and unprecedented in the recent memory. The next ones may happen in January when the Supreme Court again takes up the case. The reason for this unparalleled protest is the fear of being swept away from the valley where people have been living right from the Stone Age by hordes of people from the Indian Mainland. Apprehension among people is of the Hindutva followers buying the land and property and taking away all the jobs. People fear a demographic change. The Muslim majority getting reduced to a minority! At the moment, Jammu & Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state in India. If the entry gets opened up, it may no longer be a Muslim majority state and Kashmiri Muslims could be reduced to a minority. That is alleged aim of the Hindutva elements. The plea for total integration is meaningless as the so called autonomy of the state has been reduced to an empty shell through various presidential orders implemented through the very article supposed to guard state’s autonomy!
There could be other interesting sides to the story if the article is attempted to be repealed. What happens if the well to do Muslims in India decide to come to Kashmir, buy land and houses and set up industries and other businesses? They will comparatively feel safe anywhere in the Muslim majority State compared to some volatile parts of India where they regularly face lynching and communal riots. Even Jammu would be a good choice for them. Because of the continuous turmoil in the valley, they may prefer Jammu. There are manyMuslimbillionaires such as Azim Premji, M.A.Yousaf Ali, Yusuf Hamied, Azad Moopen, and Habil Khorakiwala and so on. They could do a lot for Kashmiris if they have access in setting up various units with Kashmiris helping them! The Hindutva extremists interesting in changing the demography of the state could get an anti-climax if such a thing happens! India has a population of around two hundred million Muslims. At least 1% would be well to do especially in the South. That would mean at least 2 million people with money to invest somewhere! They would be at home in Kashmir. The locals would welcome them! There are many instances of marriages taking place between Kashmiri Muslims and Muslims living in different parts of India. There could be social integration of Kashmiri Muslims with Muslims from different parts of India. Again this may not be to the liking of the Hindutva elements who want to reduce Muslim majority of Kashmir.
While one is discussing the Article 35-A,some people could recall another legislation which is yet to be implemented very truly and honestly. That law is derived from the basic constitution of the State. That is the Resettlement Act which was duly passed by the State Legislature as part of the fulfillment of the Constitutional obligation for the people who had left the J & K in a state of uncertainty. It was for the return of people who had gone to Pakistan between 1947 and 1954. In fact, the State had already created the post of the Custodian General to takeover and safe guard the properties of these people who were forced to leave in unusual circumstances. Incidentally, the Resettlement Act should normally apply to the Kashmiri Pandits also who too had to leave in very unusual circumstances even though it was primarily meant for the people who had left from 1947 to 1954. The Act had been stayed by the Supreme Court of India. Some of these people have actually returned to reclaim their properties but they were told that these properties have been taken over by the state as evacuee properties. If the Resettlement Act is implemented lakhs of people would be able to return and settle back. They can also reclaim their properties. If Resettlement Act is not implemented then Article 35-A too cannot be removed. People are saying that if genuine Kashmiri citizens who left in unusual circumstances are not allowed to come back and settle in Kashmir which had been their home from earliest times, how can hordes of Indians be allowed to come and settle in Kashmir who have never had any ancient or recent connection with it?
There have also been deliberately leaked stories in the press about the “Final” solution of Kashmir problem by creating three union territories. However, while discussing these entire controversies one must not forget that the J & K State is disputed in the eyes of the world body UN on the agenda of whose Security Council it continues to be there. Some allege that all these issues are being revived or highlighted for the next elections. Keeping in view various repercussions which may result, it may be advisable to keep the entire controversy in “Suspended Animation” like the present State Legislature! Right now Kashmir does not need more controversies and upheavals but honest governance and responsive administration to take care of the peoples’ needs. This is especially so because of the approaching winter which virtually freezes everything including the “Political Issues”, even though temporarily!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir