Jammu: The opposition National Conference (NC) today hit out at Pakistan for “interfering” in Jammu and Kashmir, saying that Article 35A, which provides special rights and privileges to permanent residents, was a shield for the people of the state.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office Spokesperson Nafees Zakria in a statement on Thursday had accused India of trying to alter the demography of Jammu and Kashmir.
The main opposition party also lashed out at the local BJP for giving a “political and communal colour” to the issue and called for a referendum in Jammu region on Article 35A.
The article empowers state’s legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state and provide special rights and privileges to those permanent residents.
Provincial president Devinder Singh Rana announced a campaign to educate people about benefits of Article 35A with the inauguration of a seminar by party working president Omar Abdullah here on August 14. He would also inaugurate another seminar in Kashmir on the same day.
Block presidents, block secretaries, district presidents and district secretaries would participate in it and later disseminate the information at grassroot level, he said.
Speaking to reporters at the party headquarters here, he said the statement issued by Pakistan seems to be part of a “conspiracy to make the issue India versus Pakistan to pave way for its abrogation”.
He also said if the Article 35A is tinkered with, the Dogras will suffer the most and Article 370 of the Constitution, which gives special status to the state, will be rendered merely a “skeleton”.
“The BJP is trying to sell that the Dogras are with it in its demand for revocation of the Article 35A and gives it a communal and regional colour. There should be a referendum on the issue in Jammu and Dogras be given a chance to decide whether the law should remain or go.
Questioning those who term the presidential order as “illegal”, Rana said if that order is illegal, what about the other orders passed by the president.
He said the defense of the attorney general and the state in the Supreme Court on the issue was “weak” to pave the way for the abrogation of the constitutional provision.
The Supreme Court last month had asked the Centre to file a reply within three weeks to a writ petition filed by an NGO seeking that Article 35A be struck down.
The PIL said the state government, under the guise of Article 35A and Article 370, which grants special autonomous status to the state, has been discriminating against non- residents who are debarred from buying properties, getting a government job or voting in the local elections.
The Centre would explain to the Supreme Court the legal aspects of Article 35A. Attorney General KK Venugopal is expected to explain before the apex court these aspects.
He said the debate over Article 35A was neither Hindu versus Muslims nor Jammu versus Kashmir.
“We are part of India and we are Indians. Constitution of India and Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir govern our living and existence but we have been vested with certain rights and we will protect those rights,” he said.
The National Conference leader questioned the BJP leadership for introducing a domicile certificate in Himachal Pradesh and of assuring the citizens of Maharashtra of introducing a similar law.
“In Sikkim, there is article 371A but you don’t challenge it,” he claimed.
Rana accused the BJP of deliberately raking up such issues for politics and undermining the safeguards ensured to people of the state by the Constitution.
He said the people of Jammu were angry at the discrimination with the region, especially during the last three years of the BJP-PDP rule.
“We demand that the rights of all the people of all the three regions–Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh–should be protected and there should be no discrimination.
He said if Article 35A was abrogated, it would create serious problems for the people of the state, especially Jammu region, as businessmen and shopkeepers would lose their businesses, students lose their scholarships, and various jobs as well.
In reply to a question about the issue bringing together mainstream and separatists in Kashmir, he said, “It is the responsibility of people of all three regions to ensure protection of their rights,” he said.