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Abrogation of 35A on the horizon?

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The State of Jammu and Kashmir remains on the edge, as the Central Government has approved the deployment of over 10000 additional troops in Kashmir. This includes 50 companies of CRPF, 10 companies of BSF, 30 of SSB and 10 of ITBP. The reason mentioned for this additional deployment is strengthening of Counter Insurgency Grid and maintaining Law and Order Situation in Jammu and Kashmir. The winds of change have been strong in Kashmir ever since Amit Shah took over as the Home Minister, considered tougher and more aggressive than his predecessor, he was expected to make key changes to BJP’s Kashmir policy.

Additional troops deployment

What is interesting to note is that this additional deployment of troops comes just a day after a visit to the state by Ajit Doval the National Security Advisor, where he purportedly met top security and intelligence officials and reviewed the security situation in the state. There has been an increasingly high deployment of troops in the state in the recent months. About 400 companies of armed forces (approximately 40000 troops) have already been deployed for the 46-day Amarnath Yatra. The Amarnath Yatra culminates on 15th of August and rumours are running wild that the Central Government is keen to abrogate Article 35A of the Indian Constitution.

Article 35A Empowers the Jammu and Kashmir state’s legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state and provide special rights and privileges to those permanent residents. Article 35A proscribes non-permanent residents from permanently settling in the state, buying immovable property, acquiring land, applying for government jobs, any kind of scholarships and aids and other public welfare projects. However, it hadn’t passed the test of parliament, rather it was added to the constitution through a Presidential Order, The Constitution (Applications to Jammu & Kashmir) Order, 1954 – issued by the President of India on 14 May 1954. The Apex Court of India is already hearing a number of petitions which seek to declare Article 35A unconstitutional. There were a barrage of tweets by major political players in Kashmir, condemning the move and calling for demilitarization.

Rajnath Singh was cautious in treading the Kashmir issue but Amit Shah is seen as being more adventurous with handling Kashmir. Amit Shah has been much more rigid and uncompromising towards Kashmir, the crackdown on separatist leaders started in February by the NIA and major separatist leaders including Yasin Malik, Shabir Shah, Shahidul Islam and Masrat Alam Bhat continue to be incarcerated. Charge sheet has been filed by the NIA in relations to the Terror Funding Case under which several top separatist leaders have been sent to Jail. The Separatist apparatus in Jammu and Kashmir continues to remain in shambles as most of their leadership has been languishing in Jails since the last few months. Jamaat-e-Islami, a pro Pakistan leaning socio-political and religious organisation was banned as well under anti-terror laws as it was accused of having close relations with militant outfits.

Powers to the National Investigation Agency were extensively increased by the newly amended Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The Jammu and Kashmir Bank has also been facing increased scrutiny with cases of insurance fraud, unlawful appointments, diversion of loans amounting to 1000 crores and links to terror funding are cropping up, the Bank’s chairman Parvez Ahmed has been removed and in place new appointments like R.K. Chibber and A.K. Mishra have been done to the top board of the bank. Furthermore, there have been increasing talks about delimitation of seats in Jammu and Kashmir, this is being done to end the political hegemony of Kashmir valley in the State, high number of seats in Kashmir has ensured that Kashmiri political parties continue to dominate the state leading to the side-lining of Jammu and Ladakh region.

Though it is highly unlikely that any major decision would be taken before the 15th of August, as the government seeks to protect the Amarnath Yatra.  The scrapping of Articles 370 and 35A were the key poll planks of the BJP in its Kashmir policy, this is in consonance with its ideological parent, the RSS which has repeatedly demanded the removal of both these articles for the better integration of Jammu and Kashmir with India. Though it is difficult to comment on the situation, something is definitely afoot, and the situation should become clearer in the coming days.

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