The dark shadow of Article 35-A has come to haunt the Indian Union. First the NC, and now the PDP has announced that it would boycott the forthcoming panchayat poll in J&K, unless New Delhi clears its stance on the contentious Article. The ambiguity may jeopardise the elections, whose elected representatives are the first port of call for an aggrieved villager. The boycott will again reverse the clock. Article 35-A imparts special status to J&K and its people. Its need, as also its validity, is being challenged under the garb of ‘real’ amalgamation of the State with the Union. In the process, however, some essentials are being discounted. The terms of the instrument of accession, signed by Maharaja Hari Singh, underscored that the pact shall not be varied by any amendment: nothing shall empower the Dominion Legislature to make any law authorising the acquisition of land; nothing shall be deemed to ‘commit me in any way to acceptance of any future constitution of India or to fetter my discretion to enter into arrangements with the Government of India under any such future constitution’.
India had accepted the terms, in toto. Sheikh Abdullah debunked the British two-nation theory by aligning Kashmir with India, despite being a Muslim majority state. Respecting secular sentiments, his Muslim Conference was renamed National Conference, and the nomenclature of titular and elected heads — Sadar-e-Riyasat and Wazir-e-Azam — changed. Now, the state is looking at New Delhi expectantly to take a stand; its indifference amounts to tacitly espousing the cause of the repeal wallahs. For sure, there are grey areas: children of Kashmiri women marrying outside the state are not entitled to property, and the status of West Pakistani refugees is in a limbo. But these can be reworked, with the concurrence of the state.
By supporting Article 35-A, New Delhi will lend a fresh impetus to grassroots democracy, which would be an antidote to remove alienation among youth. Where is the need to try to rewrite history by reopening the terms of accession and tinkering with the compact, thereby negating it? The special status of the state must be acknowledged and preserved. India gave its word, and now must keep it.