Kashmir parties welcome upcoming hearing on region’s scrapped autonomy

SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir (AA) : India’s Supreme Court will hear petitions on July 11 challenging the Indian government’s decision on Aug. 5, 2019, to scrap the constitutional provisions that granted the Muslim-majority region of Jammu and Kashmir an autonomous status within the Indian union.

On that day, India repealed Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which allowed Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to have its own constitution, flag, and a two-house legislature that could frame its own laws.

Another piece of legislation scrapped on Aug. 5, 2019, was Article 35A, which allowed J&K to define its residents and barred outsiders from buying properties or taking up government jobs.

Jammu and Kashmir was also downgraded from one state and divided into two centrally ruled Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, drawing sharp reactions from both Pakistan, which claims the region in full, and China, which claims parts of Ladakh and controlled a sizable chunk of the undivided J&K that existed before the formation of India and Pakistan in 1947.

Collectively, several individuals, groups, and political parties filed nearly 20 petitions in the apex court, calling the decision illegal and unconstitutional. The abrogation of Kashmir’s autonomy was widely criticized by the majority of Indian political parties including the opposition Congress party, which has ruled India for most of its existence and which has been blamed for hollowing out the autonomy when it was in power.

The matter was last listed in March 2020, when a five-judge constitution bench of the court turned down a plea by some petitioners calling for referring the case to a seven-judge bench on the grounds that in the past, two five-judge benches had made conflicting interpretations of Article 370.

To forestall the possibility of a revolt in the disputed region, where an anti-India insurgency has been raging for more than three decades, the Indian government had deployed tens of thousands of paramilitary soldiers and police officers besides shutting down phone and internet services. Tens of hundreds of people, including three former pro-India chief ministers and nearly the entire pro-freedom leadership, had been either jailed or detained in their homes.

Since Aug. 5, 2019, the region has been directly ruled from New Delhi through the office of a lieutenant governor, drawing flak from the local pro-India political parties, which demand restoration of the autonomy and elections so that the residents can choose their own representatives. The ruling Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi has extended to the region several laws since 2019, some related to residency, which have raised fears of a demographic drowning of the region’s small Muslim population by outsiders.
With cautious optimism, the region’s political parties have welcomed the upcoming hearing.

Suhail Bhukari, the spokesman of the People’s Democratic Party, which was the last regional party to share power with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) before the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy, told Anadolu that the matter should have been heard much earlier.

“Still, better late than never. It is a matter of rights of over 12 million people. We are hopeful that the abrogation will be struck down, as it is patently illegal and won’t stand the scrutiny of the court of law,” Bukhari said, echoing his counterpart in the National Conference (NC), the region’s oldest pro-India party, which had vainly made the restoration of the pre-1953 larger autonomy its political mainstay.

NC spokesman Imran Nabi Dar said his party was among the first to challenge “the patently illegal and unconstitutional” decision.

“We hope the rights of people are kept in consideration and we are confident that their illegal decision would not stand the scrutiny of law. We consider the upcoming hearing to be a positive development, although it took very long,” he said.

A former Communist Party of India lawmaker, Muhammad Yusuf Tarigami, said the court “will roll back the unilateral decision” at the hearing.

For the ruling BJP, however, the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A is irreversible. Its top leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have repeatedly said that the provisions have been “buried forever.” The party has blamed the special political status for the region’s insurgency and “economic backwardness” while calling the articles temporary as opposed to the dominant political view that these provisions were supposed to be permanent features of the Indian Constitution by virtue of the terms on which the region’s leadership had ratified the conditional accession with the newly-formed Indian nation in 1947.

“The decision of the court will be honored by everyone, but the decision taken about Article 370 was backed by the Constitution and the matter ended on Aug. 5 forever. It is a dead chapter now. I am sure the court will also conclude that the matter died on Aug. 5 forever,” BJP spokesman Altaf Thakur told Anadolu.