Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday said Article 35A is “constitutionally vulnerable” and is an impediment to the economic development of Jammu and Kashmir. The article, incorporated into the Indian Constitution in 1954, grants special rights and privileges to the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir.

In a blog post entitled “The Rule of Law and the State of Jammu and Kashmir”, Jaitley said many today raise doubts about the “Nehruvian course” and look at it as a “historical blunder”. “Does our policy today have to be guided by that erroneous vision or an out of box thinking which is in consonance with ground reality?” he asked. Jaitley said the seven-decade history of the state now confronts changing India with several questions.

Jaitley called Article 35A a “surreptitious executive insertion in the Constitution”. He said it was neither a part of the original Constitution, nor was it an amendment that needs to be approved by two-third majority of both Houses of Parliament.

He said the article gives the right to the state government to discriminate between citizens. “Lakhs of Indian citizens in J&K vote in Lok Sabha elections but not in Assembly, municipal or panchayat polls,” he said. “Their children cannot get government jobs. They cannot own property and their children cannot get admitted to governmental institutions. The same applies to those who live elsewhere in the country. The heirs of ladies marrying outside the state are disinherited from owing or inheriting property.”

The finance minister said the article also stopped the state from raising resources. “No investor is willing to set up an industry, hotel, private educational institutions or private hospitals since he can neither buy land or property nor can his executives do so,” he said. He added that the present government has decided that the rule of law in the interest of the people of Kashmir valley and the larger interest of India must equally apply to Jammu & Kashmir.

Local leaders on Article 35A

The topic as been a bone of contention between the BJP and state parties. In February, Jammu and Kashmir leaders Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah warned that interfering with Article 35A of the Constitution would have “serious and far-reaching” consequences in the state.

“Don’t play with fire; don’t fiddle with Article 35A, else you will see what you haven’t seen since 1947, if it’s attacked then I don’t know which flag people of J&K will be forced to pick up instead of the tricolour,” former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had said. Abdullah said the situation in the state would become worse than Arunachal Pradesh if rights under Article 35A and Article 370 of the Constitution are tampered. Article 370 grants special, autonomous status to the state. The Supreme Court is hearing both matters.