Jammu lawyers suspended over 35A support
Jammu’s top body for lawyers on Thursday suspended two senior members for supporting Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, betraying divisions within the state’s Hindu-majority region over the contentious issue.
Abhinav Sharma, the president of Jammu’s High Court Bar Association, told a media conference in Jammu that the lawyers’ body had suspended A.V. Gupta, former president of the Bar, and Subhash Chander Gupta, former senior additional advocate general, from basic membership for supporting Article 35A.
The article gives residents of the state exclusive rights to land and government jobs.
“It (their support) has hurt our nationalist image and a message has gone out in the society that the High Court Bar Association has a different opinion (on Article 35A) than the one that exists in the country,” Sharma said.
The Bar body’s move comes at a time the Kashmir Valley has been on the edge since the Centre last week decided to deploy 10,000 additional troops in the state, fuelling speculation that it was a prelude to scrapping the article.
Senior leaders from the state, including former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah and son Omar Abdullah, met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday to request him not to take any such decision that would worsen the situation in the Valley.
While the article seems to have overwhelming support in the Muslim-majority Valley, the Jammu region is divided on whether it should be retained. The Hindu-majority Jammu Tawi belt appears to be in favour of scrapping the provision but many in the Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal — two regions where Muslims are in the majority — support the article.
It was against this backdrop that the two suspended lawyers, along with several others, had on Wednesday said the state’s special status should be retained.
A.V. Gupta, the former chief of the Bar Association, had warned that any tinkering with Article 35A would have “serious repercussions”.
S.C. Gupta, the other person who has been suspended, had on Wednesday told a lawyers’ meet that Article 370 — another contentious provision that gives the state its special status — establishes the state’s relation with the Union of India and it was being wrongly projected that it separated the state from the rest of the country.
Gupta said it should be left to the people of the state to decide the article’s fate.
Sharma, the president of the High Court Bar Association, said the two had been served a showcause notice and asked to explain their stand. “Until they do so, they are suspended from the basic membership,” he said.
Sharma said the Jammu Bar had already moved an application in the Supreme Court making “its stand clear” that the association was opposing the article “tooth and nail”.
Several petitions have been filed in the court challenging the article.
Thursday’s suspensions were the latest in the state over support for Kashmir’s special status. In December last year, the BJP had expelled senior leader and former Jammu MLA Ganga Bhagat for defending Article 35A.
Bhagat had then warned that the abrogation of Article 35A would hit Jammu more than the Valley and might force Jammu’s Dogras to pick up arms and stones against the state.
“If that article goes, people from all the states will first come to Jammu and then to the Valley and buy property here. The Dogras will be reduced to slaves,” he had said.