Support for protection of Article 35A has come from an unexpected quarter at a time when challenges to the special constitutional provision has caused tremendous anxiety in J&K.
Austrian commercial counselor to India, Dr Oskar Andesner believes the constitutional provision “shouldn’t be disturbed”, equating it to a “similar law” in his native province of Tyrol for protection of rights of its citizens over property and businesses.
Dr Andesner was on a visit to Kashmir when the state witnessed shutdown and protests for protection of Article 35A which has been challenged by an NGO “We the Citizen”, backed by right wing groups, in the Supreme Court.
In an exclusive chat with Greater Kashmir Dr Andesner, who has served in six countries during his 33 years of career, said once he landed in the Valley he sensed tension in the air and later came to know about the controversy over Article 35A that secures exclusive citizen rights for permanent residents of the state.
“We have a similar law in place in my home province which doesn’t allow people from other provinces of Austria and other countries to buy property or businesses in Tyrol. It is normal for us,” Dr Andesner said, drawing comparison between Article 35A and the law in Tyrol
In fact, he hurried to
add, the law in Tyrol was much tougher compared to Article 35A.
If a Tyrolian live outside for a “long time” he is barred from buying any property or business and has to first return and spent five years in the province to again become eligible to the rights, the Austrian diplomat explained.
Spread over nine provinces with a population of 8.75 million, Austria is in many ways similar to Kashmir, in terms of climate and geography – mountains, streams and moderate climate.
Tyrol is considered to be one of the best skiing and hiking places in Austria with stunning views of lakes and valleys, and a major attraction for tourists from different countries.
Responding to a question about demands for abrogation of Article 35A, Dr Andesner said, “It is pity.”
“I laughed when I read about it.”
“It (Article 35A) should be kept like this because what happens otherwise more and more people from other states will come here and buy property, business and then share of real Kashmiris will go down and you will find having only 50 percent share years later,” he said and cautioned that J&K could become like Xinjiang province of China.
“You see in Xinjiang province where Uyghurs have now only 60 percent population and Chinese are 40 percent. Earlier 90 percent of people in Xinjiang were Uyghurs,” said Andesner, who has lived in China for seven years and is aware of the situation in Xinjiang.
“I have been to Xinjiang many a times. It is beautiful province. But Uyghurs are getting less and less and China is controlling it completely.”
Article 35A empowers J&K legislature to define permanent residents of the state. This provision was added to the constitution through Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 1954, issued by first president, Rajendra Prasad, on May 14, 1954, in exercise of the powers conferred by clause (1) of Article 370.
The petitioner has sought abrogation of the Article on the grounds that it was “unconstitutional” and approved by the president without any debate in the parliament.
If the provision is done away with, J&K citizens will lose all exclusive privileges including state subject law, right to property, right to employment and right to settlement.
“Keep it (Article 35A) like this. It shouldn’t be disturbed or touched. I understand it and I understand emotions (of people) attached with it. I understand what it means for natives,” said Dr Andesner.
Dr Andesner, who has a doctorate in economics, is set to complete his three-year tenure to New Delhi in a month’s time.
Since he has been living abroad for many years, Dr Andesner too wasn’t eligible to buy property or businesses in Tyrol under the existing law as he “isn’t considered Tyrolian”.
“My province (of Tyrol) has most of the tourism. Most of the national income from tourism comes from Tyrol. Thirty years ago the local government there brought the law to stop people from other provinces and outsiders to buy any property because we didn’t want outsiders to come and eat into our businesses and resources,” explained Dr Andesner.