President of NGO that filed it died last year; A retired general who served in Kashmir was its advisor
The men behind the little-known non-governmental organisation ‘We the Citizens’ which has challenged Article 35-A in the Supreme Court are associated with right-wing groups and the person who filed it died in 2016.
The petition, which has triggered a political storm in J&K, had been filed by the NGO through its president Sandeep Kulkarni in 2014. Kulkarni, who is no more, was associated with rightwing groups and had even served notice to Congress for maligning Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
“I know him (Kulkarni) since 2006. He was living in Hindu Mahasabha Bhawan near Birla Mandir in New Delhi. I came in contact with him because we also lived in the same accommodation when we were on dharna in Delhi that year,” said Labha Ram Gandhi, who is the president of West Pakistan Refugees Action Committee.
Kulkarni, along with Labha Ram and Lt Gen (retired) PN Hoon, had addressed a press conference at Jammu in October 2015.
The duo had then said that the organisation will mobilise public opinion against the Article 35A and launch India-wide agitation for its abrogation.
Labha Ram, who had withdrawn in favour of BJP candidate Jugal Kishore Sharma at the eleventh hour in the 2014 parliament elections, said Kulkarni passed away last year due to cardiac failure.
“The petition is not work of one man. There is a team behind it,” he said.
PN Hoon had joined BJP on December 2, 2013. It is not known whether he is presently associated with the party and what links he had with the NGO. In the presser, he was introduced as an advisor to ‘We the Citizens’.
Advocate Barun Kumar Sinha, who is representing the NGO in the case, said the death of Kulkarni has no impact on the case because some other person has been appointed in his place.
“He was one of the office-bearers (of the organisation). One Rakesh Mudgal has been appointed in his place,” he said.
J&K’s advocate general Jahangir Iqbal Ganie said it was the duty of the lawyer representing the petitioner to inform the court that the person who had filed the petition has expired.
“The petition would not survive in the eyes of law,” the AG opined.
Interestingly, Mudgal and Kulkarni, through their advocate, had even served notices to Congress leadership in 2015 for “depicting RSS as deshdrohi (anti-national)”.
“…you the noticees are hereby called upon to tender apology forthwith for making defamatory/spurious statement against RSS, failing which my clients shall be left with no alternative except to approach the court for criminal and civil legal actions entirely at your risk and cost,” reads the notice served by advocate Barun Kumar Sinha on behalf of his clients, Kulkarni and Mudgal, to Congress leaders.
‘We the Citizens’ was registered with the North-West district, government of NCT Delhi on 30 July 2013, and it claims to be engaged in the non-governmental activities.
Repeated attempts to know details about other office-bearers of the NGO proved futile.
“I am not in my office,” sub-divisional magistrate NSP Tripathi who looks after registration of societies in the district, told this newspaper over phone.
The Article 35A was extended to J&K through ‘Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order issued by President Rajendra Prasad on May 14, 1954. It was specifically devised to grant protection to state subject laws that had already been defined under the Maharaja’s rule and notified in 1927 and 1932.
The Supreme Court, which is hearing the Article 35A petition, has referred the matter to a three-judge bench last month and set a six-week deadline for its final disposal.
The demand for abrogation has evoked strong opposition in J&K, with Mehbooba herself issuing a stern warning to government of India last month over any tinkering with Article 35-A, saying there would not be nobody left to hoist tricolour in Kashmir if it is done. Legal experts have cautioned that if the Article 35A is scrapped, J&K will lose all the special privileges including the state subject law, right to property, right to employment, and right to settlement.