April 12, 2020

Jammu and Kashmir: Centre further alienates the people of J & K

M Y Tarigami

THE move by Narendra Modi government to redefine domicile rules for government jobs in Jammu and Kashmir has once again shown how the BJP wants to change the demography of the region. The fresh domicile notification passed at the depth of night, while the world is under the grip of a deadly Covid-19 pandemic, is extension of the constitutional and undemocratic fraud carried out by the BJP government at the center on August 5, 2019.

Imposing the domicile notification in times of a global pandemic reveals a callous and paranoid mindset of the BJP willfully violating consent to ensure subjugation. Until J and K was stripped of its special status granted under Article 370 and bifurcated into two union territories (UTs) last August, Article 35A of the Constitution empowered the assembly to define a J and K resident. Only J and K residents were eligible to apply for jobs or own immovable property in the erstwhile state.

However, the new domicile notification has empowered tehsildars(executive magistrates) within their territorial jurisdiction to issue domicile certificates. The government of J and K UT has also been empowered to notify any other officer to be competent authority for issuance of domicile certificate. As per the order, a person who has resided in Jammu and Kashmir for a period of 15 years or has studied for a period of seven years and appeared in class 10th and 12th examinations in a school within the region shall be deemed to be the domicile of the UT.

It also includes the children of the central government officials who have served in Jammu and Kashmir for a period of 10 years. So, in effect, any outsider who claims and has a document to prove that he/she has resided in Jammu and Kashmir for 15 years can qualify as a domicile. A non-state subject, central government employee, who has served in Jammu and Kashmir for 10 years, is also eligible to become a domicile.

The new domicile notification will have consequences on demography of the region. It is a part of a diabolical demographic project that began last August with the abrogation of  Articles 370 and 35A. The domicile notification was amended just two days after the earlier order following strong opposition and backlash from Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. However, the centre has only amended the framework to reserve all jobs for the J and K domiciles, but there will be no change in the criteria laid out in the April 1 order defining a domicile.

Despite amendments that domicile notification remains the same, while just the scope of employment has been enhanced. Now a resident of Jammu and Kashmir will not have to compete only within J and K but also with those who will be new residents under the new domicile notification.  It is about changing facts on ground.

The Modi government clearly lacks an institutional view and suffers from conceptual disarray, which makes it blind with regard to the essence of constitutional commitments when it comes to its dealing with Jammu and Kashmir. The last eight months have already seen the inexplicable-virtually everyone who could raise a voice, viciously muzzled in the aftermath of Article 370 abrogation.

The August 5, 2019 decision of the center to abrogate Articles 35-A and 370 are pending before the Supreme Court and bringing domicile notification at the moment is akin to contempt of the court. How can government of India issue any order when the matter is sub-judice? The arbitrary decision of the BJP government to revoke Articles 35-A and 370 was the murder of democracy and an attack on the Constitution. The BJP violated the norms to convert J and K state into a union territory overnight without the consent of the stakeholders. The centre was defying all democratic norms to achieve its objects.
There are many places in India, like the tribal areas of Telangana, Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Sikkim, where people from rest of the country cannot buy land, why target J&K only? It is not a question of Muslim versus Hindu, but local versus non-local. When Maharaja Hari Singh was ruling J and K in 1927, Dogras and Kashmiri Pandits, who were more educated, got domicile guarantees.  They ensured that no outsiders must come and buy land or get jobs in J and K. The Maharaja brought State subject in 1927 and made it into a law. No one objected then.

The dominant perception across the erstwhile state remains that the new notification is a ploy of the BJP to continue its Hindutva political project and further disempower and dispossess the people of J and K, politically, economically and psychologically. With such a decision, the gulf between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of the country will grow wider, and although BJP government has for now enforced calm, underneath,  the uncertainty across the erstwhile state is increasing by the day.

The government should allow the people to speak up and end the reign of forced silence. If the unprecedented subversion of democracy did not end, it would only benefit those who want uncertainty and disturbance to prevail in Jammu and Kashmir.
The timing of the order is equally disquieting. At a moment when the entire nation, including J and K, is focused on the fight against Covid, it was inappropriate and insensitive to push in new rules that will directly impact the lives of the people of the erstwhile state. The BJP has tapped into the moment of crisis, and deliberately introduced the notification at a time when the primary concern of the people is their safety from Covid-19.