ON May 20, the Jammu and Kashmir administration made the possession of a domicile status certificate an eligibility condition for admission to educational institutions in the Union Territory (U.T.). Its latest diktat has evoked sharp reactions from parties across the political spectrum. It is becoming increasingly clear that New Delhi is in no mood to retreat from its adversarial position vis-a-vis the erstwhile State no matter the political and social costs of such a position and the local support for militancy that it is spurring. While the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described the order as a “disempowerment project”, the National Conference (N.C.) alleged that the real intent behind it was “effecting demographic change”.
On March 31, a government notification replaced the provision in Article 35A relating to “permanent residents” of Jammu and Kashmir with the new concept of “domiciles”. Earlier, permanent residents, who were referred to as “State subjects”, enjoyed exclusive rights, including land and employment rights. The notification defines a domicile as one “who has resided for a period of 15 years in the U.T. of J&K or has studied for a period of seven years and appeared in Class 10th/12th examination in an educational institution located in the U.T. of J&K or who is registered as a migrant by the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner (Migrants)”. It also stated that children of officials of “the Central Government, All India Services, PSUs [public sector undertakings], autonomous body of Centre, Public Sector Banks, statutory bodies, Central Universities, recognised research institutes of Centre who have served in J&K for a total period of 10 years” would be considered domiciles. A fresh order on April 3 provided some protection to domiciles in jobs, including senior level positions in the Group A and Group B categories.
The Valley, however, sees the new domicile law as nothing but a tool to realign the demographic composition of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir by facilitating the influx of settlers. Speaking to Frontline , Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a four-time MLA from Kulgam, said this apprehension was not ill-founded. “The dominant perception across the erstwhile State remains that the new notification is a ploy of the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] to continue its Hindutva political project and further disempower and dispossess the people of the Jammu and Kashmir politically, economically and culturally. With such a decision, the gulf between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of the country will grow wider, and although the BJP government has for now enforced calm, underneath, the uncertainty across the erstwhile State is increasing day by day,” Tarigami said.
A government circular relating to the May 20 order said: “With the enactment of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, series of constitutional changes have been affected. In terms of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Removal of Difficulties) Order, 2019, any reference by whatever form to ‘permanent residents of the state or hereditary state subject’, wherever they occurred in any Act or notification issued or rules, orders made thereunder, stands omitted with necessary grammatical variation.”
Tarigami questioned the timing of the order. “At a time when the people are seriously concerned about the spread of the coronavirus, the BJP government is busy redesigning the ‘union territory’ of Jammu and Kashmir. The fresh domicile notification issued yesterday [May 20], while the region is under the grip of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, is an extension of the unconstitutional and undemocratic assault carried out by the BJP government on August 5, 2019. Issuing the rules for domicile notification at this crucial time reveals the paranoid mindset of the BJP wilfully violating the democratic aspirations of the people,” he told this reporter.
Both the N.C. and PDP have voiced their reservations. The PDP tweeted from its official handle on May 18: “Even a pandemic is no deterrent for the GOI to continue with its disempowerment project for JK. Orders like the one on domicile certificates don’t settle anything, neither do they cover up the August 5 fraud.” The N.C. issued a detailed statement in this regard. It said: “...though the Domicile Orders and Rules would not be acceptable at any point of time because of well-known stand of the Party that the measures are aimed at disempowering the people of Jammu and Kashmir and effecting demographic change, yet the timing of the Order and Procedure in question is also grossly inappropriate and unethical in as much as when entire mankind, including the people of Jammu of Kashmir, are in complete lockdown engaged in battle of survival against coronavirus, the Government of India has found it opportune time to push in the measures, palpably anti-people and unconstitutional.”
Aga Ruhullah Mehdi, the N.C.’s chief spokesperson who spoke to this reporter over the phone from Budgam, pointed out that the BJP was mistaken in believing that there would be jubilation across Jammu over the party’s so-called integrationist policies. In his opinion, the people of Jammu would be the most affected because this move would lead to a loss of their exclusivity in occupational opportunities and their political voice. “The BJP-RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] is selling an illusory idea to the people that there will be mass migration of people from all over India to Kashmir. A few hundreds or thousands may be ferried in, in Army convoys, and settled in heavily guarded Army camps. But their lives would be confined, their experiences would be akin to living in a concentration camp. It will be Jammu where settlers will actually flood in at the expense of the local people,” Mehdi said.
Mehdi raised a valid question: “Who stopped people from Jammu from buying land in Kashmir even before August 5? As permanent residents, they were lawfully entitled to buy land in the Valley, but the fact is they did not as the Valley’s climate is not salubrious for settlement.”
Senior journalist Anuradha Bhasin too believes that the Centre is taking Jammu for a ride to suit its political agenda. In an article published in The Hindu titled “Jammu, the pawn of the Kashmir chessboard”, she said: “Jammu’s youth are worried that they may lose their jobs and educational seats to the new ‘domiciles’.” Shedding light on the BJP-RSS’ machinations in Jammu and Kashmir, she noted: “Jammu has long suffered in terms of a political vacuum, which has also deepened the sense of discrimination. Its political significance in national politics has been only to serve as a prop in the hands of New Delhi to counter the Kashmir narrative or to strengthen internationalist politics. Now, with the administrative project of integration achieved and Kashmir’s politics stepping down into virtual servitude, Jammu’s political worth has further diminished.”
On a similar note, Tarigami said: “The [Narendra] 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 it dealing with Jammu and Kashmir. The government continues to concentrate on issues which are detrimental to the interests the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”
The signs of it are already coming. A newly active terror network called The Resistance Front has issued threats to the likely settlers. On online messaging platforms, the group alleged that the government intended to settle “RSS fascists” in Kashmir and that any Indian who settled in Kashmir would be treated as “an RSS agent”. Last year, following the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, there was a spate of attacks on migrant workers in Kashmir. Political experts are of the view that New Delhi’s “political incursions” in the Kashmir Valley will fuel the cycles of violence.