The gazette notification of the rules on domicile has brought the process initiated on August 5, 2019, in Jammu and Kashmir to a logical end. The annulment of Article 35A of the Constitution called for restating of the domicile qualifications in the state. Article 35A had allowed the J&K legislature to introduce the “permanent resident” category, which was arbitrary and discriminatory. The Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) became a weapon in the hands of successive state governments to deny fundamental rights to several people, even though they had been living there for decades, in many cases from the time of accession.
The new rules extend domicile status to not just the current PRC holders, but to all those who had been denied that status under the 35A regime. Refugees from West Pakistan, who had migrated to the Jammu region during Partition and the majority of whom belong to the Scheduled Castes, will now be able to attain domicile. The same is true for the 1971 refugees from Chamb region. Safai karmacharis, largely from the SC community, who were called into the state in the 1950s for such jobs, were also denied PRC status. So were the Gurkhas. Children of Kashmiri Pandits, born outside the state, can now claim domicile, as can children born to a resident mother and a non-resident father. People from PoK, who had migrated to other parts of the country and become domiciled in those states, can also come back to claim domicile in J&K.
The new domicile policy mandates all government jobs to be reserved for domiciles. In this scenario, the new rules are going to benefit large sections of the state’s population, who were treated as aliens until now.
Incidentally, several such important measures benefitting large sections of the population of the state never attract the attention of the many eminences who shed garrulous tears over neutralised terrorists and their incarcerated accomplices. This has been the tragedy with J&K. J&K has always been seen from either a Pakistan prism or the prism of the terrorists. That there are millions of ordinary people both in Jammu and in Kashmir, who are far removed from terrorism and separatism, and want to lead life as peaceful citizens of the country, does not appeal to these eminences.
“The Kashmir dispute is on the agenda of the two countries since 1947, which does not allow people of the state to mentally settle down and treat themselves as citizens of India. Repeated rhetoric of Indo-Pak dialogue for settling all disputes naturally leaves every Kashmiri thinking that their future is yet to be decided. This adds to their anger, alienation, uncertainty and results in violence,” bemoaned police officer A M Watali in his revealing memoir.
The most significant change that has been brought about by the Narendra Modi government was to stop looking at Kashmir from a Pakistani or a terrorist prism. Instead, we started looking at it from the prism of its 12 million inhabitants. August 5, 2019, symbolises that shift in the government’s approach.
There is a Kashmiri saying: “shal shal beun beun, tongi wizi quney” (Jackals live separately, but howl together). From Islamabad to New York, many Islamists and their supporters are howling at a feverish pitch against this shift. But the people of J&K are largely calm. Incidents of terror have increased since the onset of summer largely due to the push from across the border. Local recruitment, however, remained low compared to previous years.
Article 370 had been amended umpteen times in the past. Once the accession was “ratified” by the J&K Constituent Assembly in 1954, the Indian government quickly extended majority of the provisions of the Constitution to J&K. The Nehru government even assured Parliament on November 27, 1963, that further steps to erode Article 370 would be taken “in the next month or two”.
All along, Kashmiri politicians were making provocative speeches in Srinagar, but the people at large remained nonchalant. Sheikh Abdullah had the reputation of being a “communalist in Kashmir, a communist in Jammu and a nationalist in India”, as Pandit Premnath Dogra had once put it. The Delhi Agreement of 1975 between Abdullah and Indira Gandhi too did not return any of the original powers under Article 370. Indira Gandhi told Abdullah categorically that the “clock cannot be turned back”. The people of J&K accepted the Delhi Agreement.
Now, Modi and Amit Shah decided to put an end to the “uncertainty” by doing away with Article 370 and Article 35A in letter and spirit. Having lived under the shadow of Article 370 for seven decades, the people of J&K decided to give the new status a chance. That is the reason why the region has been largely quiet in the last nine months. The detractors would attribute this calm to the excessive presence of security forces and arrests of leaders. Except for half-a-dozen senior leaders, most politicians have been released. The presence of security forces too has been rolled back significantly. Even then, people are not on the streets pelting stones and shouting azadi.
It is time the state administration appreciates this and pays the people handsomely for their openness. Certain harsh measures like denial of 4G services, which were necessary under special circumstances, can now be done away with, as the state administration and security apparatus are capable of handling difficult situations. The Constitution allows for the administrative handling of units for some duration under special circumstances. Those circumstances have more or less passed in J&K. It is time the UT is allowed full-fledged political activity.
Full political integration is when the state is run by its people rather than the proverbial “steel frame”. And that conclusively conveys the message to the jackals across the border that J&K is fully and integrally India’s and the only dispute to settle is the return of PoK.
This article first appeared in the print edition on May 21, 2020 under the title ‘Reward the people’. The writer is national general secretary, BJP, and director, India Foundation
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