The rules setting out new domicile criteria in Jammu & Kashmir have done nothing to reassure the people of the erstwhile state on the issue of demographic change. Only last month, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah had assured a delegation of the newly-created Altaf Bokhari-led J&K Apni Party that the Union Territory would have “a better domicile policy than other states”. It says something about how the policy, notified earlier this week, is being seen in J&K that even Bokhari feels let down. The Centre may have expected him to help it sell the new policy to the people. Instead, Bokhari has called it an attempt to “hoodwink” the people of J&K, and said it was “totally unacceptable” to JKAP. The National Conference called it “an insult upon injury”. Others, too, have criticised it in similar vein.
Under the new rules — which replace the pre-August 5 rules for defining “permanent residents” who can own property and are eligible for government jobs — the categories are made more expansive: Those who have lived in the state for 15 years; those who have studied seven years in the state and written their Class 10 or Class 12 examinations; the children of such people; the children of a whole range of central government officials who have served 10 years in J&K; and such official themselves. As if this was not alarming enough for even a Bokhari to raise a rebellious voice, there is outrage that the only government employment reserved for those with domicile are “level 4” jobs. These account for a majority of government jobs and, very soon, non-J&K aspirants who meet the domicile requirements under the new policy would also be in the running.
The timing of the order is equally disquieting. At a moment when the entire nation, including J&K, is focussed 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 former state. Upon his release from detention under the J&K Public Safety Act, former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had said that despite his views on what the Centre had done in J&K on August 5, he would desist from commenting on it for the moment, in order to support the government fully in the anti-coronavirus effort. The government should have acted in the same spirit. Instead, it has done the opposite by bringing in a politically contentious measure.