The centre appears determined to go out of its way to court anger in Jammu and Kashmir, as if to convey to the people there that they are completely incidental to its plans for the one-year-old Union Territory. The new land laws notified on October 27, like the new domicile rules notified in April, do nothing to assure the people of the former state that their concerns on demographic change are being taken into consideration. Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha telling people, as late as the morning of the notification, to “rest assured” that no land would be sold to outsiders flies in the face of the notification that opens out J&K land for sale to anyone from any other part of the country, with no protections whatsoever. There are 23 petitions in the Supreme Court challenging the Centre’s August 5, 2019 decision, revoking the special status of J&K and bifurcating the state into the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh. It would have been proper for the government to wait for the court to pronounce a verdict on these petitions, last heard in March, instead of creating a fait accompli on the ground.
If the Centre had hoped J&K’s political parties might reconcile themselves to the August 5, 2019 decisions, the changes to the land rules have made it even more difficult for them to do that. In a place where people have come to view the government’s every action as an assault on their ethnic, political and religious identity, land rights take on huge significance. The sentiment was reflected in the reactions of all political parties in J&K. The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration called it a “massive assault” on the rights of the people. Fears of demographic change have haunted the people of Ladakh, too, and the J&K notification would have sent shock waves through the newly elected councillors of the Leh-Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council. But it is in BJP-dominated Jammu that the feeling of having been let down by its own is most predominant.
From August 5, 2019, the government’s actions in J&K have smacked of hubris, as if to say, “we do what we do because we can”. That may win some elections for the BJP, but it is not a solution to the longstanding problems in Kashmir. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah had assured that there is no plan to change the demography of J&K and that the Centre would take all steps to protect employment and land rights of the people. These assurances have to be written into the law to prevent further alienation of the people of J&K.
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