Deafening Domicile

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Amid the counter-Covid-19 lockdown, Delhi quietly rolled out the new rules defining domicile of the newly created Union Territory. Amended a few days later, the notification issued has its connotation across the spectrum, reports Tasavur Mushtaq

PM Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh

Following the days of uncertainty and a tense night of August 4, 2019, when Delhi decided to divulge its plan, finally, Kashmir was put to halt. With the heavy deployment of armed and paramilitary forces, ceased connectivity – mobile as well as the internet, and astringent curfew, the major shock was the detention of unionist politicians. Three former chief ministers were first in the row.

The unilateral decision to scrap the special status came as a shock, across the political spectrum. With lot unsaid and little to do, the months passed in uneasy calm. The stifled voices revealed the mounting pressure, both at individual and organizational levels. The politics took the back seat.

As months passed, the restrictions diluted. Barring few, most of the unionist politicians including the father-son duo, Dr Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah were released in a phased manner. Mehbooba too was shifted to her home, recently.

Once out from the detention, the politicians preferred silence over speech. They remained guarded in their approach towards politics while expressing their dissent over the unilateral decision of Jammu and Kashmir’s downgrade into two Union Territories. As the uneasy calm continued, Coronavirus pandemic took over. The focus shifted and the priorities changed.

Quite Rollout

Delhi, however, had its plan. After seven months of scrapping the special status, at the peak of the pandemic, the centre quietly rolled out the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of State Laws) Order 2020. The new rules defining domicile of the newly created Union Territory.

The change from “permanent resident of the state” to “Domicile of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir” changed the existing contours of the erstwhile state. The order defined domiciles as anyone “who has resided for 15 years in the UT of J&K or has studied for seven years and appeared in Class tenth 10th/12th examination in an educational institution located in the UT of J&K or who is registered as a migrant by the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner (Migrants).”

A file photo of senior leaders of mainstream political parties during a meeting before August 5, 2019.

It meant “children of central government officials, All India Services, PSUs, autonomous body of Centre, Public Sector Banks, officials of statutory bodies, Central Universities, recognised research institutes of Centre who have served in J&K for a total period of 10 years” will be domiciled. The domicile status also applies to “children of such residents of J&K who reside outside J&K in connection with their employment or business or other professional or vocational reasons but their parents should fulfil any of the conditions provided.”

The order linked all the government jobs with the domicile status of an applicant.

Undoing History

In Kashmir’s history, one the major milestones of achievement have been a protection to identity comprising its land, the people, the culture and most of the opportunities that would be generated. For most of its history, Kashmir remained generous in welcoming the guests and it dated back to the Hindu era. The process of immigration continued as every new ruler, after vanquishing Kashmir by power or deceit or, in one case by outright purchase, came with his flock.

Maulana Mohammed Sayed Masoodi Provisional President of the Kashmir Constituent Assembly addressing the members on the inauguration of the Assembly in Srinagar on October 31, 1951.

The tensions peaked late nineteenth century when the masters of Kashmir brought men from the plains to rule. Though the majority Muslim community was fighting hunger and exploitation, a strong movement was launched by privileged communities – the Kashmiri Pandits and the Jammu’s upper-caste Dogras. The movement succeeds early twentieth century when Maharaja Partap Singh acceded to the demand and defined various categories of the people who would be the state subjects of the princely state.

Post-1947, these declarations were absorbed in the Article 35A of the Constitution of India and became constitutionally guaranteed rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. There were two vital ingredients of the accession – Article 370 that governed the relationship and Article 35A that gave protection to the diversity of the identity of people in Jammu and Kashmir. The right-wing party had gone to the court against Article 35A. Eventually, in August, the BJP led government in Delhi took a unilateral route by annulling both and downgrading the state into two UTs.

Setback

As the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) rolled out the plan at the peak of an all India lockdown to prevent the Covid-19 spread, it did trigger a chain reaction. It was seen as a setback by not only the ruling BJP in Jammu and Kashmir but by the new political forces that the central government painstakingly carved out of the existing political structure in the erstwhile state. Nobody was supportive of the idea.

Jubilant over the scrapping of the special status in 2019, the BJP Jammu was disappointed, over the land rights and a clause that only the lower level jobs will be reserved for locals and the higher-level jobs will be open for all. They are understood to have lodged a strong protest with Home Minister, Amit Shah.

The sources in the party told Kashmir Life that the cadre base in Jammu was “concerned” and the rules have “saddened” them.

The voices in the party got shriller seeking riders safeguarding interests of the residents. “BJP has a base in Jammu, they don’t bother about Kashmir. This order is an insult to their assurances for the people of Jammu,” said local activist on conditions of anonymity.

Talking anonymously, a ground zero BJP leader said the decision will hurt the interests of the party on a long term basis. “We are facing a backlash from our workers, leave aside the general public. At the end of the day we have to go back and seek votes,” he said.

Confirming to a crisis, The Hindu reported that BJP’s national general secretary Ram Madhav admitted the “fears are valid.” “There are some issues about the domicile notification that has been flagged, especially with regards to reserving jobs for locals, and to an extent these fears are valid,” said Madhav, the man who oversees the party in Jammu and Kashmir.

Apni Party Crisis

The refurbished political forces, mainly the newly created Apni Party launched by businessman politician, Syed Altaf Bukhari, described the rules issued as “ill-timed” and “casual” attempt.

Bukhari, who had earlier claimed to have got assurances from both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah that the order will get delayed. Somehow, it was rolled out.

Five days after its launch, the Apni Party in a group photograph with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: PMO

It had no option but to quickly react as it had a cascading effect on the new party’s agenda. “While JKAP had been vehemently demanding Domicile Rights on land and jobs for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the order issued by the union government reflects a casual exercise carried out at the bureaucratic level without taking aspirations and expectations of people into consideration,” reacted Bukhari to the development. “This Order in its entirety is a casual attempt, cosmetic in nature, to hoodwink the people of Jammu and Kashmir who genuinely believed that post-October 31, 2019, their rights and privileges in the matter of employment and other rights would remain as it had been.”

Bukhari indicated that is the order could go to the court.

Peoples Conference, that was earlier an ally of the BJP, termed the order as “ironical” given the current crisis. Party spokesperson, Junaid Azim Mattu, also the Srinagar Mayor, wrote on Twitter: “What is ironically historical though is that in the middle of one of the worst medical disasters facing the world, the Govt of the day has the TIME and PATIENCE to script a disaster of its own. During the #COVID19battle, the people of J&K didn’t deserve humiliation,” he tweeted.

Mattu added: “the order falls short of expectations even for those who expected some relief some reconciliation process. The new definition of ‘domicile’ is humiliating and insulting. Adds insult to injury.”

NC and PDP

Released after his detention under PSA was revoked, former chief minister Omar Abdullah, described the notification as an “insult” while questioning its timing. “Talk about suspect timing. At a time when all our efforts & attention should be focused on the #COVID outbreak, the government slips in a new domicile law for J&K. Insult is heaped on the injury when we see the law offers none of the protections that had been promised,’’ Omar tweeted.

In a veiled reference to Bukhari led Apni Party, Omar said: “You can imagine how hollow the domicile law is from the fact that even the new party created with Delhi’s blessings, whose leaders were lobbying in Delhi for this law, have been forced to criticize the #JKdomicilelaw.”

Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter, Iltija Mufti writing from her mother’s twitter handle termed the order as part of “subjugation.”

“J&K’s new domicile law is part of a diabolical demographic project that began on 5th August with Article 370 abrogation. Imposing it in times of a global pandemic reveals a callous & paranoid mindset willfully violating consent to ensure subjugation,” Iltija wrote in one tweet. ”They are in a maddening rush to appropriate our land and resources. Wonder why they don’t show the same sense of urgency to save lives of thousands of Kashmiris jailed in & outside J&K?”

Even Congress, the party that had gradually diluted the special status also joined in. “This is an insult to the people of J&K,” state Congress president, Ghulam Ahmad Mir said. “By this order, the centre has made lakhs of people eligible for the jobs and other things which were reserved for the people of J&K.”

Amendments

Sensing the sensitivity of party base in Jammu, the BJP led government a few days later of its initial order amended the law and made six changes, including protection to domiciles to “any post” in the government including senior-level positions. The amended order also removed the clause that any person fulfilling the criteria of domicile eligibility will “deemed to be” a domicile. The power to issue domicile certificates has been given to local magistrate, Tehsildar. This, many think was the outcome of the “private negotiations”.

Reacting to the amendment, Omar suggested centre to restore statehood and conduct elections. “It’s high time people of J&K get to decide the laws that will govern them rather than being subjected to the whims and fancies of the Centre, where orders are issued in the morning and changes issued in the evening. Restore statehood and conduct elections in J&K,” he said

PDP spokesman from Jammu, Firdous Tak while castigating the ruling BJP said: “The domicile legislation, even in its amended form, portrays the real intention behind the scrapping of J&K’s special status. A law that was to govern 12 million population of J&K was so offhandedly drafted that the Union government had to change it within 72 hours. Local educated and uneducated youth are robbed of their rights in the middle of the night with the stroke of a pen, without their consultation.”

File photo of Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Justice Husnian Masoodi with PM Narendra Modi in New Delhi.

National Conference termed the amendments to domicile law “another example of Central governments toying around with J&K and its people”. “There is not an iota of doubt that domicile law will change the demography of J&K and will essentially rob the rights of locals to jobs here,” said NC spokesman Imran Nabi Dar.

Terming it, a “monkey dance”, Sajjad Lone led Peoples Conference said: “The sensitive and cherished aspect of sub-identity remains unguarded. This perhaps sums up the new state of affairs: ‘Take a pound from you and throw some pennies back at you subject to you enacting a monkey dance’,” said Mattu.

Why Various Aspects of Kashmir’s Domicile Debate Have not Been Properly Understood?

The two parties to welcome the amendments were, BJP and Apni Party. “The JKAP will continue with its efforts to get this law revisited in its entirety to remove the remaining loopholes till it satisfies the aspirations of people of J&K,” Bukhari told The Hindu while extending his gratitude to the home minister and National Security Advisor. “I extend my gratitude to Union Home Minister Amit Shah and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. It’s their personal intervention that has made them much needed amendments to domicile law possible in a very short time,” he added.

With this, the “either-or” policy continues. In August, the Central Government scrapped the special status and downgraded the state. It suggested the political parties work for the restoration of the statehood and they did. In party two, states subject rules were changed by domicile rules and the jobs were linked to it. Sections of Kashmir politicians picked the job issue. The political parties are now used to pick the low hanging of the two options and managing a balance.

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