Last day of March this year, the Modi government announced its most bewildering decision yet, that virtually applies a reverse gear on the epochal decisions it took on the 5th of August previous year. On the 31st of March, through a gazette notification, issued by the Home Ministry in Delhi, 15 years of residence was made a prerequisite to qualify for being a domiciled resident of the Union Territory (UT) of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). Further, being a domiciled resident was made mandatory for the Level-4 jobs in the UT of J&K.
The implication of making a special class of ‘domiciled citizens’ for Level-4 jobs was barely absorbed when another gazette notification was delivered 3 days later. On the 4th of April, the gazette notification issued substituted “Level-4 jobs” with “all the jobs”. All this, while India has been in a complete lockdown across its length and breadth owing to the pandemic. The nation has been engrossed in fighting COVID-19. All we are soaking in these days are the grim details of a global catastrophe. And, they slip this in.
Domicile, per se, is not something unusual. Several states and UTs in the Indian Union, have this as a privilege for their natives or those who have chosen to make them their home over the years. But it is interesting to see how these states and UTs define domicile and where all they apply it. For example, neighbouring Punjab and the distant Meghalaya, Telangana, and Chhattisgarh do not insist on any number of years but merely a certificate from a sarpanch or a revenue officer of the government to certify that the concerned person lives at a certain address in their jurisdiction. Odisha seeks only one year of stay in the state while Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi only three years, to offer any Indian citizen the status of their states’ domiciled resident.
Madhya Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh grant it at five years while Karnataka and Tamil Nadu at six. Andhra Pradesh takes seven years. Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Tripura take ten. Most of the time, the domicile certificate is invoked for the issuance of the ration card and passport. In certain cases, for the scholarships in the educational institutions of the state governments and wherever there is a quota for the admission to such institutions. Seldom do you find a blanket exclusion of all the non-domiciles from the state government jobs as has been decided for the J&K.
None of these states and UTs should even be compared to the J&K. There are two very good reasons for that. The first reason is that no other state or UT in the past 70 years built such barriers to free movement and settlement of the citizens from the rest of India as had the J&K. There was, in fact, a super-domicile system called the Permanent Residents’ Certificate (PRC) in J&K, akin to a separate citizenship, before the 5th of August. This created a huge anomaly that needed to be set right. Therefore, creating a privileged category of the domiciled who have lived in the J&K for 15 years or more, that too so soon after dismantling the PRC system on the 5th of August, amounted to serving liquor to an alcoholic after promising to wean him away.
The second reason is even more compelling. The Islamists in J&K abused the state’s autonomy to wage a jihad against India. Over the years, the jihadis were allowed to take control of the street, the establishment and the civil society organizations. They expelled the Hindus from the Valley en masse and distorted the demographic balance to suit the Islamists’ argument for tearing the territory away from India. The crying need today is to correct the demographic imbalance. Even bigger need is to delegitimise and defang the bigotry that goes to war to build and preserve a Muslim-only society in the Valley. A 15-year domicile system with a total monopoly over the government jobs for now, and whatever else follows later, is only going to help the Islamists keep India out of the J&K.
In fact, if any people needed the protection under a domicile law because of their sparse and pacifist population and vulnerability to a potential demographic destabilization, it is the other UT- Ladakh. Ladakh’s Buddhists have been restive for decades. Not only for being denied their due by the Valley-centric polity of the J&K. Also, because they have faced a sustained demographic assault on their habitat. It is evident that Ladakh’s neglect isn’t over yet. Nobody in New Delhi is in any hurry to follow up on the 5th of August changes.
Coming back to the J&K, these domicile notifications beg a serious question. Weren’t such counterproductive implications of domicile notifications apparent to the honchos at the North Block? But then, it isn’t just these notifications. If you look at an entire series of decisions and missteps taken since the 5th of August announcements, you could be forgiven for noticing that our leaders have reverted to their favourite pastime, of winning hearts and minds, after declaring a veritable war on jihad on 5th of August.
The Valley-politicians, and their support-system at the Raisina Hill, have been busy pushing this government to make concessions. Ironically, they were encouraged in this by our very same leaders who basked in the glory of the 5th of August decisions. In the Parliament itself when they announced the reorganization of the State into the two UTs, they looked all too willing to be nudged to undo the same. The leadership clearly mentioned that restoring the Statehood to J&K could be considered. Such ambivalence either betrayed an utterly casual approach towards such profound decisions or a complete lack of conviction in them, if not both. But isn’t that fast becoming the hallmark of this government? Just take a look at the chronology (and I’m not being tongue-in-cheek) of the events.
On the 5th of August, 2019, Article 370 was, finally, neutered. Never mind that it took Prime Minister Modi over five years, two consecutive unambiguous mandates, and, in between, an experiment that went horribly wrong (to cohabit in J&K with the PDP- a party of unapologetic jihad-proxies), to ultimately, realise and deliver on this promise. As if to make up for the delay, but more so, to address the problem comprehensively, the PM did not stop at just that. He reorganised the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories (UTs), liberating Ladakh into a standalone UT.
Expectedly, the world sat up and took notice. Pakistan howled. China bristled. A few usual suspects, like Turkey and Malaysia, grumbled. India stood its ground. We took no time in rejecting, resolutely, all advice as gratuitous and all the objections as an unwelcome interference in our internal affairs. Even while the European Parliament decided to get together to discuss Kashmir a month later, S Jaishankar rushed to Brussels. India reiterated its ‘internal affair’ position even in the face of concerns expressed by several Members of European Parliament (MEPs). However, it took barely a month for our PM to abandon the ‘internal affair’ line and roll out a red carpet for the 27 carefully picked MEPs.
On the 29th of October, they were given a boat-ride in the Dal Lake and made available to about 15 curated ‘delegations’ of the locals for some polite conversation. EU washed its hands off this stunt calling it an unauthorized private visit by some MEPs. Since then, several foreign envoys stationed in Delhi have been conducted around Srinagar, in two batches, to have a good look at our ‘internal affair’. Understandably, those who refused to go, or were dumped after being invited, made more news than the ones who went.
This is what we often do to the red lines that we ourselves draw, for the world at large. What it does to our diplomacy, in general, and the reputation of our leadership, in particular, isn’t difficult to guess. But the bigger trouble is what our enemies learn about us in the process, of whom, incidentally, we have more than our fair share. This does not take away from the fact that the 5th of August decisions were meticulously planned for. The likely reactions, on the ground in the Valley as well as across the world capitals, were well anticipated and comprehensively pre-empted (Pakistan publicly acknowledged that it was left almost friendless). The security forces, the diplomacy, and the political leadership deserve unqualified kudos for that. It was a stupendous success.
Where we looked rank non-starters was the war of narratives. It looked poorly thought through, if et al, and clumsily fought. Sending a few errand boys, with privileged access to internet, to post videos and despatches claiming everything was ‘normal’ was scoffed at and laughed off even before it got barely visible. The sight of our National Security Advisor (NSA), nervously eating off the styrene plates, served by some grim-looking faces, in front of the shuttered shops, looked even less credible than Hamid Mir holding a dead crow for the cameras, at Balakot. What it did produce was just the kind of footage our detractors needed to impale us.
Al Jazeera apart, New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, The Guardian even The Lancet- a globally followed journal that deals with health and medicine, were badgering us on Kashmir. A barrage of editorials, Op-ed articles, reportage, pictures, footage, stories went without a counter. The irony wasn’t that India stood in the dock looking desperate and trying to firefight, in vain. But, that it was Pakistan that put us in the dock asking us the questions on religious persecution and human rights. On 22nd of October, at the US Congressional Hearing on the issue of Human Rights in South Asia, we looked like a rabbit caught in front of a bunch of headlights. We naively self-flagellated trying to earn some credibility and also, if possible, some sympathy from the enemy who had, clearly, set us up.
That it didn’t have to be so was proved on the 15th of November, in another hearing. But this time if we emerged looking good and smelling fresh, it was no thanks to the dithering minds in Delhi. It was the energetic and committed Indian diaspora in the US that pitched in. They have been tenaciously fighting on our behalf, all by themselves, even as the super strategists in Delhi were busy rolling out a red-carpet invitation to anybody across the world who showed a semblance of pity at our plight, to visit Kashmir and have a good look at what, we still maintain with a straight face, is strictly our ‘internal affair’.
With all this going on, on 10th of February, the Governor of J&K announces elections to the vacant Panchayat seats and Block-Chairmen. On the 12th of February, former IB and RAW Chief, AS Dulat, goes to meet Farooq Abdullah, who was confined to his house since 5th of August. He couldn’t have met him without the explicit approval, if not encouragement, from the Home Ministry. On the 13th, 15th, and 17th of February the Governor further announces the elaborate schedule of the elections for the nominations and polling. On the 18th of February, the polls are scrapped without giving any reasons.
On 8th of March, Altaf Bukhari, formerly the Finance Minister in Mehbooba Mufti’s government, announces the launch of the Apni Party. Discards and deserters from Congress, PDP and NC make up its ranks. (Bukhari himself is known as a rich businessman who understands the language of money well but also has been transacting freely across the political spectrum, including the Hurriyet leadership. Incidentally, in November 2018, his car carrying a large quantity of RDX was intercepted). In less than a week, on the 14th of March, the Prime Minister meets Bukhari and his group of 24. Two days later, on the 16th of March, the Home Minister also meets the delegation. Both spent several hours with them. Both gave many assurances, including that the demography of J&K will not change.
Meanwhile, on the 11th of March, Farooq Abdullah’s detention at home, under Public Safety Act (PSA), was extended by six months. But three days later, on the 14th, he was a free man. Ghulam Nabi Azad was there with him, for the cameras. As they smiled, the body language was unmistakably triumphant. There were not even the customary statements appealing to the people to maintain peace and calm, about being innocent or even assuring constructive cooperation for the good of J&K. Far from being chastened, Farooq was seen and heard dictating terms to the Centre. He demanded an immediate release of all those detained. On the 24th, Omar Abdullah too was released.
All this, and more, happened before the two gazette notifications, on domicile, of 31st of March and 4th of April. On the 9th of April, a frenzied funeral for Sajjad Nawab Dar, who was killed in an encounter at Sopore, took place defying the lockdown. Over a thousand participated. Though a common sight earlier, this was the first such spectacle since the decisions of the 5th of August, 2019. Without any lockdown or curfew to keep the mourners indoors, such funerals had stopped after the 5th of August, despite several encounters killing dozens of terrorists.
So, what is the PM doing in Jammu and Kashmir? You do the maths.