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Politics of Land
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Politics of Land

Before New Delhi’s new land laws for Jammu and Kashmir would force local unionists to raise demographic change fears in the region, the abrogation of Article 370 had long set the stage for the landscape alteration.


After losing its special constitutional positioning on 5 August 2019, the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir is fanatically facing the ‘Naya Kashmir’ music.

While the renewed crackdown has badly hit natives and their livelihoods, New Delhi is bent on wooing non-natives after passing new land laws—triggering the fears of demographic change in the Muslim-majority region.

But before issuing a series of controversial edicts, the government of India had identified 6000-acre land bank in the union territory for non-local investors.

No outsiders could buy land in JK before the abrogation of Article 35-A. The law was enshrined in the constitution of India with the 1954 presidential order.

Earlier, on a plea of Kashmiri Pandits and Jammu Dogras—who feared demographic change and lose of exclusive property rights to well-off Punjabi merchants from neighbouring northern regions—the last Dogra monarch of the erstwhile princely state of JK had enacted state subject law in the 1920s, which later became Article 35-A of Indian constitution.

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The law had protected the unique identity of the region, just like Article 371, which gives domicile rights to the local population of Himachal Pradesh and North-Eastern states of India.

Even before the advent of the rightwing Bhartiya Janta Party in May 2014, its poster boy, the current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi had launched a scathing attack on Article 35-A. He termed it “discriminatory, gender-biased and anti-developmental” during his much-touted Lalkar rally in Jammu at the fag-end of 2013.

Not only such campaign alarmed the beleaguered separatist camp of Kashmir who feared “Israeli-type settlements” in Jammu and Kashmir in wake of its abrogation, but even the local unionists including the three former chief ministers of the region also warned New Delhi against any such ‘political misadventure’.

Representational Image / web archives

To resist such moves now, these unionists have opened a new front “not against the government but BJP” in the form of People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration. Land defense is a collective war cry of this group of strange bedfellows.

However, before new groupings would emerge to counter the establishment’s “Naya Kashmir” narrative, protest rallies were taken out in JK after the state subject law faced a series of sponsored litigations and hearings in the Supreme Court of India.

The apex court had already settled the issue twice. And therefore when it accepted new petitions filed by rightwingers, it triggered the fears of what BJP had promised in its manifesto: Abrogation of JK’s special status and the full integration of the state with the rest of India.

And since RSS is the fountainhead of the ruling BJP, the motive behind the abrogation, as Omar Abdullah lately asserted, appears to achieve the dream of Akhand Bharat.

Even Ram Madhav, BJP’s ex-Kashmir pointman, made no bones about it, when he said that Muzaffarabad is next step towards Akhand Bharat.

However, fearing demographic change, a civil society in Jammu during a seminar conducted soon after the abrogation sought assurance from a junior minister in Narendra Modi’s office, Dr. Jitendra Singh about the safety of their land and jobs in the newly-declared union territory.

Singh assured the anxious Jammuites about a law that would protect the locals’ claim over land and jobs. He was talking about domicile law on the pattern of Himachal Pradesh, where an outsider can own land or apply for a government job only after living in the state for 15 years.

But 15 months after the abrogation of Article 370, with New Delhi already wooing non-local investors with new land laws, the entire domicile law exercise has itself become redundant in JK now.

Before these laws, the Narendra Modi government was working towards the implementation of the Land Act in the land-locked region. While its upshot remains undefined, the government of the day is busy clearing the previously-patronized land scheme across Jammu and Kashmir in the name of Roshni.

The government of India is also working on the Industrial policy and in this regard, Jammu’s Samba and Kathua belts are being prepared for the massive investments. Also, 100-acres of land were lately sanctioned for the construction of a temple in Jammu. All this makes local unionists believe that JK has been put on an open sale.

But with shifted scenarios and altered politics in JK post-abrogation, the ‘mainstream’ is now throwing their weight behind the restoration of Article 370. The campaign surfaced despite Muzaffar Beg, the former deputy chief minister of JK and the votary of Gupkar Declaration, asserting that ‘it’s time to move on from the special status bogey’.

Amid all this, a seven-member delegation of Kashmir Pandits earlier this year met Home Minister of India in New Delhi and fuelled speculations about separate settlements. After giving the delegation a patient hearing, Amit Shah unveiled his “Naya Kashmir” blueprint.

Shah announced BJP government’s decision to settle KPs in settlements in ten districts of Kashmir. And with Raj Bhavan already clearing transit camps for migrant Pandits in different parts of the valley, the fears of settler-colonies have only gained new grounds.

All this apparently vindicate the stand of separatists on the BJP’s core politics and its long-term strategy for Kashmir.


(This Analysis appeared in the November 2020 print issue of the Mountain Ink.)

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