The Government is clearly determined to take last year’s revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir to its logical conclusion. After the decision in August 2019 to nullify the special status under Article 370, three days ago, it followed up by removing restrictions on Indian nationals from all parts of the country to buy land in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
Earlier in April, new domicile rules, allowing all Indians to settle in J&K were notified. This had been a long-standing demand of the ruling party. It was argued that restrictions on domicile and on purchase of land in the then state of J&K had further helped fuel separatism. The argument that freeing land ownership for all Indians would further alienate the local people in the Valley is specious. For, the secessionist-jihadi violence had raged undiminished when Article 370 was very much in place; it did not begin after August 5, 2019, when it was defanged.
To say that new land laws and domicile rules would aggravate the situation when the separatist elements were already up in arms cannot be reason enough for the Centre to buckle and stop midway in pushing for the fuller integration of J and K into the Indian Union. Simply put, if for 70 years the special status had failed to win over those Kashmiris who were hell-bent on flying the flag of secession-separatism, removing restrictions on Indians from all parts of the country to acquire land in the Union Territory cannot alienate them any further.
Anyway, the reaction of the so-called mainstream parties in Kashmir who had ganged up against the removal of J&K’s special status can be well expected. Appeasing such elements whose commitment to the tricolour is contingent on their wielding power in Srinagar was never a wise decision. If the Modi government has chosen to call their bluff, ending decades of ambivalence on the accession of J&K with the Indian Union in the most forthright terms possible, it should be welcome by all nationalists. Kashmir has bled for decades.
It was time to take a call on whether we wanted it to inflict more pain on the Indian State or to take all necessary steps to fully integrate it with the rest of the country. Since seven decades of mollycoddling the Abdullahs and the Muftis had not yielded any result and even periodic attempts to engage the Hurriyat and other pro-Pakistan leaders had proven futile, the no-nonsense approach was the only option. Besides, there may be need to see the latest changes in Kashmir in the light of Islamabad’s brazen move to appropriate the illegally occupied Gilgit-Baltistan as a province of Pakistan. The removal of restrictions on Indians to acquire land in Kashmir was a bona-fide riposte to Pakistan’s provocative move.
Biharis a hardy lot, indeed
Biharis are a hardy lot. Notwithstanding the raging coronavirus pandemic, they enthusiastically voted in the assembly election on Wednesday, topping the 53.5 percentage in the Lok Sabha poll last year by a full percentage point in the first phase of polling. Seventy-one seats were up for grabs in Wednesday’s polling.
Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora was so impressed by the turnout that he read in it an endorsement of the EC’s decision to hold the Bihar poll amidst the pandemic despite some reservations voiced by independent observers. “It was a leap of faith, not a leap in the dark,” he said talking to the media. Such an impressive voter participation was clear from the way sizable crowds gathered to attend in-person rallies of various political parties. In fact, leaders of the NDA had to scale down the earlier plan to concentrate on virtual meetings, to avoid people risking the virus in large gatherings and switching to in-person rallies.
Whether it is the anti-incumbency against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who has been in the saddle for 15 years, or it is the caste consolidation by rival identity-based small and big political formations that prevails will be clear only on the counting day. But one thing is clear: Biharis take their vote seriously. Regardless of their socio-economic woes, they trekked in droves to the polling station to exercise the fundamental right to elect the rulers for the next five years. Such deepening of democracy is a heartening feature of our Republic.