For a change Jammu and Kashmir Valley now are speaking in one voice, protesting against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government’s move to allow outsiders to buy land in the Union territory. Until the notification was issued on October 27, only permanent residents were allowed to own land. The notification, however, exempts agricultural land from its ambit. The decision follows the abrogation of Article 370 over a year ago, and only fulfils the BJP’s dream of making Jammu and Kashmir an integral part of India in all possible respects. No sooner was the notification issued than the Kashmir valley was up in arms against it with political parties seeing in it a possible design to alter the demographic profile of the region by allowing outsiders to come in, buy land and settle down. What the BJP had not probably expected was that even Jammu would go the Valley way and seek a ban on sale of land to outsiders; not expected because Jammu is Hindu-dominated unlike the Valley and, hence, understandably the party’s happy hunting ground. The Kashmiri Pandits are aggrieved that instead of resettling and rehabilitating them in their homeland from where they were driven away over three decades ago, the central government threw open the Kashmir land for sale. Satish Ambardar, chairman of Reconciliation, Return and Rehabilitation, an organisation of migrant Pandits said in a statement: “Kashmiri Pandits feel betrayed. For 31 years we have been waiting for return and rehabilitation in our land of origin. Without getting us rehabilitated in our land, the Government of India has thrown open the Kashmir land for sale. Is this justice? Since 1989, the community has suffered genocide and ethnic cleansing in the valley.”
Few can question the virtues of integration that would allow people of a country to move freely and settle down in any of its part without getting any vibes of alienation from people already residing there. It is also true though, that our Constitution also has sanctioned protection to people in certain parts of the country – and not Kashmir alone – from being swamped by outsiders. There are special provisions in the Constitution for some states in the North East which restrict transfer of land to people not indigenous to these areas. One reason put forward on the need for integration of Jammu and Kashmir by allowing sale of its land to outsiders is that it would help in its development, an area where it lags behind the rest of the country. The same may then hold true for the Northeastern states too, since these are also not as developed. The BJP, however, does not appear to be too bothered about its idea of `integration’ not taking roots in the North East. This could raise doubts in people’s minds about the party’s real intention behind taking such measures in the northern Union territory. Integration does not connote merely physical oneness, but emotional too. In the instant case, the Centre has not shown any such feeling; it has just bulldozed its way through without even trying to get views of the people on what it wished to do. That’s crass unilateralism and wholly undesirable in a country that boasts of being the largest democracy. Go ahead and integrate, but also spare a thought for the rights of the indigenous communities which are enshrined in the Constitution.