Pakistan on Sunday said attempts to scrap Article 35A of the Indian Constitution were aimed at bringing about demographic changes to the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region in violation of international law.
Article 35A, which was incorporated in the Constitution of India by a 1954 Presidential Order, accords special rights and privileges to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir and bars people from outside the state from acquiring any immovable property in the state. It also denies property rights to a woman married to a person from outside Jammu and Kashmir.
However, apart from Jammu and Kashmir, several other states are seeing the implementation of policies that could have a bearing on their demographic character.
These include the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which would essentially affect the whole of India but primarily the states bordering neighbouring countries, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Assam and the latest, and the proposal to grant Permanent Resident Certificates (PRC) to six non-native communities in Arunachal Pradesh (from which the state government later backtracked).
BJP national president Amit Shah made the party's intent clear at a rally in Assam on Sunday. "We will not allow Assam to become another Kashmir. That is why we have brought the NRC. We will deport each and every infiltrator with the help of NRC. We are committed to that," he said in North Lakhimpur.
Shah's remarks, made at a campaign rally ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, indicate that the saffron party aims to exploit social fault lines, and win the favour of communities that would stand to gain from policies such as the NRC.
The Centre has maintained that the NRC exercise in Assam is solely aimed at weeding out illegal immigrants in the state, those unable to produce the requisite documents to prove their citizenship. Assam, which has faced an influx of people from what is now Bangladesh since the early 20th century, is the only state with an NRC, which was first prepared in 1951.
When the government was criticised after over 40 lakh names were left out of the NRC on the intervening night of 31 December and 1 January, Shah was quick to dismiss it as a draft list, even though many were believed to be genuine Indian citizens. He also didn't leave the opportunity to say that the Congress, Trinamool Congress and other political parties opposing the NRC had not clarified their stand on "Bangladeshi infiltrators".
What contradicts the Centre's stand on expelling illegal immigrants from India is its persistent push for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. The proposed legislation aims to grant Indian citizenship to persecuted non-Muslims — members of minority communities — from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan even if they don't have the documents to prove that they have lived in India for six years, the stipulated period.
Granting this section of people permanent Indian citizenship would drastically affect the demography of the border states in particular, and was, naturally, vehemently opposed and ultimately not passed by the Rajya Sabha. This was primarily because it was seen as another Hindutva politics-centric move by the BJP to add to its Hindu vote bank ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
This claim that the government had committed to "take care of the persecuted people who come to India" is not one the central government can really support with proof, courtesy the deportation of some Rohingya Muslims — the world's most persecuted minority group — to Myanmar.
The controversy over PRCs has also triggered unrest in Arunachal Pradesh. Three people died over the weekend during protests against the proposed move to grant PRCs to six communities — five non-Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribes (Deoris, Sonowal Kacharis, Morans, Adivasis and Mishings), and the Gorkhas of Vijaynagar — in the Namsai and Changlang districts of the state.
The proposal triggered protests among groups who claim that the rights and interests of indigenous people will be compromised if the Arunachal Pradesh government accepts the recommendation of the joint high-powered committee.
This argument holds true for every one of the decisions the government has made that could bring about demographic changes to the regions they concern, including in Jammu and Kashmir in the event of any alteration to Article 35A of the Constitution.
However, the Centre's stand on Article 35A is quite unclear at the moment. The BJP government has not been forthright about its stance on the matter as all decisions have been restricted to the core group of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley. But the government is expected to make its stance clear in the Supreme Court, when it will take up for hearing petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Article.
One can only imagine the kind of turmoil that scrapping Article 35A could bring about in crisis-ridden Kashmir.
If the agitations in the North East and allies breaking away from the NDA are any indications to go by, some of the NDA government's moves in the region could end up hurting it politically. This may particularly be so with respect to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Similarly, any hint that Article 35A may be changed in any way would only add fuel to the fire already simmering in Jammu and Kashmir, where people have gone into panic mode since rumours spread that the Supreme Court was going to do away with the constitutional provision.
With months to go for the elections, the BJP has got itself embroiled in a host of controversial issues that could swing either way for the party, while leaving a trail of uncertainty for the residents of several regions.
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Updated Date: Feb 26, 2019 07:56:12 IST