In a landmark decision, the Government of India has now decided that any Indian can purchase land in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The obvious aim of this is the full and complete integration of J&K with the rest of India after the abolition of Article 370. But Omar Abdullah has a question.
He is referring to states such as Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Meghalaya and many others which enjoy special protections against “outsiders” buying up land. In fact, many other states such as Jharkhand have a variety of restrictions on who can buy land and where. If all these places can have such laws, why not Jammu and Kashmir? Is this hypocritical?
We’ll see. First, let us take an example.
All across India, the center and state governments provide rice and wheat and other staples at near zero prices to BPL families. There is an extensive midday meal program for kids in government schools. This is to address the systemic problem of malnutrition, under-nutrition and food insecurity in India.
At the same time, India suffers from a high rate of lifestyle related diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. The government has another bunch of initiatives to tackle these problems, such as Fit India program to promote healthy living.
Is this hypocrisy then for the government to be running both? What is the problem in India: people eating too much or people eating too little?
It’s a silly question. Just like the one Omar Abdullah is asking. Where there is a problem of under-nutrition, you try to bring in food security. Where there are problems of obesity, you promote the Fit India program.
There can be a flood in Assam at the same time as a drought in Maharashtra. The Central government can provide drought relief to Maharashtra while providing flood relief to Assam. It’s not hypocrisy. It’s called doing what is necessary.
The problem in Kashmir was the apartheid regime of Article 370. It was apartheid against tribals, against women, against homosexuals, against members of the Valmiki community, against members of the Gorkha community. And of course, it was apartheid against Hindus: 5 lakh Hindus had to leave their homes due to threat of violence. You could even talk about language apartheid : only Urdu and English were recognized as official languages, even though barely 1% of the population spoke Urdu. The languages of real people, such as Kashmiri, Dogra and Hindi were not recognized. Indeed, the much vaunted “Kashmiriyat” had no place for the Kashmiri language.
In short, the problem in J&K was the xenophobia of a tiny elite that held the state in an iron grip. So what is the solution? Open it up. Let the state integrate fully with the rest of the country.
There are places in India where the problem is the opposite. We are a very diverse country. Small groups, especially historically marginalized tribal populations are at serious risk of having their identity wiped out. Where that is the case, we make special laws to protect their identity.
It’s that simple. Two competing forces. The need to open up and integrate. The need to protect identity. Both are important. We tackle the extremes of both. Where protectionism has turned into xenophobia and apartheid, we open things up. Where there is a group that might be losing the last bits of its identity, we offer a layer of protection.
Two competing concerns. The government playing referee and feeding one or the other based on case by case decisions. If there is someone who wants to invest in India, the government helps them open a factory and create jobs. If there is a factory that is polluting air or water to unacceptable levels, the same government will shut it down.
Both are the job of government.
Is it hypocrisy to have both a ministry for commerce and a ministry for the environment?
If the food is too hot, you wait for it to cool down so you can eat. If the food has gone too cold, you heat it up so you can eat. And that’s why we need right now that any citizen should be able to buy property in J&K. And also that the land rights of small communities in many other states are protected.