Bill Of Wrongs
13 March 2004
New Delhi: By putting the J&K Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill 2004 in temporary limbo, Legislative Council Chairman Abdul Rashid Dar has invited undeserved victimisation. The National Conference has expelled him from primary party membership, livid as it is at the missed chance to play to the galleries against stiff competition from the ruling PDP. The nation, however, will salute Mr Dar for stalling the passage of what he implied was 'hasty legislation'. Since points of order came up during the Upper House's marathon debate, he would, in fact, not have discharged his duties had he wilted under party pressure. He has justified deferment of voting by rightly pointing to the 'raison d'etre' of a House of Elders: To act as a check on law- making based on 'populist' and 'electoral' compulsions. One set of related issues requiring analysis was whether the Bill contradicted the basic structure, or fell within the ambit of Section 9, of the J&K Constitution, or whether it was a simple legislation. There was also the question of whether a majority of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of the House needed to pass bills meant the number of persons present or the total number required. The Congress and the Panther's Party had also moved amendments that had to be gone into-one requesting reference to a Select Committee, the other that the Bill apply to both men and women. Thursday's events have, for the moment, allowed the Congress to get away with having initially backed an obnoxiously anti-democratic Bill-it adopted a hands-off approach only when it realised its fingers would get burnt on poll-eve. But the Bill's cold storaging does not change the fact of its highly prejudicial nature. Nor will the renewed focus on the instrumentalising of J&K's 'special status' by communalised party politicking go away. Going by their one-upmanship, the PDP and the NC seem more interested in pandering to communal elements than in protecting J&K against 'outsiders', projected as rapacious land- grabbers luring Kashmiri women into wedlock. Else, faced with nationwide criticism, the Bill's unapologetic backers would have pondered its gender bias. They would have seen that screening of non- State partners of such proposed marriages, via some form of mandated application process, could achieve what the Bill is purportedly meant to. Claiming to represent all Kashmiris, they would also not have maintained a deafening silence on the charge that the Bill is a weapon against J&K's Hindus, particularly in Jammu-indeed, that it is no less than a legalised method of forcing demographic change, a form of sanitised ethnic cleansing. Clearly, the pause in legislative proceedings should prompt serious thinking on the merits of jettisoning the Bill. The Congress has a key role in this regard. It has already damaged its image by choosing to placate its ally while saving its own skin by flipflopping rather than taking a firm stand. There is reason to suspect it may act similarly once the threat of punishment at the hands of voters has passed. If it does play the PDP's accessory in the future, it will betray the mandate that brought India's oldest national party at J&K's helm in 2002, a mandate reflecting the desire of Kashmiris to assert their identity as Indian citizens. It will also betray the country's women, who once won the right to vote at the stroke of Independence, a right generations of their Western counterparts struggled for. Women have been equal partners of men in the fight for freedom, and in freedom's preservation through nation-building. The J&K Bill makes a mockery of Indian womanhood. Article 370's exploitation by the professed champions of Kashmiriyat adds insult to this injury.