Dear Indians Who Turned into “Land Buyers” Post Article 370, Can You Please Calm Down?

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Dear Indians Who Turned into “Land Buyers” Post Article 370, Can You Please Calm Down?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

T

he reactions to Monday’s landmark announcement that Article 370 of the Constitution would be abrogated, and that Jammu & Kashmir was no longer going to enjoy special status in the Indian Union, can be broadly grouped into two main categories – jubilant and outraged. The backers of the BJP are mostly elated and detractors are of course outraged. Both sides have their arguments, but understanding the complicated nature of J&K and Article 370 is beyond most laypeople. But amid the chaos, there’s a third sort that has emerged, mostly motivated by an emotion which is much easier to understand – selfishness. They are the men and women who have overnight turned into real estate moghuls.  

While critics of the move called it a “breach of trust” and a “mockery of democracy”, its supporters felt it was a vital step on the road to completely integrate J&K with India after decades of turmoil. Meanwhile, the property hoarders that measure the worth of any place by the value of its land were chiefly concerned with whether they would be able to get a new holiday home, thanks to the entire affair.

You see, now that Article 370 and its supplement Article 35A have been revoked, they no longer prevent non-Kashmiris from buying land, owning property, and working in government jobs in J&K. Will the scenic Valley and the beautiful mountain desert of Ladakh soon be dotted with hoardings for builders? Coming soon: Kanakia Paris in Srinagar? Lodha – The World Towers next to Nubra Valley?    

Will the scenic Valley and the beautiful mountain desert of Ladakh soon be dotted with hoardings for builders? Coming soon: Kanakia Paris in Srinagar?

Hopes are high for a potential land rush. Even as Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the resolution in Parliament, a doctored image of an SMS promoting plots of land for sale in Kashmir began doing the rounds on Twitter. I received a forward with a picture of a ready-to-move 6 BHK house overlooking the Dal Lake priced at ₹3.5 crore. Though the image was fake, the desire most Indians have to own a beautiful holiday home in the mountains is very real. Which is why “buying land in Kashmir” has become a popular Google search among non-residents.  

But if the Bollywoodisation of Pangong Lake after 3 Idiots – where Rancho Maggi shops stand next to a yellow scooter installation and Kareena Kapoor cutouts – is anything to go by, we should be worried. After seeing how bad Indian tourists can be as guests, the locals probably do not want to see how bad they can be as neighbours. Imagine the horror: The soulful lanes of Sonmarg reverberating with “Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai” as the Chadhas host a house party. 

There’s a reason why, like J&K, states and territories such as Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and Andaman & Nicobar all have a version of land ownership rights law similar to Article 35A. It’s no coincidence that these are all among some of the most scenic states in India. 

The revocation of Article 35A means the end of special status for Kashmiris, and the early reactions have made it amply clear that it is a realtor’s wet dream. Ladakh, once the domain of Enfield riders and spiritual types, will become a viable option for those looking to settle down. A holiday home in the Kashmir Valley will be infinitely more enviable than one in Aamby Valley. Still, unlike the way these changes are proceeding, potential investors would be better off proceeding with some caution. 

Are we ready to see the gorgeous locales of the country’s northernmost tip turned into just another crowded, dusty, Indian town?

A LiveMint article titled “Can outsiders now invest in J&K real estate?” states that “real estate activity has been very limited in the J&K region since the state has always been in a vulnerable situation due to conflicts between India and Pakistan.” A change of status from state to Union Territory is not likely to alter this scenario overnight, which means that buying property in J&K is going to be reserved for those ready to take a gamble – or the domain of those who enjoy blowing hot air on Twitter.

If everyone who announced plans to invest in property in Kashmir were serious, the housing developments that would come up would rival a Mumbai local train for cramped spaces. Are we ready to see the gorgeous locales of the country’s northernmost tip turned into just another crowded, dusty, Indian town? Will we now see people entering Dal Lake in completely inappropriate swimwear? Instead of the sight and scent of blooming flowers, will we be greeted by the signature sharp tang of freshly spat paan? After all, #KashmirHamaraHai has begun trending on Twitter, so we might as well be prepared for Indians to stamp their identity all over it.

Jokes apart, the future is uncertain, so your holiday home can wait.

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