Jammu At Political Crossroads?

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As the delimitation exercise looks set to enhance the number of  seats in Jammu and Kashmir assembly for Jammu, bringing it at par with Kashmir, there is a renewed demand for the statehood for Jammu region among various native parties, even as the BJP continues to enjoy widespread support, reports Yawar Hussain

Jammu political leaders

With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sweeping in all of the five predominantly Hindu districts of Jammu in the recently held  District Development Council (DDC) elections, the region’s politics is precariously poised. Together with the BJP’s ultra-nationalistic politics, the region is also witnessing a surge in demand for a separate statehood excluding Kashmir.

The promises of more assembly berths for the Jammu division are also being made after the ongoing delimitation exercise is completed. This, it is being publicly told to the cadres will pave way for the first-ever Hindu Chief Minister of the Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir.

Jammu Declaration

The National Conference’s Provincial President for Jammu and former lawmaker Devender Singh Rana.Rana, a close confidant of former Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, has come up with a Jammu Declaration to unite Jammu and Kashmir.

NC leader Devinder Singh Rana launching 2017 Shree Hudh Mata Trisandhaya from Jammu. Photo NC

However, political pundits see the move as the first step by Rana to come up with an alternative to the BJP which continues to be the sole power player in the Jammu region since the 2014 parliament polls.

Naming the declaration on “Jammu,” Rana said a charter to forge unity and reinforce trust between diverse communities and divergent regions of Jammu and Kashmir was the need of the hour.

“The core of the declaration will be to engage the people in inter-region and intra-regional dialogue to bridge the fault-lines being created by divisive forces on the basis of region and religion,” Rana said. “Time has come when such a proposition should emanate from Jammu, the abode of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians and bring into its compass the regions of Kashmir and Ladakh, given our spirit of unity”.

Rana said he hopes the people of the Jammu region would rise above party politics and endeavour for restoring the pristine glory of their heritage based on inclusive co-existence. Eventually, he said, the ‘Jammu Declaration’ will encompass both the regions and help in ensuring equitable development of each region and their sub-regions.

BJP’s Jammu and Kashmir president with Sham Choudhay, the BJP lawmaker, who finally is contesting for DDC polls.

“Jammu Declaration has captured the imagination of the forward-looking people, who yearn for securing lives of generations and creating an atmosphere conducive to peace, progress and the prosperity of the regions and sub-regions of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said, insisting the need for such a declaration is all the more important to preserve and sustain the idea of India in general and the idea of Jammu and Kashmir in particular, known for unity in diversity.

“This will ultimately lead to faster growth, progress and equitable development of all the regions and the sub-regions with no room for any section to nurture the feeling of discrimination.”

Separate Jammu

The Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan Party (DSSP) launched by former Congress and BJP leader Choudhary Lal Singh, however, has been championing the cause of a separate state for the Jammu division.

Lal Singh participating in the protests (Image: Facebook)

Talking to Kashmir Life Choudhary Lal Singh said the ultimate target of his party is the separate Jammu State. The present regime, he said, was ignoring the sentiments of Dogras and instead of giving promised statehood, they reduced Jammu to a Union Territory.

“Ours was a state that our ancestors created with their blood and sweat but it is unfortunate that today it is dismembered against the wishes and sentiments of Dogras,” he said.

Singh said all “secular” forces in Jammu and Kashmir should defeat the designs of anti-peace forces which are vitiating the atmosphere of amity and communal harmony.

“Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh have been divided because of Kashmiri politicians. Ladakh got its demand fulfilled but Jammu is being made the scapegoat by BJP on the pretext of their role in safeguarding the nationalism,” Singh asserted. “Nobody can stop Jammu from becoming a separate state. This is a Dogra land from Kishtwar to Kathua. I fear for the identity of Dogras.”

No Kashmir Please

Chairman IkkJutt Jammu, Ankur Sharma said their goal is a separate Jammu state. He said they will also fight for bifurcation of the Kashmir Valley into two Union Territories — one of them for Kashmiri Pandits.

Ikkhutt Jammu founder Ankur Sharma addressing a press conference on March 6, 2021.

“Our aim is to fight for a separate Jammu state for the political empowerment of its people,” said the chairman of IkkJutt that declared itself a political outfit ahead of the DDC elections.

“Kashmir should be divided into two UTs without any assembly to give justice to minorities. How can they return to Kashmir unless we give them a protected territorial zone to live there,’’ he said.

Talking about the PAGD, Sharma said the alliance was “a gang of anti-nationals who looted Jammu for the past 70 years’’. He added: “I don’t consider political parties in Kashmir different from separatists or militants.”

The decision to convert Ikk Jutt Jammu into a political organisation, Sharma said, was taken because of the “repeated betrayal of Jammu” by BJP and Congress.

Almost echoing the two new political entities from the region, chairman of the National Panthers Party Harshdev Singh asked why Jammu should suffer on account of Kashmir.

The Singh family of Udhampur (L to R)Harsh Dev Singh, Bhim Singh and Balwant Singh Mankotia. The tensions within led to Mankotia’s resignation.

“Jammu is being neglected and we are being made hostage to the Kashmir issue. In the name of the Kashmir problem, our democratic rights have been usurped. Our 4G connectivity was snapped for over a year because it was said there is a problem in Kashmir,” Harshdev, a former minister, said, claiming Jammu stand reduced into an appendix of Kashmir. “Our state has been snatched away from us. It was the oldest Dogra state in the whole of India. For the past two years, we have been left without democracy as elections are not being held. And the reason given is there is the problem of Kashmir”.

Harshdev said that his party would launch an agitation across Jammu for pressing statehood for the region. “Why should Jammu suffer for the sins of Kashmir? If there is a Kashmir problem deal with it separately and give statehood to Jammu,” he said, adding political parties in Kashmir shouldn’t raise the issue of restoration of Article 370 and the BJP too should stop patting itself for removing the Article. “Article 370 is history now, and the political parties should leave it behind”.

Delimitation Exercise

Jammu based parties including the BJP are demanding a delimitation of electoral constituencies to be done on the basis of area, and not on population alone. Though the demand flies on the face of logic and tradition in the exercise of the delimitation world over, they believe this will pave way for filling the 25 assembly segments reserved for Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PaK), lying vacant since the 1950s, by West Pakistan Refugees. The refugees got voting rights for assembly polls after the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019.

Meeting of delimitation Commission for Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday, February 18, 2021.

The delimitation process which is currently underway is being done as per section 60 of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act states, “the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir shall be increased from 107 to 114.” It adds: “Out of these, 24 seats are in PaK.”

So effectively, the seats will go up from 83 to 90 in Jammu and Kashmir.

In the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly,  Jammu the region with a geographical area of 26,293 square kilometres had 37 assembly seats while 46 seats were allocated to Kashmir region with an area of 15,953 square kilometres.

The Jammu parties have been raking up this issue citing that the Kashmir region has an average size of 346 sq km per constituency while the average size of an assembly constituency in Jammu is 710 sq km.

Harshdev said it would be meaningful only if the assembly and parliament seats for the Jammu region were increased. “The demand for delimitation had been persistently raised by us besides other civil society groups in view of a highly biased treatment doled out to the Jammu region in the matter of allocation of seats,” he alleged.

Meanwhile, the commission is learnt to have used 2011 Census data for delimiting constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir.

Sources in the BJP state that its two parliaments members who attended the first meeting have told the commission that it should not only keep the population as a matrix for determining the constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir, but geographical considerations for Jammu should also be taken into account.

The BJP in its 2019 vision document had also promised that eight out of 24 seats reserved for PaK migrants settled in Jammu would be delimited for them.

Dr Farooq, Omar Abdullah, Sagar, Nasir, others felicitate Party’s DDC candidates in Srinagar on Tuesday, December 29, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

While the PAGD’s National Conference, which has three parliament members from Kashmir Valley didn’t participate in the commission’s first meeting, its provincial president Jammu Devender Singh Rana appealed for an impartial delimitation of the constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Our party believes in democracy and upholding democratic values. Though the delimitation was supposed to take place in 2026, the process has been initiated and we do not have any objection to it,” Rana said. He, however, added that the exercise should be carried out as per the law and in an impartial and flawless manner to benefit people who are the real fountainhead of a democracy.

The NC parliamentarians, however, wrote to the commission stating: “The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act of 2019 was palpably unconstitutional”.

“We are of the opinion that as vires of the constitutional validity of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, and CO (Constitution Order) 272 and 27 are under judicial scrutiny… the principle of constitutional propriety demands that the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, should await Hon’ble Supreme Court,” the letter of NC MPs reads.

Meanwhile, the Government of India has extended the tenure of the Delimitation Commission led by retired Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai by one year indicating that the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir will take more time. Interestingly, the centre has excluded the delimitation of assembly seats in northeastern states from its mandate.

Fearing Demographic Change

The parties other than the BJP including the Congress have been banking on the politics of fear around the newly enacted domicile and land laws for Jammu and Kashmir.

Ghulam Nabi Azad was accompanied by various leaders from his party to Jammu.

With the local populace in Jammu apprehensive about the opening up of jobs and land to outsiders, the parties are blaming the BJP.

“The newly enacted domicile law is an obnoxious piece of legislation. By throwing open the Jammu and Kashmir employment avenues, except a part of Class-IV jobs, to the outside states, the BJP-led government has caused the greatest disappointment to the educated unemployed. In fact, a dacoity committed upon the rights of the J&K youth,” Harshdev said.

Congress spokesman Ravinder Sharma said: “It is against the interests of the local youth of Jammu and Kashmir. They will be deprived of a majority of rights in the government sector as these jobs would now be shared by a vast majority of outsiders. This is another betrayal of BJP to the youth of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Lal Singh said that nearly18 lakh outsiders have been given domiciles certificates.

“The situation in Jammu is going to be a replica of the aboriginal Delhites who now have to fight even for basic amenities while the outsiders are benefitting,” he alleged. He said the identity of Kashmir is intact while that of Jammu is being diminished.

“They are preparing to give Ladakh protection under the Sixth Schedule. In future, Jammu would have outsiders as member parliament’s courtesy the BJP.”

In contrast to these parties, the IkkJutt Jammu has welcomed the Domicile and Land laws which even the local BJP has been apprehensive about.

Issueless Congress?

With the Congress party continuing to fare poorly in the Hindu heartland since 2014, the party did have some consolation in Ramban, Kishtwar and Rajouri districts where they managed to grab the power of the DDC with PAGD help.

However, the party is in the doldrums. It is maintaining a balance between the party’s voters in the largely Muslim Valley and in Hindu dominated Jammu’s several districts.

Congress workers burn an effigy of senior party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad during a protest, in Jammu, on Tuesday March 2, 2021.

The party’s dilemma on whether to side with the PAGD or not didn’t help either way because the party performed badly in both the regions in the DDC elections.

In Jammu, the party has been raising the issues of hike in oil and cooking gas prices along with protesting against new farm laws.

While the J&K Congress President Ghulam Ahmad Mir said that the party believes in the restoration of the pre-August 5 status of Jammu and Kashmir, his party colleagues in Jammu are tight-lipped on the move.

Fearing backlash from Jammu based parties, the Congress has also been more or less silent on the domicile and land laws in Jammu in contrast to their vocal stand in Kashmir.

Congress Vice President and former minister Raman Bhalla said the people of Jammu and Kashmir were fed up with the “bluffs and failures” of the BJP and would teach the saffron party a lesson in the next assembly elections.

He alleged the BJP had gained power after “betrayal of the mandate” and its experiments cost too much to the people of Jammu and Kashmir who lost their identity as a state besides all safeguards to their land and jobs.

On Congress having no policy in Jammu, Bhalla said: “Imposition of heavy taxes, price hike and economic crises and failures on health and medicare during the Covid-19 pandemic are also issues of Jammu and Kashmir along with what the BJP did to Jammu and Kashmir on August 5.”

However, a senior party leader wishing anonymity said that the party’s poor performance in Jammu against the BJP is due to the high command never appointing a Jammu based leader as the president in Jammu and Kashmir.

“The issue is being debated by Congress leaders who are based in Jammu and that is going to affect the party’s future in the Jammu region,” the leader said.

Now the party is facing the music on Azad front. After his retirement from the parliament, Ghulam Nabi Azad – Jammu and Kashmir’s only Kashmiri speaking Jammu Chief Minister flew to Jammu to a welcome by his friends and well-wishers. A day, later, however, the same streets saw the Congressmen burning his effigies.  

Azad witnessed rousing reception on his arrival. A day later, the attendance was quite good when he participated in an event to mark the birth anniversary of Guru Ravidas. All the party leaders accompanied him. However, things changed abruptly for the Congress on day three as the J&K unit leaders were conspicuous by their absence at an event organised by the Gujar Charitable Trust where Azad was conferred Shan-e-Gujar award.

The change in the party’s treatment toward Azad was the outcome of his speech at the Guru Ravidas Jayanti event where he praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi while tacitly hitting out at his party’s central leadership.

“I like many things about many leaders. I am from a village and feel proud of it. Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi also says he is from a village, would do small-time jobs and sell tea,” Azad said. “Politically, we may be rivals, but the fact is that he does not hide his past reality.”

Hitting out at his party leadership, Azad said those who hide their past “live in an illusionary world”, without naming any leader. “A man should be proud of who he is. I have travelled to many countries and stayed in five-star hotels across the world. But when I visit my village, the smell there is always pleasant. It smells different,” Azad said.

Azad’s remarks came in presence of the new Congress grouping nicknamed G-23, some of whom were in attendance, and are pitching him to lead the party. Many in Congress saw the G-23 meeting as an open rebellion against the top leadership of Congress.

Following this, the J&K Congress President Ghulam Ahmad Mir was summoned to New Delhi where he met Rahul Gandhi and J&K in-charge Rajni Patel.

On the streets of Jammu, the Congress workers led by party’s general secretary Shahnawaz Chowdhary hit the streets against Azad burning his effigy for praising Modi.

Choudhary, considered close to Rahul Gandhi, had contested the District Development Council elections as an independent against the party’s official candidate without inviting any action from the party. He said they protested against Azad because he had enjoyed power all his life on Congress’s platform but was now actively favouring the BJP while trying to bring down the Congress leadership.

“People of Jammu and Kashmir are fighting against what BJP did to them but Azad came here and praised Narendra Modi,” Choudhary said, adding that people like him (Azad) are more “dangerous” if they remain inside the party. “He (Azad) was nowhere in the DDC elections. If he continues to go against our leader Sonia Gandhi, we will not keep quiet.”

This protest was followed by another protest by some youth Congress leaders who came out in support of Azad. Congress leader Ashwani Handa who was leading the protest claimed that Choudhary had nothing to do with the Congress.

He alleged that Choudhary had re-joined the party only to bolster misunderstanding among various party men. “Those who protested against Azad cannot call themselves Congressmen. Since Modi praised Azad in Parliament, local BJP members have been unable to criticise him. That’s why they have brought Choudhary to criticise Azad,” the Congress youth general secretary said.

Congress Protests In Jammu Against The Killing Sarpanch Ajay Pandita

Congress Vice President and former minister Raman Bhalla came out in support of Azda and expressed his displeasure over the protests and said the party would take note of the developments.

“We are proud of his (Azad”s) speeches in Parliament, especially after the abrogation of Article 370,” he said, adding that every Congress worker supports the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

Amid all this political fighting, the J&K Congress President Ghulam Ahmad Mir is tight-lipped on the internal bickering.

BJP’s Model

This all is a benefit to the BJP, a party that won the majority of DDC bodies in the Jammu division and is riding high with party leaders stating that the aim of the party now is to head the next government in Jammu and Kashmir.

J&K BJP President Ravinder Raina said that the people have reposed their faith in the party by voting for them in the recent DDC elections.

“Next chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir will from the BJP. I can say that with all the confidence,” he said, adding that the BJP didn’t just win in the Hindu belt of the Jammu region but also in Doda, Kishtwar, Ramban, Poonch and Rajouri.

“We are heading the Doda DDC and our candidates did win in other districts as well,” he said. He said the party is waiting for the completion of the delimitation exercise so that the assembly elections could be held in Jammu and Kashmir. “There is no question of people not being happy with the August 5 decision. The BJP has won in Kashmir for the first time and the people of Jammu have put a stamp on everything.”

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