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Jammu’s aspirations vs. Kashmir’s hegemony

On October 13, the Union Cabinet cleared the establishment of an Indian Institute of Management in Jammu as part of the Prime Minister’s development package for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Centre had earlier announced that an Indian Institute of Technology and an All India Institutes of Medical Sciences would also be set up in Jammu. The IIM will temporarily function from the Old Government College of Engineering and Technology until a new campus is set up in Jammu. Under the development package, there will also be an out-campus in the Kashmir region. An AIIMS is also coming up in Kashmir, while the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar will be modernised.

This is good news in a state that has been gripped by protests, violence and intermittent curfews since July 8, when Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed by security forces. Much of the trouble has centred on the Kashmir Valley. However, not everyone welcomed the announcement as a positive step. Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, now the leader of the Opposition in the state, expressed his displeasure against the “partisan politics” of the Peoples Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party state government on Twitter.

Regions of neglect

The National Conference leader’s remarks reflect the step-motherly treatment of the Jammu and Ladakh regions over the years, even as the Kashmir Valley, which has witnessed bouts of instability, has taken the limelight.

This raises several questions: Who will compensate Jammu and Ladakh for the decades of neglect? Why should Kashmir be preferred over the other two regions? Why should those only be heard who indulge in violence, and not those who are peaceful? Why should Jammu and Ladakh pay for prevailing insanity and turbulence in Kashmir? And why should so many people suffer for no fault of their own?

For instance, students of NIT Srinagar may lose a semester because of the summer of unrest in the Valley. Meanwhile, Class 10 and Class 12 students, whose schools have been shut for close to three months, still have to appear for their exams in November, leaving them with hardly any time to prepare. Why should the students suffer because certain elements have participated in violence in the Valley?

Ray of hope

It has been a difficult summer for Jammu and Kashmir. Discontent of this magnitude against the state and security forces was last seen in in 2010, after the Machhil fake encounter, in which security personnel killed three local youth, claiming they were Pakistani militants.

However, this year’s turmoil is largely limited to Kashmir – the Ladakh region has been peaceful, as has Jammu, barring incidents in the districts of Doda, Kishtwar, Poonch, Rajouri and Ramban.

In the December 2014 legislative assembly elections in the state, while most of Kashmir voted for the People’s Democratic Party, which eventually bagged 28 out of 87 seats, Jammu overwhelmingly voted for the BJP, which won 25 seats. The National Conference came third with 15 seats, while the Congress won in 12.

With this fractured mandate, the People’s Democratic Party and the BJP, though ideologically antithetical, decided to form the government. It took around two months to finalise their agenda. On March 1, 2015, People’s Democratic Party founder Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took oath as chief minister for the second time in his career – the first being in 2002.

The other options before the People’s Democratic Party were to seek ties with the National Conference, their arch rival, and the Congress, a former ally. However, much to the chagrin of their supporters as well as detractors, the unprecedented alliance of the PDP and BJP was set in motion. But this meant a lot to the people of Jammu, who had voted overwhelmingly for the BJP. Had the People’s Democratic Party tied up with either the Congress or the National Conference, it would have meant a rejection of the mandate given by Jammu.

In the history of Jammu and Kashmir – ever since it acceded to the Indian Union in October 1947 – every chief minister barring one has been from the Kashmir region. Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is currently the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, was the only chief minister from the Jammu region and headed the state for a little less than three years, from November 2005.

Divergent views

Under the PDP-BJP government, then, has Kashmir’s dominance in the state’s politics changed? During a recent six-month stay in Jammu, I spoke to people of various age groups, communities and professions, and found that the views on this were divergent.

While some argued that any change in the regional imbalance within the state would be gradual, as this is the first time that the BJP is in power in Jammu and Kashmir, others said that once it assumed power, the BJP became like any other political party and gave up the political agendas it held before being elected.

However, the BJP’s participation in this government has raised the expectations of the people of Jammu – and they know which doors to knock on in case their demands are not met. This was witnessed during last year’s agitation over the establishment of an AIIMS in Jammu. The premier medical institute was initially sanctioned for Jammu, but later, reports emerged that it was being shifted to Kashmir. Ultimately, the Centre had to announce an AIIMS for both Jammu and Kashmir regions.

What about Jammu’s aspirations?

Politicians often talk about the “aspirations” of the people of Jammu and Kashmir – but this is just limited to Kashmir. The aspirations of the people of Jammu and Ladakh are sidelined every time, because of Kashmir’s dominance over state politics.

Shakun Sethi, a young entrepreneur from Jammu, defined aspiration as opportunities in terms of work, knowledge, and exposure. “The people in Jammu have lot of calibre but they are clueless and are unaware of their own capabilities,” she said. “The perspective has not broadened which is again due to lack of opportunities and development.”

Hinting at the predisposition of the political class, commentators and intelligentsia towards Kashmir, she said: “If I were to be born in the state, it would have been better if I was born in Kashmir. I would be heard, then. The people of Jammu should not be taken for granted. Jammu should feel important and be an equal part in the larger scheme of things pertaining to the state.”

Tamana Slathia, a young Dogra hailing from Samba district and working in the socio-development sector, said: “The aspirations of the people of Jammu are no different from those of the rest of India – Water for irrigation, jobs for unemployed youth and, most importantly, security at our porous borders.”

Slathia too argued that the voices from Jammu must be heard by the state and the Centre. “The people of Jammu must be indemnified for decades of negligence and oppression by the region-blind heads of state,” she said. “The compensation should be at every level in social, political and economic terms.”

Over the last few years, separatists from the Kashmir Valley have made attempts to agitate Muslims in the Jammu region. The efforts to create disturbances in the Jammu province were seen when the current Kashmir unrest spread to Doda, Kishtwar, Bhaderwah, Poonch, Rajouri, Ramban and Banihal areas, although it was contained there immediately.

“In far-flung areas like ours, there is huge corruption and misgovernance,” said Nitan Sharma from Poonch, near the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, who is doing his Masters of Law from the University of Jammu. “Our future is with India only and there are no two views about it. Democracy should be allowed to flourish in Jammu and Kashmir at the grassroots level.”

Delimitation demand

One of the long-pending demands of the people of the state has been that of redrawing the boundaries of the Assembly constituencies, a process known as delimitation. According to Section 47 of the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, the legislative assembly will consist of 111 members, directly elected from territorial constituencies in the state. Of this, 24 seats are for Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, which, under Section 48, shall remain vacant and shall not be taken into account for reckoning the total membership of the House. These shall also be excluded from the delimitation process. Of the remaining 87 seats, 46 are spread across 15, 948 square kilometres in Kashmir, while Jammu has 37 seats over 26, 293 sq km and Ladakh, with an area of 59, 146 sq km, has four seats.

Essentially, Kashmir has one Assembly segment for every 346 sq km area, while Jammu has one for every 710 sq km area. There are also huge disparities in the electorates of various constituencies. In Jammu, the Gandhi Nagar and Jammu West assembly constituencies have 1, 69,672 and 1, 53,794 voters respectively. On the other hand, Nubra and Zanskar in Ladakh region have 14,109 and 21,143 voters respectively. And in Kashmir, Gurez has 17,624 voters and Karnah has 33,132.

The last delimitation commission was formed in July 2002 under the chairmanship of Justice Kuldip Singh, former judge of the Supreme Court. The readjusting of constituencies in the country in all states of India was done on the basis of 2001 census. However, in Jammu and Kashmir, the National Conference-controlled legislative assembly amended section 47 of the state’s constitution, barring the delimitation exercise till 2026. As a result of this imbalance, Kashmir has always controlled state politics and influenced election results.

Enter PDP-BJP

So when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took a leap of faith and formed the government with BJP, it was a signal that the PDP does not want to be just Kashmir-centric party and wants to represent all regions of the state. After his death in on January 7, his daughter Mehbooba Mufti took over the party, the state, and eventually, agreed to continue the alliance with the BJP. But this has been a gamble for both – for the BJP, which had declared its Mission 44 campaign before the 2014 state polls claiming it would get a simple majority in the state, tying up with the People’s Democratic Party was eventually their best bet at coming to power. Only time will tell, however, if this translates into any real gains for Jammu.

(Published in Scroll and Daily Excelsior)

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