A signal from Jammu

Published : Nov 08, 2002 00:00 IST

The results represent a burial of the idea of a trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir.

THE Jammu State Morcha's demand for statehood for Jammu has lost its first electoral test. Only one out of its 11 candidates has made it to the new State Assembly. The Morcha's chief, Virendra Gupta was among the losers. This might prove to be the last nail in the coffin, although the idea of separating Jammu from the Kashmir Valley is almost 50 years old.

The origins of this demand may be traced to 1952 when the Praja Parishad Movement first raised the slogan of Jammu Alag Karo (Separate Jammu). The Praja Parishad was founded by Balraj Madhok on the existing organisational base of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) in Jammu and shared its ideology of Hindu nationalism. Deploying a religious prism to view the State's political realities, it accused Sheikh Abdullah of trying to Islamicise the administration. The Sheikh had broken up the Hindu-majority district of Udhampur and closed down the Sanskrit Research Department. The land and other property of the charitable trust for the upkeep of temples and Sanskrit pathshalas (schools) had been expropriated and the rehabilitation of Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan-held areas was opposed. The study of Urdu was made compulsory for all.

Most important, political initiative and power had slipped out of the hands of Dogras to those of Kashmiri Muslims, and it was felt that agrarian reforms would fundamentally alter the pattern of social organisation of the State to their disadvantage. A Praja Parishad pamphlet observed that the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly consisted of 75 members, of which 50 were Muslims. Clearly, Sheikh Abdullah's Muslim dominance could not and was not to be forced upon the Hindus of Jammu and the Buddhists of Ladakh. The unceremonious dismissal of the Dogra Maharaja, Hari Singh, had further embittered them and Yuvraj (Prince) Karan Singh's decision to become the first Regent of the State was strongly criticised as a `traitorous act' legitimising the Sheikh's actions and as "tantamount to selling the Dogras out to the Kashmiris".

The Praja Parishad had launched a popular agitation in 1952. The Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the Hindu Mahasabha, the Ram Rajya Parishad, the Punjab Arya Samaj and some Akali leaders supported the movement. The Parishad's eight-point programme demanded the abrogation of Article 370; full integration of the State into the Indian Union; full application of the Indian Constitution; removal of the distinction between `state-subjects' and Indian citizens; complete jurisdiction of the Supreme Court; removal of customs barriers between Kashmir and India; fresh elections to the Kashmir Constituent Assembly; and investigation of corruption in the State administration by an impartial tribunal.

Stressing the unity of the Indian nation, Praja Parishad leader Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee accused the Sheikh: "There cannot be a republic within a republic... Consciously or unconsciously, you are creating a new sovereignty for Jammu & Kashmir... India has been torn into two by the two-nation theory. You are now developing a three-nation theory, the third being the Kashmiri nation. These are dangerous symptoms."

The Parishad harked back to the golden days of the Dogra Maharaja's rule and mobilised the people to get rid of Kashmiri domination in the Muslim-majority State by demanding complete merger into Hindu-majority India. Jammu reverberated with the popular slogan, `Ek desh mein do vidhan, do nishan, do pardhan, nahin chalega, nahin chalega' (In one country, two constitutions, two flags and two chiefs will not work; will not be tolerated). The Parishad's prabhat pheris (early-morning neighbourhood processions) and the RSS shakhas (branches) demanded, `Abdullah hakumat khatam karo' (Terminate Abdullah's rule) and `Jammu alag karo' (Separate Jammu). The urban population of Jammu city, especially students, was effectively mobilised. In the first major demonstration in February 1952, students of Gandhi Memorial College protested against the hoisting of the National Conference flag.

Sheikh Abdullah dismissed the agitation as a reactionary and communal revolt by a handful of feudal landlords and parasitic classes that opposed the agrarian reforms for having removed the social bases of their power. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru appreciated the legitimate grievances of the Jammu people but castigated the narrow communal approach of the Praja Parishad movement. That indeed proved to be the cardinal reason for its failure.

Owing to its limited social base, especially in the rural areas, the movement did not acquire a mass character. The Parishad's identification with Hindu landlords, jagirdars and sahukars (money lenders) who had enjoyed a privileged position under the Maharaja's rule delivered a body blow to its social and political appeal. The peasantry in the State (mainly in the Valley, but also in Jammu) had reaped rich dividends from the National Conference's land reform policies. Having made it a Hindu-Muslim issue, the Parishad leadership failed to gain the support of Jammu Muslims, who did not support the National Conference but also rejected the former's communal agenda. The Parishad also failed to mobilise the support of the small but influential Hindu minority of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley and the Ladakhi Buddhists who shared its antipathy for Sheikh Abdullah.

In the contemporary context, the Jammu Mukti Morcha (JMM, which fought these elections under the banner of the Jammu State Morcha), which revived the demand for the bifurcation of the Jammu and Kashmir State, faced the same dilemma. The demand for separate statehood is rooted in political and regional imbalances that favour the Valley at Jammu's cost. However, when the political mobilisation to seek redress of those grievances adopts a communal approach and makes it a Hindu-Muslim issue (read Hindu-majority Jammu vis--vis Muslim-majority Valley), it is doomed to failure because the plural character of Jammu's populace exposes its internal contradictions. The Jammu Muslims are in a minority in the Jammu region but form a majority in Poonch, Rajouri and Doda districts. If the key issue is that Jammu Hindus must separate themselves from Kashmiri Muslims and create a new political entity to ensure their political and economic development, then why should Jammu Muslims agree to stay with Jammu Hindus in a separate Jammu state?

Let us explain this further. It is the neglect and apathy of successive State governments towards Jammu's political and economic development and the Central government's Valley-centric thinking that has led to the reassertion of Jammu's demand for separate statehood. This is evident from the nature of the grievances outlined by the JMM activists in the early 1990s. Successive Valley-dominated State governments were blamed for Jammu's poor share in the State services. In the civil Secretariat, Jammu's representation was less than 10 per cent. The proportions of employees from the Valley and Jammu in the State Secretariat and regional services of Kashmir and Jammu were 99:8 and 99:1 respectively. All 12 corporations of the Jammu and Kashmir government had their headquarters in Srinagar with almost 100 per cent of the employees from the Valley. Most major Central government offices were in Srinagar. According to a statement made in the State Assembly in 1988-89, some 43,000 out of 69,000 registered unemployed youth belonged to the Jammu region. Of the State's tourism budget, nearly 90 per cent was spent on the Valley every year. The exclusion of the Dogri language (spoken by 50 lakh people) from the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution was particularly resented because Kashmiri (spoken by less than 30 lakh people) enjoyed constitutional recognition. The recommendation of the Wazir Commission (1983) for the creation of three more districts of Reasi, Kishtwar and Bhau (Samba) in the Jammu region was not accepted, while three new districts Badgam, Kupwara and Baramulla were created in the Valley.

More important, Kashmir's domination of the political system was rooted in Jammu's under-representation in the State assembly and in the Lok Sabha. The last Delimitation Commission had carved out 87 constituencies for the elections to the Legislative Assembly in 1996. The table reflects the average population and area per constituency.

There is clear dominance of the Kashmir region over Jammu in the Legislative Assembly on the basis of population and area. Kashmir has 4.73 lakh more people than Jammu. On the basis of the average population of 89,000 per constituency in the State, it could claim five more seats than Jammu, against which it has been allocated nine seats, which is 80 per cent in excess of that due.

The JMM argued that in view of Srinagar's total neglect of and discrimination against Jammu in the matter of political and economic development, a separate state of Jammu was the `only way out' to meet its political aspirations. Jammu, according to this viewpoint, forms a natural region defined by the boundaries of the Ravi on the south and the Pir Panjal on the north and has a distinct cultural and historical identity.

As in the case of the Praja Parishad, the JMM failed to mobilse mass support for its cause. This organisation was founded by a group of intellectuals whose modus operandi remained largely confined to oraganising processions and strikes and submitting memoranda to the State and Central governments. Many intellectuals, journalists and politicians of Jammu insisted that it was a product of the Union Home Ministry, which had propped it up as a counterweight to the Kashmiri demand for independence. The limited social base of the JMM further dwindled when it joined hands with the RSS to contest the recent Assembly elections and the political character of this demand increasingly became communalised.

What made the situation more complicated was the double game played by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the National Conference. For example, deviating from its original demand for a statutory regional council and statutory boards for development for the Jammu region, the State unit of the BJP quietly endorsed the trifurcation demand of the JMM-RSS alliance. While L.K. Advani, Union Home Minister and one of the senior most BJP leaders, rejected the demand for the trifurcation of the Jammu and Kashmir State as being an "anti-national" one, the State unit of the BJP persisted in negotiating seat-sharing arrangements with the JMM. Although these did not materialise, the ambiguity in the BJP's stance persisted.

The National Conference too had been speaking with two voices. On the one hand it strongly opposed the trifurcation demand but on the other, the Regional Autonomy Committee appointed by Farooq Abdullah in 1996 endorsed the communal faultlines of the State by recommending its internal reorganisation into eight provinces. The Report specifically proposed the restructuring of the Jammu region into three provinces, carved along a Hindu-Muslim divide. The district of Doda and the single Muslim-dominated tehsil of Mahore from the adjoining Hindu-majority district of Udhampur would form a new Chenab Valley province. The largely Hindu districts of Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur would make up a Jammu province. Poonch and Rajouri, the Muslim-majority districts, would form the Pir Panjal province. A careful study of the 75-odd memoranda submitted to the Regional Autonomy Committee showed that it had selectively adopted and endorsed the demands of the National Conference supporters, specially from Rajouri, Poonch and Doda districts of the Jammu region who had earlier sought the creation of two Autonomous Hill Councils on the pattern of the Leh Autonomous Hill Council in the Jammu region. These included a demand for the creation of a new Pahari region, separating the predominantly Muslim Rajouri-Poonch from the Jammu Division with an Autonomous Hill Council and a similar set-up for the Chenab Valley region consisting of Doda district, Gool-Gulabgarh tehsil, Basantgarh of Udhampur district and Lohai Malhar and Bani of Kathua district. Both demands for the Autonomous Hill Councils or for carving out new provinces sought to separate the Muslim-majority areas of the Jammu region from the Hindu-majority areas. Significantly, the BJP, a vociferous critic of the State autonomy proposals that favoured the restoration of Article 370 to its pristine form, remained tight-lipped on the Regional Autonomy Committee's Report. Also, the RSS-backed demand for trifurcation of the State was similar, to the extent that it called for an internal restructuring of the State along a Hindu-Muslim axis.

HOWEVER, keeping in mind the plural social realities of the Jammu region, they all failed to realise that there are no cohesive or monolithic political grouping of Hindus and Muslims at the grassroots level because their political affiliations cut across ethnic (Dogra, Gujjar and Bakkarwal), linguistic (Pahari, Gojri, Kashmiri and Dogri), caste lines and regional differences. The Jammu Muslims, for example, do not support the BJP's Hindu politics and the demand for a separate state of Jammu, nor are they willing to be assimilated completely into the Kashmiri Muslim identity. At the same time, they do not form a separate and cohesive political grouping, partly because since the pre-Partition leadership of Chowdhary Ghulam Abbas and Allah Rakha Sagar, no political leader had emerged to mobilise them as an independent political force in State politics. Any attempt to super-impose the communal divide will only represent a divisive agenda. It is also bound to fail for two reasons.

First, these are political issues and sharpening the communal boundaries will simply not resolve the problem. For example, the Paharis are spread from Basoli in Kathua to Rajouri and Poonch on the one side and Uri and Keran in the Valley but why does their demand for a Pahari region along the Line of Control exclude areas in the Valley? Also, if the demand is driven by lack of economic development, then the predominantly Hindu hill areas south of the Chenab, in Kathua, have done no better than Rajouri and Poonch.

The solution lies in providing a responsive government, rather than in sharpening communal boundaries. Second, political mobilisation along communal lines is bound to limit the social base of the political groups making these demands. Jammu and Kashmir's political history over the last five decades has proved that without acquiring a mass support base cutting across the ethnic, religious, linguistic and regional lines, such groups are unlikely to achieve their political goals. The rout in the latest Assembly elections of the National Conference and the BJP, which had sought to exploit the communal card, proves this point. The BJP has retained only one seat in the Jammu region and the National Conference has lost almost 50 per cent of the seats 29 out of 57 that it had won in the 1996 elections. Finally, they fail to recognise the fact that to give sanctity to religious nationalism and accord primacy to the political demands of communities based on their religion would not only strengthen the divisive forces within the State but also help Pakistan justify its claim on Kashmir on the grounds of the two-nation theory. Even if they win the battle of statehood for Jammu, they might well lose the war of India's foundational belief in the principle of secularism vis--vis Pakistan's religious nationalism.

Navnita Chadha Behera is Reader, Department of Political Science, Delhi University.

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