The arrest of Chaudhary Lal Singh, the chairman of Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan (DSS) and former Member of Parliament, by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on November 7 has brought renewed attention to the longstanding demand for separate statehood for the Jammu region.
Lal Singh, a 63-year-old leader, has served as a two-time Lok Sabha MP from the Udhampur constituency and held various ministerial portfolios in the State government. After switching from the Congress to the BJP in 2014, he became a minister in the PDP-BJP coalition government, which collapsed in June 2018 following the Kathua rape incident. In February 2019, he founded the DSS, a mainstream political party, after resigning from the BJP.
On November 7, Lal Singh was remanded in seven-day custody by a local anti-corruption court in Jammu, a day after the ED arrested him in a money laundering case. His anticipatory bail application had been dismissed by a special court. However, relief was granted to his wife, former legislator Kanta Andotra, and their daughter in connection with a case registered under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) related to the family-run educational trust.
The PMLA case originates from a 2021 CBI chargesheet, alleging violations of the Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Reforms Act during the acquisition of land by the educational trust in 2011. The court emphasised the serious threat of money laundering to the financial system and the global economy, asserting the need for stern action.
Proponent of Jammu’s separation from Kashmir
Lal Singh has been in the spotlight for advocating the demand for a separate statehood for Jammu province, comprising ten districts. The area is distinct both ethnically and geographically from the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh region, formerly part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. This demand gained momentum after the abrogation of Article 370, which stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status and led to its division into two Union Territories.
In addition to the DSS, the political party IkkJutt Jammu has also been pushing for the separation of Jammu from the Kashmir Valley and the declaration of Jammu as a separate State. Incidentally in 2002, the RSS had passed a resolution calling for the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir, giving full statehood to the Jammu province. Lal Singh, in a public rally on October 10, criticised Kashmir-centric politics, attributing economic discrimination against Jammu and the erosion of Dogra culture to such policies.
A protest demonstration in Kathua on November 10 criticised the ED’s actions, with Lal Singh’s younger brother alleging political motives and claiming that BJP leaders feared his growing political stature.
Various political figures, including Pradesh Congress Committee spokesperson Ravinder Sharma and senior CPI(M) leader M.Y. Tarigami, have criticised Lal Singh’s arrest. They view it as a selective approach, political vendetta, and the misuse of agencies. Harsh Dev Singh, president of Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party, accused the ruling BJP of using central investigation agencies against opposition parties, describing the situation as a dictatorship.
“Lal Singh, in a public rally on October 10, criticised Kashmir-centric politics, attributing economic discrimination against Jammu and the erosion of Dogra culture to such policies.”
Concerns about the government’s handling of dissent were expressed by Tarigami, who highlighted the pattern of the ED becoming active when individuals criticise or express disagreement with the government. Harsh Dev Singh, seeking proper medical care for Lal Singh, labelled him “a victim of the BJP’s political terrorism”. Lal Singh had complained about inadequate medical treatment before being taken into custody at the Government Medical College and Hospital in Jammu.
In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Harsh Dev Singh wrote about the polarising political environment, stating, “You can be absolved of all your crimes and purged of sins if you join the BJP and face gallows if you oppose BJP. Where has the country reached today?”