Is Jammu sentiment aligning with that of Kashmir’s?

As one year has elapsed since the landmark abrogation of Article 370, disenchantment does not seem limited to the Valley

Daneesh Majid

A year gone by

With plans underway for Prime Minister Modi to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the temple in Ayodhya tomorrow, there was clearly some symbolism in selecting August 5 as a date on which Article 370 was abrogated almost a year ago.

Besides getting rid of the remnants of the state’s autonomy, especially the rule that allowed only Permanent Residents of the state to own immovable property, the Shiite Muslim and Buddhist Ladakh was severed from the Jammu and Kashmir provinces. The latter two provinces still form a dominion.

MS Education Academy

Both were turned into union territories now under Governor’s Rule but only the latter will be allowed to have its own assembly as of now.

Honeymoon phase fading?

J&K, a conflict-ridden state once composed of three different ethno- linguistically and religiously diverse provinces, was untouched by the scissors of the 1956 States Reorganisation Act that restructured India by language.

The bifurcation gave way to different reactions from Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh.

The Kashmir Valley was either a hotbed for secessionist sentiments, desires for the erstwhile autonomous existence, and/or just plain anger for being in the crossfire between militants and military.

Negative reaction from there was expected.

For a whole year, the Valley has been deprived of internet, thereby attracting more global attention to the most violence-prone province of the conflicted-ridden land. That too, when it was already under the microscope of regional leaders and analysts alike.

“After August 5, there was jubilation in Jammu due to being free from what the region saw as the Valley’s yoke with Article 370’s revocation.  Now, for various reasons expressions of disappointment have been surfacing as the anniversary of this landmark event comes closer,” reveals Jammu-based journalist Manu Shrivatsava.

Among the earlier dissenting voices was Gulchain Singh Charak, President of the social organisation, Dogra Sadar Sabha. An anti-article 370 crusader and former Congress member was detained for merely suggesting safeguards for Jammu’s regional identity. 

 Shrivatsava adds, “With regional political entities silent and their activity dormant for the most part, there has not been any full-fledged mass movement cashing in on the sentiment. But who knows what kind of turn it could take?”

In the interview above with regional outlet Daily Taskeen, Manish Sahni of the Shiv Sena claims that as someone who distributed sweets upon the revocation of Article 370, he is now feeling the sting. “There has not been one law that the people of Jammu have wholeheartedly accept,” he openly states

Jammu: The red-headed stepchild

Be it before the onset of militancy in 1989 or ven after 1947 when the seat of power shifted from the erstwhile Princely State’s Dogra rulers in Jammu City to the newly politically empowered Kashmiri Muslims of Srinagar, one thing waned.

And that is Jammu’s political, economic, historical and cultural identity. Like many other regional ethno-linguistic identities of India, Dogra culture and Dogri language also somewhat descended into obscurity for almost seven decades.

Paharis and Gujjars were almost non-entities, until more recent times.

The region was devoid of any regional party that represented its interests. This rendered Jammu predominantly made battleground for Congress, BJP, NC (with its presence in the district Doda) and later the PDP too.

Plus, the province became a major center for the BJP and especially its predecessor, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Both organisations saw Jammu as a Hindu-majority region bullied with the stick of Article 370 by majoritarian hegemons of a predominantly overall Muslim state.

There are some who spoke about Jammu while transcending all religious and slight linguistic differences.

Sometimes the lines between the two entities blurred. 

With Valley-centric politics playing out, the aforementioned identities became invisible. Yes, the government’s annual Durbar move that shifted the assembly and bureaucracy to the Jammu region during the winters did bring its people closer to power corridors to a certain extent.

Though with the lack of regional parties to represent Jammu in the vein of the NC and PDP, Kashmir and Kashmiris reigned supreme. Despite a tumultuous dynamic between New Delhi and the Valley, the former mostly dealt with the latter.

For seven decades, this did not sit well with Jammuites.

Hence, their ardent support for the abrogation of what they saw as a hindrance to their regional development identity as a stakeholder of the state.

 Regarding the (state) subject — “Kya Jammu, Kya Kashmir?”

Then came the fateful morning of August 5 when the Indian Constitution rid Article 370 of its vestiges.

Linked to this provision was Article 35A — a holdover from Maharaja Hari Singh’s days that only allowed hereditary state subjects (referred to as Permanent Residents from 1947 to 2019) — to purchase land and apply for government jobs.

The government promising 50,000 jobs for the youth of J&K at the end of August was the cherry on top.

But as a year has passed since this unilateral move to abrogate Article 370 approaches, the Valley Province is not the only one speaking up. The jobs are nowhere to be seen whereas a new law, by which non-J&K state subjects can easily gain domicile, has surfaced.

A few months ago, the centre defined a new rule where a person residing in the state for 15 years will now be eligible to become a domicile of the Union Territory.

A breakaway faction from the Congress, the Jammu Kashmir Panthers Party did not take kindly to the fact that they were still attached to their regional hegemons.

Party leader and the state’s former Education Minister, Harsh Dev Singh, who once raised his firebrand voice against Rohingya presence in the state was for separate statehood. His party Secretary Gagan Pratap asserted in the video below, “We wanted a separate state so that we would also have to stop bearing the brunt of the Kashmir province’s security issues and their overall domination?” 

Like Singh, many in the rival provinces are expressing anger at the fact despite being Permanent Residents, they must also prove their domicile. Shrivatsa utters the following about the similar sentiments of both provinces on this issue: ‘Kya Jammu, Kya Kashmir?’ 

The Sting

On a more commercial note, one can say that Jammu is the launching pad of the entire state. “Prior to August 5, businessmen from the bordering state of Punjab had to pay sales tax. There was no free entry for some goods here,” informs Shrivatsa.

He also gives the example of many input supplies. For instance, bricks and cement are cheaper in Punjab and not Jammu.

This definitely has implications for the indigenous business landscape of the province, which exists primarily in Jammu City and Kathua. And the sting is being felt there.

However, according to him, such virtues of Article 370 were not extolled by their strongest proponents. While some pro-370 folks did collectively project the now-scrapped provision’s benefits, the rhetoric used to do so was unsavoury.

Shrivatsa elaborates, “Leading up to the watershed moment, the BJP organised seminars and conferences on Article 370’s various drawbacks. The mainstream parties and other supporters could have done the same. Regardless of whether the pros outweigh the cons or even if the opposite applies, statements from mainstream parties advocating secession or violence are just off-putting.”

Had Article 370 proponents not used such aggressive language, which nationalist Jammuites find problematic, the latter might not have been so averse to the bygone provision.

Hence, the message to the rest of the country was that Article 370 posed a danger to the nation.  

Although on a more individual level, Gagan Bhagat, a former BJP MLA from the RS Pura Constituency who then joined the National Conference in Jammu, did his part in putting forward certain facts.

Even as a BJP member, Bhagat defended not just Article 370, but Article 35A as well. In the video below, he articulately pointed out how property prices would skyrocket, thereby making land ripe for the picking by wealthy Mainland Indians.

“If there is a job for scientist with a qualification of a PhD, one finds five Kashmiri candidates there and none from Jammu. When we see an Ali Mohammed Khan get that job, we think that our people got a raw deal and the Kashmiri stole it. He got the job because he is more qualified. They are much ahead of us in education, money and hard work. Kashmiris will do menial work such as cleaning and get very far. However, The first post that we ask for is that of a DC. They work in the private sector, government as well as their own businesses,” exclaims Bhagat.

Told you so!

Qudrathullah Shahab, a renowned Pakistani writer, diplomat, and bureaucrat who grew up in the region wrote in his memoir “ShahabNama” about how Kashmiri Pandiths would enter a government office as lowly clerks and then rapidly work their way up to the position of head collector.

They were always prominent in the bureaucracy and academia before and after 1947. Although after their tragic exodus 42 years later during militancy, Kashmir Pandith supremacy was replaced with that of their now estranged Muslim brothers.

In a speech to his constituency above, Bhagat stresses how Jammuites are a few notches below Kashmiri Muslims — who are not too different from their Pandith brethren.

Davinder Singh Rana, another Dogra from the National Conference, echoed similar statements. Below, he warned of the loss of an already waning Dogra identity with the influx of outsiders from Punjab, Haryana and Bihar.

Seven months after the reading down of Article 370, as the coronavirus gripped the country along with the testy union territory of J&K, the centre presented another gift to the state’s youth. They notified people of a law where jobs of the lowest level of the non-gazetted rank were reserved for J&K domiciles.

This created a furor not just among some regional parties but among the youth as well. The lack of those 50,000 jobs promised only furthered the disenchantment.

Minus the stones and the military to clamp down upon such shows of anger, this outrage was not too different from that of Kashmiri youngsters who grew up witnessing nothing but violence. 

The crisis regarding the gazetted officers was averted. That too, after youth and folks like Harsh Dev Singh raising their voices against what was perceived as an inequitable setup.

Yet, with the way domicile certificates are being generously distributed, at least Jammu City and Kathua, will surely experience an inflow of outsiders. This will surely shake up the landscape. Only time will tell whether it will be for the better or worse.  

According to Sunil Dimple of the Jammu West Assembly Movement, Nirmal Singh and Kavinder Gupta and Chandra Mohan — all BJP stalwarts — were generously distributing these domicile certificates freely in areas like Kathua.

Is history repeating itself?

Until 1927 when the hereditary state subject rule came into effect, people from the rest of British India were also brought into the Dogra administration and bureaucracy. This left many overeducated Muslim sons of the soil un(der)employed.

Despite being the indigenous majority in the state, they had little representation compared to the ruling Hindu minority.

Five years later, educated Muslim youth of both the Jammu and Kashmir provinces formed a political organisation called the Muslim Conference.

Although it might be too early and far-fetched to draw comparisons, could a similar situation be on hand? If so, this time it will not only be Muslims leading the struggle for equality and their identity. 

JKNPP State Secretary Gagan Pratap on the recent state of his province and its youth

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