The demand for state holiday on Maharaja Hari Singh’s birthday, which falls on 23rd September, became a rallying point for the people of Jammu against the current Government in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Jammu witnessed celebration of Maharaja’s 123rd birth anniversary this year with much fervor and gusto. Several organizations based in Jammu cutting across social, political, and religious affiliations jointly participated in this commemoration-cum-protest against the alliance of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in J&K.
There has been long-standing demand for state holiday on Maharaja Hari Singh’s birthday. The campaign for this demand got fresh lease of life by the efforts of Maharaja Hari Singh’s grandsons - Vikramaditya Singh and Ajatshatru Singh. Both the grandsons are members of J&K’s upper house from PDP and BJP respectively.
Vikramaditya Singh wrote a letter to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on 15th September, 2017 demanding state holiday on Maharaja’s birthday. In his letter, he emphasized that announcing state holiday would tantamount to respecting the sentiments of the people of Jammu region. Earlier this year, on 24th January, 2017, a resolution moved by Ajatshatru Singh was passed in J&K’s legislative council advocating state holiday on Maharaja’s birthday. The opposition, comprising the National Conference (NC) and Indian National Congress (INC), had walked out before this issue was brought up in the council.
In spite of a vociferous campaign for state holiday on the Maharaja’s birthday, the Government decided not to give in to the demand. PDP chose to overrule its political partner BJP which once again reinforced the image of BJP as a weakling in the state’s power structure. It was rather ironical that even Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh’s letter in official capacity to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was disregarded. Kashmiri legislators as well as valley based outfits have been opposing the demand for state holiday on 23rd September. Senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Karan Singh expressed his disappointment on turning down the demand through a letter. He asked if Kashmir’s sentiments are respected by making Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s birthday a public holiday, why not Jammu’s?
The State Government displayed its anti-Jammu attitude by rejecting the holiday demand. It was an example of prevailing regional bias in the state. In other words, sentiments and aspirations of the people of Kashmir are superior to the people of Jammu. Unfortunately, Ladakh’s viewpoint is sidelined in the grand scheme of things. The attention will be always on Kashmir and it will be heard but that is not the case with Jammu or Ladakh.
Maharaja Hari Singh’s birth anniversary celebration became a flashpoint for raising the voice of Jammu. Once again, it gave an opportunity to the people for manifesting their sentiments which have been suppressed by and large. The Amarnath land row agitation of 2008 comes to mind which was the most vehement and clamorous protest Jammu has ever seen in recent times. The birthday celebration signaled to the current dispensation, the state as well as the centre, that they should not be taken for granted. Nirmal Singh, who visited the celebration venue near Tawi river bridge, was heckled by the angry youth present at the event and he was forced to leave.
Jammu’s outrage was directed more towards the BJP than its coalition partner PDP because BJP was voted in Jammu on the premise of removing regional predisposition in the state. The party won 25 out of Jammu’s 37 seats in J&K assembly elections of 2014. The regional imbalance doesn’t seem to have altered since the alliance between two political parties, first in March 2015 and then its renewal in April 2016.
Jammu has protested from time to time in putting forth its demands before the government.
On 18th September, 2017, there was a shutdown call given by Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which was supported by other Jammu based political and student outfits, on several issues including holiday on Maharaja’s birthday, deportation of illegal Rohingyas, lack of development in Jammu, etc. In June 2015, Jammu had protested over reports of shifting of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to Kashmir which was earlier announced for Jammu. Ultimately, the Centre had to announce two AIIMS – one each for Jammu and Kashmir regions.
On the question of deportation of illegal Bangladeshis and Rohingyas who have been clandestinely allowed to settle in J&K, there has not been any visible and strict action by the Government so far. According to official estimates, there are around 13,400 illegal Bangladeshis and Rohingyas living in different parts of J&K. However, the actual number is believed to be much higher. There have been reports that certain Rohingyas have fraudulently acquired Permanent Resident Certificates, Aadhaar cards and ration cards and some have even bought land on the outskirts of Jammu city.
Also, they have been found in criminal activities in the region. Jammu has raised this matter much before it became the national mainstream debate. The ‘Quit Jammu’ hoardings had come up in and around the city tellingRohingyas and Bangladeshis to leave. Their influx has been viewed as conspiracy against Dogras, the indigenous people of Jammu, and an attempt to change the demography of the region.
On the other hand, the issue of West Pakistan Refugees (WPR) lingers on since 1947 as they have been denied permanent resident certificates and subsequently right to education, employment, ownership of property and political participation in the state. There are around 20,000 WPR families living in J&K.
Article 35A of the Indian Constitution, related to the special rights and privileges of permanent residents of J&K, is expected to become major flashpoint in Jammu and Kashmir when Supreme Court will hear the pleas challenging this article after Diwali. While the popular view in Jammu is for abrogation of the said article, voices from Kashmir are in favour of Article 35A. Coming to the stand taken by political parties, all the three major parties i.e. PDP, NC and INC, are talking about defending the Article 35A.
The BJP’s stand on Article 35A is, however, unclear. On 10thAugust, 2017, J&K state BJP spokesperson Virender Gupta said that it is high time Article 370 and Article 35A should be revoked and asked the Government of India to act on the same. While the BJP’s state unit has sought abrogation of the controversial article, the Centre is signaling otherwise. On 11th September, 2017, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said in Srinagar that the government will not do anything regarding Article 35A that would be against the aspirations and wishes of the people of Kashmir. The Home Minister’s statement has not been received well by the people of Jammu.
In addition to all the aforementioned issues, the people in Jammu are angry with the government over bijli, paani and sadak. There has been much talk about governance and development by the Government but that isn’t getting reflected on the ground.
In March 2015, in an article I had termed the BJP’s alliance with PDP a political gamble in which BJP will lose if PDP continues with its own agenda. Well, the BJP’s gamble in J&K is not paying off well for the party. The BJP is trying to woo the people of Kashmir by appeasement and concessions. However, while trying to make inroads in the valley, it is discounting its core constituency of Jammu. The attempts haven’t yielded anything significant for the party till date. Instead, this has been counterproductive for the party overall. Anti-BJP sentiment will grow further in Jammu if the party continues to be ineffectual, taciturn and dilly-dallying on the current state of affairs.
(Varad Sharma is a writer and political commentator. He has co-edited A Long Dream of Home: The Persecution, Exodus and Exile of Kashmiri Pandits for Bloomsbury India. He tweets @VaradSharma)
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