Jammu: October 31, 2019. This is the date that almost everyone in Jammu region manages to somehow bring into conversations on the post-370 discussions these days.
For this is the day when J&K, the state, will formally cease to exist and be replaced with two new union territories — Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. This is also the date everyone hopes will bring clarity about the future of the residents.
Almost everyone has questions about the future but nobody has any answers, including senior government officers.
Slowly but surely, the initial hype and chest-thumping is giving way to pragmatism and a wait-and-watch policy.
That the BJP, which had lost much of its support among the residents of Jammu region where it won an unprecedented 25 seats in the 2014 Assembly elections, the Narendra Modi government’s move to almost abrogate the contentious Article 370 is being seen as a masterstroke — one that will help it electorally, especially in Jammu.
But even the party knows things could take an ugly turn if Jammu feels short-changed or if the perceived Kashmir domination doesn’t end.
For Jammu-based leaders of opposition parties like the Congress, maintaining a studied silence is currently the best option. They are waiting for the government to commit a mistake — a mistake they feel is inevitable considering the scale of the expectations. That is when they hope to charge in to reclaim leadership.
The question on many minds — will the ‘discrimination’ end?
While the Kashmir issue may be about integration of militancy-hit Kashmir into India for the rest of the country, for Jammu, the Modi government’s decision to amend the controversial Article 370, which granted special status to J&K, and also carve out two UTs is all about ending regional “discrimination” with Jammu and Ladakh.
“Everything, including central government schemes and jobs, was always hijacked by Kashmiris while we were left to fend for ourselves with whatever was left. Modi ji has done the right thing; he has taught these Kashmiris a lesson they won’t forget,” is how advocate J.S. Jamwal sees it.
However, for many like Jamwal, the “real picture” will become clearer only on October 31, the day the new union territories officially come into being.
Jammu residents are waiting to see how the division of assets takes place, whether the region gets the upper hand in government resources and jobs, whether the move will translate into development of the region.
Even senior BJP leaders, who in the past never let go of any opportunity at chest-thumping and polarisation, are careful with their words now.
It is almost as if they are aware that unless Jammu gets a bigger slice of the pie — after the creation of the new UTs — the party could face a major electoral backlash from its support base in the Jammu region.
“We have been told not to indulge in too much celebration. But, make no doubt, it is a big victory of the BJP,” admits a senior party leader in the state.
For most residents of Jammu region, the lament that “everything” was always about Kashmir and its problems and nobody ever talked about the problems of Jammu region has been a sore point, brilliantly exploited by the BJP for massive electoral gains over the years.
“We are also without internet for last several days (mobile internet is unavailable in Jammu region since the second week of August). Do you see us protesting or trying to act like martyrs? It is a small price we have to pay for the country. But I don’t know if we will really gain (due to this move),” says Vikas Sharma, a resident of the old city.
What many wouldn’t want to say is that for several days after the mobile internet was snapped, the residents of Jammu thronged public places such as the railways station with active wi-fi for their daily dose of WhatsApp messages, most of them laudatory of the actions of the Modi government and, often, critical of the Congress and other opposition parties.
From J vs K to Hindus (Jammu) vs Muslims (Kashmir)
Even at the height of militancy and after Kashmiri Pandits migrated from Kashmir, region and not religion divided the two main areas of the state. While Hindu-majority Jammu region carried the grouse that the Kashmir-centric leadership of the state denied Jammu its rightful share in jobs, development and resources, the tussle was almost never treated as a religious issue. These days, the polarisation is completely on religious lines.
“The Kashmiris are under complete sway of Wahabi school of sectarianism. Jammu has suffered due to the fact that it has more Hindus. But the scales are now tilted in our favour for the first time since Independence. They (Kashmiris) have no option but to fall in line. You wait and watch,” says Advocate Ved Bhushan Gupta.
Gupta, however, is also somewhat critical of the “mishandling of the situation” by the government after the Presidential notification.
“Have we committed any wrong? Why is government giving a chance to the Kashmiris to play the victim card? I come from Doda-Kishtwar region, which was the hotbed of militancy. We fought it, lost several lives in the process but we never gave up. Right now, my impression is that after taking such a bold step, the government is showing signs of nervousness. Lift the curfew (in Kashmir), let them protest for a few days and then peace will surely return. We should be aggressive,” he asserts.
After August 5, the day the amendments were announced, us (Jammu) versus them (Kashmir) has now completely and, possibly, irrevocably changed to us (Hindus) versus them (Muslims).
Many talk of how Kashmir cornered a major slice of government jobs — the most recent example cited by many is how the cut-off percentages for J&K Bank probationary officers’ posts were tailor-made to “manipulate” jobs for Kashmiris.
For the man on Jammu’s street, unless the watering down of the special status for the soon-to-be-erstwhile state translates into an end to the discrimination — actual as well as perceived — the entire process would have been for nothing.
The few protesting voices
Interestingly, there are also some people like senior J&K High Court lawyer A.V. Gupta who are opposing the “unconstitutional” decision of the Modi government.
“What I said on the issue earlier was in my personal capacity. Now, I am going to appear as counsel in the Supreme Court for one of the petitioners who have challenged the Presidential notification. I don’t want to say anything at this stage,” Gupta says.
Big hopes pinned on Modi govt
In non-official meetings, senior J&K government officers can often be heard speculating about their future — in a state where transfers and postings of government staff is the biggest and most profitable venture. The big question these days is: who will be in charge of transfers? Visitors from Delhi are asked if they have links in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (since UTs come under the MHA).
“Ideally, we should get central government grades and our pensions should be at par with the central government staff. I am sure Modi government is going to give us that. Will we come under the CBI now?” wonders a government officer who did not wish to be named.
Interestingly, while Jammu residents are all praise for Modi and his government, the local leadership of the BJP doesn’t get very high marks from them.
“They are all corrupt, who were in Mehbooba’s (Mufti’s) pocket. Modi ji should order CBI inquiry into their assets. While we will vote again for the BJP, things may change very quickly if the party doesn’t change its local leaders,” declares Sanjay Kotwal, a businessman.
Kotwal’s assertion finds an echo among many other BJP supporters. And, one big reason for this is the perceived failure of the BJP ministers and MLAs to assert and stand up for Jammu when the party was in power in the state as part of Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
For Jammu, the wait ends on 31 October, when it hopes it will get its “rightful” share in power in the state. Till then, it is going to be a cautious silence, with stakes for the BJP very high.
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