Jammu on the warpath
by Hari Om on 09 Jun 2015 2 Comments

Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah’s announcement on February 25 this year that the BJP and the People’s Democratic Party would form a coalition government in Jammu & Kashmir was taken by the “politically marginalised” and “economically ignored” people of Jammu province as a signal of the return of hope and joy for them. It was taken to mean the beginning of a new era that would end their night of despair and discontent, as also the emergence of a dispensation that would appreciate and respond to their rational and just hopes.


These rational hopes and just aspirations implied parity between Kashmir and Jammu at all levels and in all spheres and an end to the Valley’s 67-year-old “hegemony” over the state’s polity, economy and nation-building institutions such as universities and technical and professional institutions. The history of inter-regional relations between Jammu and Kashmir before what was described in Jammu as Amit Shah’s “historic” announcement was one of bitterness, animosity and serious trust-deficit.    


What happened on March 1, when the PDP-BJP coalition assumed office in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and other BJP top national leaders, was to the contrary and shocked and disappointed the people of Jammu province. The PDP managed not only the highest executive office of Chief Minister for a full term of six years, but also managed for Kashmir 12 out of 17 berths in the all-powerful Cabinet that discusses and decides policy matters and controls funds all top positions in all vital departments.


Jammu province, which occupies an area twice that of Kashmir, contains nearly half of the State’s population and contributes annually over 70 per cent revenue to the state exchequer, got only five berths – less than 30 per cent share. The new dispensation rendered the people of Jammu province ineffective for all practical purposes from day one, despite the fact that the PDP and the BJP (plus allies) had an equal number of MLAs, viz., 29 and 29, respectively.


While the people of Jammu province were still in deep shock, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed administered a second shock. He allotted to Kashmir all or nearly all portfolios with considerable political weight, funds and patronage. These included home, finance, planning, general administration, revenue, agriculture, horticulture, floriculture, parks, employment, law and parliamentary affairs, tourism, education, science and technology, technical education, youth services and sports, public works, rural development, consumer affairs and public distribution, relief and rehabilitation, animal husbandry, labour, culture, information and information technology.


Jammu merely got power development, housing and urban development, industries and commerce, health and medical education, social welfare, forest, ecology and environment, public health engineering and transport. Most of these departments were in an extremely bad shape.


Power development, health, public health engineering and transport are the departments against which people across the state consistently complain, as these departments do not get the required funds from the finance and planning departments to cater to citizens’ basic needs. In fact, these departments only make those who hold these portfolios unpopular. Besides, the PDP put its own men at critical places in the bureaucracy, to the chagrin of the people of Jammu province. 


The people of Jammu not only expressed their unhappiness over the lop-sided distribution of cabinet berths and portfolios, but also took serious exception to the Chief Minister’s decision to control all departments dealing with internal security. This happened for the first time in 67 years. The home, CID, law and general administration departments play a vital role in internal security-related matters, but the Chief Minister rigorously excluded Jammu ministers from each one of them.


Thethe Chief Minister also appointed his own man as Advocate General. The people of Jammu province wanted a say in these departments as they had serious doubts about the Chief Minister’s intentions considering his rigid stand on Pakistan, separatists, army, special laws such Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and his insistence on his self-rule doctrine, economic independence and dual currency, “supra-state” measures and “healing touch policy”.


As if all this, plus many controversial statements of the Chief Minister and his “soft-approach” towards separatists were not enough to alienate the people of Jammu province from the PDP-led dispensation, Mufti Sayeed on May 15 virtually rubbed salt in their wounds with a provocative statement to the effect that the sanctioned All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS)-like institute would be set up in Kashmir instead of Jammu. It may be recalled that Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced an AIIMS-type of institution for Jammu during his budget speech on February 28.


Mufti Sayeed also said the ongoing artificial lake project over Tawi on Jammu city could be “shelved as it was economically and technically not viable”. BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh was present when the Chief Minister made the statement, in Jammu. The provocation was grave and it came when the people across Jammu region had already registered their strong protest on April 24 through a massive shutdown against the decision of the authorities to establish the proposed AIIMS in Kashmir.


The complete bandh which the aggrieved people of Jammu province organised on May 27, the day Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Jammu to highlight the achievements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, was the immediate fall-out of the provocative statements made by the Chief Minister. The extent of the success of the bandh could be gauged from the fact that it threw normal life in the region completely out of gear. It can also be seen from the fact that the Union Home Minister, who was scheduled to address a “historic rally” in Jammu, could only hold an indoor meeting with party workers at the K K Resort, a banquet hall on the outskirts of the city! The participation of the people was totally voluntary and peaceful.


The Coordination Committee comprising 70-odd social organisations which is spearheading the get-AIIMS movement under the leadership of Abhinav Sharma, president of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court Bar Association (JKHCBA), Jammu, declared after the second highly successful bandh that a mass movement would be launched soon if the authorities failed to concede their two immediate demands – establishment of AIIMS and early completion of the 100-crore artificial lake project, which the people consider their “dream project”. In fact, the JKHCBA resolved to intensify the movement and there are reasons to believe that things could worsen over the next few days. On June 5, the AIIMS Coordination Committee organised a massive candlelight protest march in Jammu as part of its get AIIMS movement.


The country cannot afford any trouble in the otherwise peaceful Jammu at a time when things in Kashmir do not inspire confidence. Statesmanship demands immediate Central intervention so that the agitating people of Jammu province are mollified and peace is restored in this strategic region. Even otherwise, the people of Jammu province deserve special attention as they never got their due share in the State’s polity and economy during all the years since the State’s accession to India, despite the fact that they constitute the nation’s backbone in this militant and separatist-infested State.   

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