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Srinagar: When the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government read down the Article 370 and bifurcated the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories, the response in Dogri-speaking areas of Jammu was muted, barring a few celebratory events sponsored by the ruling party’s local unit. The region did not react angrily to the August 5, 2019 events, unlike the Kashmir Valley and other Muslim-dominated areas like Pir Panchal, Chenab and Kargil; nor did it erupt in euphoria and celebrations like the Buddhist-dominated Leh district of Ladakh.
But two years after the constitutional and territorial changes, the Dogra heartland of Jammu is fuming over new policies in the region, with different stakeholders accusing the government of “strangulating their economy” and “facilitating outsiders to take away their businesses”.
Shutdown call to protest anti-trade policies
The proposal for opening Reliance Retail stores in Jammu has triggered a shutdown call from the Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industries (JCCI). The latest move is being seen by many as “part of the systematic pattern to elbow out locals from the businesses and pave the way for the outsiders”, who have already taken away a sizeable share in mining and liquor contract allotments, directly or indirectly, in the region after August 2019.
The anger among traders of Jammu, who are seen as drivers of the political narrative in Jammu, doesn’t augur well for the BJP, which won both the parliamentary seats of the region in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
For the first time in three years after J&K came under central rule in June 2018, following BJP’s withdrawal of support to the Mehbooba Mufti-led government, the JCCI has called for a complete shutdown in the region on September 22 to protest against the government’s “anti-trade policies”.
The traders are critical of the proposal on opening Reliance Retail outlets in Jammu.“It will create more unemployment than employment. They can employ 1,000-1,500 persons in these outlets, but they will take away the livelihoods of 20,000 small traders and shopkeepers,” president of the JCCI Arun Gupta told The Wire.
Mining and liquor contract allotment
The allotment of mining contracts to outsiders has also created anxiety and unease among different sections in the region.
The outsiders’ participation in the bidding process for mining contracts became possible only after J&K’s legal position was altered in 2019.
According to data accessed by The Wire, 25 minor mineral contracts have been allotted to outsiders in J&K. Of these, 22 allotments have been made in the Jammu region and three in Kashmir.
Of 22 mining leases granted to non-locals in Jammu, eight are in Jammu district, seven in Samba, two each in Kathua, Udhampur and Reasi and one in Kishtwar.
Before Article 370 was read down, even the BJP had opposed the allotment of mining contracts to outsiders and its legislators had protested in the J&K assembly in 2016, to seeking rollback of the Jammu and Kashmir Minor Mineral Concessions, Storage, Transportation of Minerals and Prevention of Illegal Mining Rules, known as SRO-105, issued during the brief period of Governor’s Rule after demise of former chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed. The Rules allowed the government to grant mining leases to non-locals.
A committee of J&K legislators, which also had MLAs from the BJP, had claimed that the notification is “in gross violation” of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, J&K Land Alienation Act, State Subject Law, J&K Transfer of Property Act and J&K Land Grants Act.”
“It deprives the permanent residents of the state of their exclusive rights,” the panel had said.
After facing criticism over the notification, the then J&K government-led by Mehbooba Mufti amended the Rules and cancelled a mining contract allotted to a resident of Punjab.
The wine traders in Jammu are upset over the new excise policy unveiled by the UT administration, which, they allege, has allowed liquor barons from other states to take control of the trade through proxy bidding
“The new policy has affected our livelihood. Most of the old licensees couldn’t compete in the bidding process due to new excise policy unveiled by the administration,” said Charanjeet Singh, spokesman of the Jammu Wine Traders Association.
He said the majority of 228 liquor traders lost their shops in the e-auction and only 15-20 could retain their licenses.
“The traders of Jammu have suffered the most due to removal of Articles 370 and 35A,” he said.
Calling off Darbar Move
Traders in Jammu are also upset over the government’s move to abandon the 149-year-old practice of ‘Darbar Move’, saying that it will affect their economy. The practice was started by Dogra ruler Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1872. As per the tradition, the civil secretariat and other important offices of J&K were functioning in Srinagar during the summers and in Jammu during winters.
In 1987, the Farooq Abdullah-led government’s order for a truncated Darbar Move sparked off an agitation in Jammu, forcing him to reverse his decision.
On October 7, 1987, the J&K government, in a departure from past practice, ordered that 27 departments will not shift to Jammu and will remain permanently stationed in Srinagar. After a month-long agitation in Jammu, the controversial order was rescinded on November 14, 1987 following the intervention of then Union home minister Buta Singh.
Resentment among politicians, lawyers too
Not only the business community, but politicians and lawyers are also angry over the government’s policies on different issues concerning Jammu.
Earlier this month, former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said scrapping the Darbar Move practice has affected Jammu’s economy. “Darbar was not important for Kashmir but it was important for Jammu. The arrival of people from Kashmir helped in economic activity here,” he said.
Noted lawyer Sheikh Shakeel Ahmad says that the people of Jammu feel betrayed and voiceless. “Nobody listens to the people of Jammu. Where they will go for resolving their grievances and basic issues?” he asked.
He said the people of Jammu have suffered immensely in the past three years during bureaucratic rule. “The government claims credit for opening an IIT, IIM and other institutions in Jammu but they are not doing any favour to us by doing so. How many faculty members from Jammu have been recruited there? How many locals are studying in these institutions?”
The anger among traders doesn’t bode well for the BJP in the Jammu region, where it won 25 assembly seats in the last state polls and emerged victorious in both the 2014 and 2019 polls.
Along with lawyers, traders in Jammu have been championing regional causes for decades. They have been at the forefront of different issues concerning the region, ranging from the Darbar Move agitation to the establishment of a central university and an AIIMS.
The Wire made repeated attempts to seek comments from officials and advisors in the J&K government over issues brought up by stakeholders in Jammu. This article will be updated if they respond.
Umer Maqbool is an independent journalist based in Kashmir.