Politics

Why BJP Did Not Trifurcate Jammu and Kashmir

Past discussions surrounding Jammu and Kashmir’s possible Balkanisation almost always envisioned Jammu being severed from Kashmir.

In the days leading up to Amit Shah’s announcement on August 5, Jammu and Kashmir was rife with rumours that the state was going to be trifurcated with Jammu, Ladakh, and Kashmir going their separate ways. In fact, the idea of bifurcating the state without severing Jammu from the Valley almost never came up in past discussions surrounding Jammu and Kashmir’s possible Balkanisation.

Even when the word “bifurcation” was mentioned, it was used as a subset of trifurcation and referred to the splitting of Jammu and Kashmir divisions into separate administrative units. So why then did the BJP stop short of trifurcating the state?

Explanations that have been presented so far invite further elaboration.

The primary reason for the BJP’s decision to eschew a trifurcation has to do with the party’s ideological legacy. The Sangh parivar’s longstanding aversion to any partition based on religious (read: Hindu-Muslim) differences is well-documented. RSS chief M.S. Gowalkar expressed disappointment with the subcontinent’s dismemberment in 1947 and conveyed the hope that India and Pakistan might one day reunite.

While nobody takes the Sangh’s unrealistic but enduring wish that Partition is reversed for the creation of ‘Akhand Bharat’ seriously, Ram Madhav and others bring it up from time to time to remind their target audience that the “blunder” of Partition will not be repeated. A party that publicly clings to this position would find it particularly awkward to pursue the contradictory course of separating the Hindu-majority Jammu from Muslim-majority Kashmir.

The second impediment to trifurcation is practical and has to do with Jammu and Kashmir’s complicated demographics. The Valley is overwhelmingly Muslim and this demographic majority is reflected across its ten districts. In Jammu Division, however, things get trickier.

While Hindus constitute a two-thirds majority in the division as a whole, their numerical dominance is concentrated in four districts – Kathua, Udhampur, Jammu, and Samba. Five of the division’s remaining six districts have Muslim majorities and one district (Reasi) has a Muslim plurality.

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Moreover, many of the 7 lakh Muslims in the Chenab Valley districts of Ramban, Doda, Reasi, and Kishtwar are ethnically Kashmiri. They would vehemently resist trifurcation, which effectively severs them from co-religionists, co-ethnics, and in many cases relatives, across the Pir Panjal.

In fact, the BJP could not possibly have trifurcated the state and avoided a backlash without reorganising Jammu’s districts along religious lines. And that, again, would conflict with its ideological posture.

The third reason why trifurcation was avoided is more sinister and has to do with the party’s (and more generally the government of India’s) desire to mute Kashmiri discontent. Relations between Jammu and the Valley have been uneasy since the days of Dogra rule and have always taken the form of a zero-sum contest: the relative dominance of one region has invariably caused grievance in the other.

That political parties have exploited and indeed accentuated the divergent interests of the two regions is evident from the incompatible manifestos Valley-based and Jammu-oriented parties have presented in recent assembly elections. Bifurcation allows the BJP to keep intact this basic infrastructure for a policy of divide and rule.

A trifurcated arrangement would have allowed Kashmiris more space to articulate and politically represent their preferences. In a sense, theirs would be the only voices in the room. In the present bifurcated landscape, however, Kashmir’s interests will continually be challenged by those in Jammu.

Members of security forces stand guard over a foot-over-bridge during restrictions in Srinagar on September 10, 2019. Photo: PTI

If the BJP proceeds to redraw assembly constituencies as it has repeatedly promised, it will further succeed in drowning out the Valley’s aspirations which is a bonus for the BJP. Since the party cannot reasonably be expected to secure much electoral support in the Valley, it will indeed find it convenient to employ the concept of the “other” to excite and mobilise Jammu’s electors and maintain a strong electoral foothold in the region.

The fourth reason why the BJP opted for bifurcation was to keep the government of India on a reasonably secure footing in its PR efforts. In a trifurcated scenario, New Delhi would be forced to acknowledge the uncomfortable reality that public opinion in one of its administrative units is overwhelmingly unfavourable towards India.

In the present context of a bifurcated state, New Delhi has more opportunities to defend its policies. It can respond to the fact that most Kashmiris are deeply dissatisfied with Indian rule with no less a fact that millions of non-Kashmiris within the same administrative unit are happy with the status quo.

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The BJP has carefully avoided trifurcation as the resulting configuration would be at odds with New Delhi’s official narrative and would diminish India’s ability to deflect criticism.

Jammu has lost its statehood and will likely find itself on the receiving end of additional collateral punishment. After all, it is an indispensable prop in the BJP’s calculated effort to marginalise Kashmiris.

Nikhil R. Puri is a visiting fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.