Is Anyone Thinking About the Future of Jammu?

"Our sorrow is common to all of us; we have become the playthings of both countries (India and Pakistan)."

Aap masla-e-Kashmir ki baath hi karte hain, hamara tho masla-e-Jammu hai (You talk only of the problems of Kashmir; ours are the problems of Jammu)”. I try a faint riposte: “Chaliye, masla-e-riyasat kahein (Alright, let’s call it the problems of the Riyasat)”.

At a seminar in Jammu city on September 26 attended by about 50 leading intellectuals of the Jammu region, Anuradha Bhasin, editor of the Jammu edition of The Kashmir Times and daughter of the veteran and much revered Jammu activist Ved Bhasin, patiently explains that “Jammu is the most plural of all the regions of the state”.

We are to learn just how true this is over the four days we spend in the Jammu region, to match the four days we were in the Kashmir Valley in May. Our journey takes us to Doda on the north bank of the Chenab, five hours by road to the northeast of Jammu city, and to Rajouri in the foothills of the Pir Panjal, four hours by road to the northwest of the city. The plurality lies in the extraordinary diversity of communities that inhabit this relatively small space.

From Kathua on the Punjab border to Udhampur in central Jammu, the most numerous community is that of the Dogras. Hindus by religion, the Dogra community was dominant for over a century from Dogra Maharajah Gulab Singh’s takeover of the Riyasat in 1845 and its subsequent expansion far into the Kashmir Valley, further westwards and north to Gilgit-Baltistan, and eastwards to Ladakh, till Maharajah Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession to India on October 26, 1947, in the wake of nascent Pakistan’s invasion of the Valley. While Hari Singh spent the rest of his life in forced exile in Bombay, Sheikh Abdullah brought Kashmir to the fore. Ever since, the Dogras have felt themselves sidelined, although individual members of the community, above all Girdhari Lal Dogra, have held their own in the composite politics of the state.

The substantial Muslim community in the Jammu zone nurses its grievances and feels excluded. Its most vocal (and rational) spokesman, Sheikh Abdur Rahman, former MLA of Jammu city and former Rajya Sabha member, says in his welcome address at the seminar that what has made Jammu and Kashmir a “flashpoint” is the combination of two factors: “bogus elections” and “excessive centralisation”. The key imperative, he says, is the decentralisation of political, legislative and administrative power in a state as geographically and ethnically diverse as Jammu and Kashmir. He stresses the need for Regional Councils with defined legislative powers for the three regions of the state (Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh); sub-regional councils for backward and “ignored” areas; Hill Development Councils for the “gravely neglected” Pir Panjal and Chenab valley habitations; District Development Boards for all districts; and, above all, a vibrant system of Panchayati Raj (that does not exit in the Riyasat because the Jammu and Kashmir assembly has not accepted the 73rd and 74th amendments to the constitution).

Despite the passage of 70 years since their forced displacement in the most barbarous conditions in 1947 and since, the very large number of Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan are not recognised as “state subjects” and, therefore, banned from voting in state assembly elections or buying, possessing or selling any landed property. Subhash Sharma of Rajouri underlines that while there is much talk of “Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir”, he and four lakh others are refugees from “Pakistan-Occupied Jammu” – and they too must be included among the “stakeholders”. Sheikh Sajjad Munshi of Poonch, the entry point for most of the five lakh refugees according to his estimates, speaks in the same vein.

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Out in Doda, the Kashmiri- and Urdu-speaking Muslims ask why they are categorised as “Jammu Muslims” and not treated as “Kashmiri Muslims” to whom, they add, with no small justification, they are conjoined in ethnic terms. To our startled surprise, Abdul Qayyum Zarger, in his welcome address, recalls Jayaprakash Narayan’s proposal that Jammu and Kashmir be accorded the same status as Sikkim and Bhutan. An eminent lawyer, Farooq Ahmed Khan, demands to know why everyone talks only of the 250 Kashmiri pandits killed in the Valley in 1990, but no one mentions the tens of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims – mostly innocent, peace-loving citizens – killed since then by the Indian security forces. Before 1947, he says, Jammu had a Muslim majority. Now, its demographic profile has been changed to render the Muslims a minority and thus promote a Hindu-Muslim confrontation between Jammu and Kashmir. To prove this, he cites Dileep Padgaonkar, head of the interlocutors’ mission, who remarked, “Jammu wants azadi from Kashmir”. I gently remind him that Partition was all about demographic change and that numerous parts of the subcontinent underwent dramatic demographic change. He lets the argument go, but not his resentment.

On the other hand, the substantial number of Kashmiri pandits displaced from the Chenab valley into Jammu-Tawi want to know why they are denied the privileges accorded to pandit refugees from the Valley proper. “The Kashmiri Pandits talk only of themselves. Well, what about us?”

The Pahari people of the backward reaches of the state feel put upon and excluded from affirmative action by the government. Why are they not given “state subject” status and treatment, asks Khurshid Ahmed of Rajouri, who says he “has no desire to go to Pakistan” as solutions have to be “founded in secularism” and communal amity. Within this framework, he stresses, Pahari issues must be settled. He is strongly supported in his demand for Hindu-Muslim harmony by Mohammad Shafi Dar. Even Amin Mohd Shamsi, avowedly of the Jama’at-e-Islami, insists that Jammu and Kashmir is not a “Muslim issue” and claims that “we are a secular people”; but adds, “Yet, none of us is happy, whatever our religion”. This resonates with Najib Ataullah Suhrawardy’s remark at our Jammu seminar, “Dard sab ka hai. Hum tho donon mulk ke liye khel ka khilona ban gaye hain (Our sorrow is common to all of us; we have become the playthings of both countries)”.

Also read: Passage of Resolution Celebrating Hari Singh Could Deepen Divide Between Jammu and Kashmir

And those who live in the vicinity of the border and are unable to count the number of their dead and injured in seven decades of cross-border firing and the wars of 1948, 1965 and 1971, say, “It is only here that funerals and weddings take place side by side”. Jammu’s most senior advocate, Ashok Bharat Gupta, mourns at our seminar that Chhamb, the town of his birth, has changed hands at least four times since independence, leaving everyone confused as to whether the remaining inhabitants of the town, now in Pakistani hands, are Indians or Pakistanis. The scheduled castes think they belong to no one and nowhere.

We did not meet a single satisfied resident of the Jammu region.

Perhaps the most bitter are the Kashmiri pandit refugees. At our seminar, an infuriated, indignant, impassioned and highly articulate pandit leader, Kuldeep Pandita, thunders about the “30-year tragedy” of the Kashmiri pandits, at how, for the last seven decades, political parties of all hues have only wrecked their lives. Targeting me in particular for having spoken to “separatists”, he demands to know, “Why do you meet separatists? Did you talk to them about us Kashmiri pandits? I am a human being. I am a Kashmiri pandit. I will not talk to those who talk religion, nor with shariat-wallahs or hardliners”.

A Kashmiri pandit holds a lighted earthen lamp as he prays during an annual Hindu festival at a shrine in Khirbhawani, 30 km east of Srinagar, May 31, 2009. Credit: Reuters/Danish Ismail

A Kashmiri pandit holds a lighted earthen lamp as he prays during an annual Hindu festival at a shrine in Khirbhawani, 30 km east of Srinagar, May 31, 2009. Credit: Reuters/Danish Ismail

He is not much reassured by my reply that I did separately ask the Mirwaiz, Shabbir Shah, Syed Ali Geelani and Hurriyat spokesman, A.M. Bandey, about pandits and their pitiable condition, and that all four of them had insisted, whether they really meant it or not, that the Kashmiri pandit community was integral to the identity of Kashmir and they would welcome them back to the Valley as part and parcel of any settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir issue.

At a meeting of Kashmiri pandit intellectuals organised at the Jagti refugee resettlement area in Nagrota tehsil on the outskirts of Jammu city by Pandit Gopi Kishen Muju, a local poet and vocal civil society activist, there is unanimous anger at the Kashmiri pandits having been driven from their ancestral homes. With infinite bitterness, Roshan Lal Raina bemoans, “We were thrown out like flies from a cup of milk”. With understated poignancy, Maharaj Krishna Bhatt adds, “We need our dharti to build ourselves; we do not have our dharti.” His sad words echo another Kashmiri pandit, Pradhyuman Krishan Kher, who had said at our seminar that what the Kashmiri pandit was looking for was his lost “izzat (honour)”.

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Their opening speaker, Desh Rattan Pandita, upbraids me for having remembered them only “after a long time”. He says, “It is the Congress that set fire to Kashmir” and “the Hurriyat is the creation of the Congress”, cautioning us to remember that “Kashmiri pandits are Hindus; we are Indians”. He supplements his indictment of the Congress with the charge that all Indian parties “are against Hindus”, adding, “It is not Pakistani Muslims who have finished us; it is Hindus in office who have destroyed us”. Ravi Zutshi warns, “So long as Hindus are oppressed, Hindustan cannot last”, while Ravish Raina stresses that “if India exists, it is because of us Kashmiri pandits” and that, therefore, they must be part of any dialogue undertaken to settle outstanding matters in the state. Instead, he remarks with profound regret, “Kashmiri pandits are not given anything while Kashmiri Muslims, even those who burn the Indian flag, are celebrated”. Yet, says, Chaman Lal Raina, Kashmiri pandits are not communal for “we have looked after the Rohingya Muslims”, the largest number of whom have sought shelter in Jammu.

“We don’t even have a primary school in our colony,” says Maharaj Krishna Bhatt. I point to the huge billboards hailing Devendra Singh, the local MLA (and blood brother of Modi’s minister of state Jitendra Singh) and ask why they had not brought this to their MLA’s notice. Anger turns into a sarcastic giggle as they reply that Devendra is not their MLA because they are not allowed to vote for local candidates; their names are registered on the rolls of their respective but long-abandoned Kashmiri localities – “and”, he adds bitingly, “our names changed to Abdul Saleem or Hamid Mir before the votes are cast in the ballot box!”

Meanwhile, the many Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan we met at the Jammu seminar and in Rajouri demand to know why the government privileges the Kashmiri pandits over themselves?

There are no easy answers, but it is clear that unless an intra-Jammu political dialogue enables the multi-hued Jammu region residents to come to a common position, the masla-e-Jammu could well outlast the masla-e-Kashmir.

At the same time, there is a palpably osmotic relationship between the issues in Jammu and Kashmir. Many of the grievances of the Valley find an echo in Jammu, cutting across religious and regional lines. If Kashmir wants autonomy, Jammu too seeks autonomy, as does Ladakh. These two regions (not to mention the two other regions occupied, possibly forever, by Pakistan) are as important stakeholders in the process as the residents of the Valley. Their fates are intertwined and, therefore, “holistic” acquires a special resonance in sorting out the constitutional mess in the state.

It is an altogether new beginning that is called for. The obvious point of fresh departure is to revert to October 26, 1947, as suggested by former Congress home minister P. Chidambaram. A leading Jammu lawyer, Imtiaz Mian, eloquently argues in the seminar that going back to 1947 would be the “Mother of all CBMs (confidence-building measures)”.

Everyone – literally everyone – speaks of the need for dialogue. While underlining that “nothing is more important than dialogue”, professor Ellora Puri, daughter of the late and much-venerated Balraj Puri, backed by retired Justice Saraf, stresses the key preliminary role of intra-state and intra-Jammu dialogue is to “understand the aspirations of the different regions” and “bridge regional differences”. She says, “State autonomy should be linked to regional autonomy”.

There is also virtual unanimity among all we meet, including Kashmiri pandit leader Gopi Kishen Muju, that any Delhi-Srinagar/Delhi-Jammu dialogue must be accompanied by a sustained India-Pakistan dialogue. “De facto, Pakistan is party to the whole issue,” says Muju; “so, Pakistan (perhaps even China, since a part of the state is under Chinese occupation) must be taken on board.” The inescapable need for an Indo-Pak dialogue to back up a parallel dialogue over Jammu and Kashmir is endorsed by veteran communist Comrade Shyama Prasad. Even the BJP’s leading light, Chandra Mohan Sharma, who kindly sat through the entire seminar, said the BJP “is open to dialogue” while I.J. Khajuria, a Jammu Hindu from Kathua, went so far as to advocate a “condominium over J&K of India and Pakistan jointly” to find through “cooperation between the two countries” a lasting solution to the region. To again quote Anuradha Bhasin, “The key lies in an India-Pakistan dialogue for we are joined to both countries”. Also, says journalist Afaque Hussain, civil society, including above all youth and women, must be participants in the dialogue. Sardar Narendra Singh Khalsa, chairman, Sikh Intellectuals Circle, Jammu, hits the nail on the head insisting that dialogue must be “sincere” for dialogue to succeed.

For the scores of our Jammu interlocutors over four long days, so lacking in impact has been Ram Madhav’s open offer of unconditional dialogue with all stakeholders that the only one to make any mention of this is Mir Shahid Saleem of the People’s Movement, Rajouri, an affiliate of the Hurriyat, who reiterates Geelani’s acceptance of Ram Madhav’s offer, “although earlier we used to insist on the prior condition that J&K must be accepted as a ‘dispute’”.

Mohd Shafi Dar, echoing the Jama’at- e-Islami’s complaint that “talks have been held only to fool the people”, joined several others in Jammu and Doda to demand that a “report card” be placed on the negotiating table of previous initiatives, including, above all, the autonomy resolution passed unanimously by the Jammu and Kashmir assembly in 2000 in response to P.V. Narasimha Rao’s now-notorious pledge that as far as “autonomy” for Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, “the sky is the limit”, as well as the interlocutors’ report commissioned by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The reports of the six working groups set up by Singh in the wake of the Rangarajan committee report were also emphasised.

There was some mention of Parvez Musharraf’s four-point formula, but the suggestion was hastily withdrawn when I reminded my audiences that the first of the four points is that there is no question of “azadi” for Jammu and Kashmir. I press home my advantage by going on to remind them of my companion ex-MLA/MP Sheikh Abdur Rahman’s remark that it took only five days for the tribal invaders from Pakistan to reach Srinagar airport in October 1947, and if they got ‘azadi’ now, Pakistan would covet the state and swallow them in five hours, let alone five days, were India to not once again come to their rescue.

Overlaying all this talk of dialogue is deep concern over religious polarisation in the state, aggravated by communal polarisation in the rest of India. Professor Ellora Puri, cited earlier, decries the on-going communal “polarisation at the national level” that is “seriously aggravating polarisation within the state”. In Doda, Abdul Qayyum Zarger’s major apprehension is that Modi wants a “Muslim-mukt Bharat”. At Rajouri, Mohd Azim Shah and Sajjad Mirza both say, “We have suffered more in the last three years than in the previous 67 years” because of the injustice being inflicted on Muslims in all of India.  “We are victims,” says Azim Shah, “of a power struggle in which we are not involved”, while Mohd Maqbool Gujjar pleads, “Just end our misery; stop this oppression”.

Where do we go from here? No-holds-barred dialogue on twin tracks between New Delhi and Srinagar and New Delhi and Islamabad is the only feasible way forward. What I have learned on this visit is that given the complexity of the situation in the Jammu region, the twin tracks involving New Delhi have to be supplemented by additional twin tracks of an intra-Jammu and Kashmir and intra-Jammu dialogue. Kargil and Ladakh, where Hussain of Kargil informs us at least 15,000 families are divided between Baltistan and Kargil, must also be involved as indispensable stakeholders. It goes without saying that absolutely every community and every geographical area must be included. And, above all, what is necessary in all these dialogues is “sincerity” of purpose, as asked for by Sardar Narendra Singh Khalsa.

I don’t believe there is any “sincerity” in Ram Madhav’s offer. Perhaps Jammu and Kashmir will have to wait for another two years (or less) for an alternative dispensation to take Modi’s place.

Mani Shankar Aiyar is a member of the Congress party. He served as a member of the cabinet in the Manmohan Singh government.