REGIONALISM CAN CHANGE THE POLITICAL MAP OF KASHMIR FOR WORSE, COMMENTS RIYAZ AHMAD
Away from the mainstream political discourse and the media attention, Paharis are making a fresh bid for the Scheduled Tribe status in the teeth of the bitter opposition from Gujjars. The tussle has been going on for several weeks with little effect on the mainstream political discourse in the state. Gujjars vehemently oppose the Paharis’ struggle for Scheduled Tribe status, something that the Gujjars in the state have been fortunate to get in 1991. Why? Gujjars think that Paharis do not deserve it as unlike them they don’t live in the hills. However, their basic fear is that once made a scheduled tribe, Paharis would claim a lion’s share of the reservations under the category, because of being more advanced in education and the other social indices.
To subvert any political momentum building in Paharis favour, Gujjars on January 20 took out a cultural march with their cattle in Jammu to stop the Government from granting ST status to Pahari-speaking people. Paharis, on the other hand, are in the process of intensifying their struggle, simultaneously warning Gujjars to lay off and also diplomatically soliciting their support. There has been a distinct surge in the Pahari political activity over the past week. Pahari leaders from across the J-K’s regional divide have held meetings to organize themselves for a more combative political approach.
However, even though this relentless tussle between the communities goes back around three decades to the early eighties, its resurgence over the past few years has been a cause of concern. For this rivalry is no longer a fight only over the reservations but has a distinct ring of the broader menace of the identity politics rearing its head in the state. It is not to deny the genuine grievances that undergird the narratives of the various communities in the state but the potential for a deep polarization that this assertion of the identities holds for the state.
Pahari argument for the grant of status has been persuasive: They share the J-K’s hilly retreats, an abode of Gurjars, with only distinction in the backward lifestyle of the two communities being the language. Moreover, Paharis figure at number one in the list of the seven backward communities recommended for ST status by Farooq Abdullah led National Conference Government in 1989, just before the onset of militancy. The other communities comprise Gurjars, Bakerwals, Sansi, Sitti, Bazigar and Gaddi. However, while the other communities got the status, with Gurjars getting it in 1991, Paharis were left out in the cold.
The result is that the two communities have increasingly drifted apart and evolved into implacably hostile identities. So deep is the division between the communities that in the last Assembly election in 2002, a predominantly Pahari Muslim constituency voted en masse for an independent Hindu candidate Thakur Puran Singh when he sought votes on his Pahari identity. Ever since, things have moved on. Politics has taken a new pernicious identity dimension which nobody seems to be bothered about. In fact, identities of all kinds – religious, regional, ethnic, linguistic, sectarian etc - are coming into play. Some influential identities like Gujjars have drawn boundaries around themselves and seem increasingly inclined to operate within a selfish framework of their own interests. It seems only a matter of time before the politics in the state also casts itself aggressively in the sectarian mould, thereby further crystallizing the divisions.
This is a prospect that threatens to radically redraw the political landscape in the state. So far, the political paradigms that have ruled the state were a blend of a transcendent secularism once represented by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, a bitter regional competition for resources and of course the overarching separatist ideology. Sheikh’s legacy in the form of National Conference has been one of the most enduring as the state for the most part has generally voted without much regard to the identity interests.
Sheikh was able to forge a communal accord among the three regions. His Hindu, Muslim, Sikh Itihad slogan really worked and became a rallying cry for communal amity in the state. Though his politics survives through his party, with his son and grandson faithful to the line, National Conference has been increasingly hemmed in by the Valley's large separatist constituency and now the rise of PDP with its majority-centric agenda.
Separatism, on the other hand, has been an eternal third dimension of the Valley's politics. Unlike secularism and regionalism, which have been subject to the twists and turns of the evolving situation, separatism has been a political constant in the state, affecting the situation through its alternately dormant and dynamic state. And unlike the other two, separatism doesn't necessarily need the leadership to give it force. This is why, while Hurriyat may be down in its influence, separatism is not. Conversely, it is the leaders who need association with the separatist sentiment to become politically viable. Otherwise what should explain the PDP and NC's accent on the self-rule and autonomy in their respective political agendas.
Regionalism has also been one of the major determinants of the political discourse in the state. It has had a substantial impact on the electoral fortunes of the various political parties. BJP's impressive tally in Jammu in the recent assembly election is a case in point. Besides the perennial carping about discrimination towards Jammu, the party built on the widespread resentment in Hindu dominated belts triggered by Amarnath agitation. And on this side of the tunnel, PDP was the main beneficiary of the political dividends of the agitation. Ladakh sans Kargil, on the other hand, has been dictated by its bid for achieving an autonomous control of its affairs.
However, while it may have been bitterly polarizing on many an occasion, regionalism has been an unlikely advantage for the state on a significant account: More often than not, it has served to offset the communal tendencies. For example, Hindus in Jammu have tended to get Muslims along to strengthen their regional agenda. In Ladakh the Buddhists and Muslims live in segregated geographical locations with twin regional aspirations of their own. And in Kashmir Valley, the disproportional difference in the populations of the majority and the minority community has deprived the communal interests of their political space.
Of course, there is this sensitive issue of the minority pandit community having had to leave Valley in 1990 soon after the outbreak of militancy in the state. But this was more a result of the prevailing extraordinary situation rather than any bitter communal discord.
The situation seems to be changing now. Loosening hold of the politics of conflict is ungluing the various identity groups within the majority community. There is suddenly a premium on asserting one's group identity and building a limited yet aggressive politics around it. We have a Gujjar and Pahari politics around reservations and their distinct culture. So much so, that the religion has begun to look subservient to the group identity. We have Kashmiri pandits consolidating their politics of grievance. Then in Valley a growing tendency to divide on Shia-Sunni lines. And what is more, there are now unmistakable echoes of a rural urban and north-south divide in our political discourse. Whether it is a guided or natural development is of no consequence. For, unless nipped in the bud, the identity politics will radically redraw the political map of the state, splintering the communities and even bases of the political parties.
Lastupdate on : Tue, 26 Jan 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 26 Jan 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 27 Jan 2010 00:00:00 IST
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