Jammu: First time political-reservation for Scheduled Tribes in Jammu & Kashmir, as recommended by the Delimitation Commission in its draft proposals, has evoked a mixed response.
While the move has enthused the Paharis with the hopes to get their long pending demand of ST reservation conceded, it has left the main beneficiaries of this category viz., Gujjars and Bakerwals largely divided.
Weighing pros and cons of reservation of nine seats for the ST population in the UT, the Gujjar-Bakerwals in J&K are in reflective mode. A major chunk of the community believes that the number of seats, exclusively held by it, will now actually come down. "We're better off in the existing system (prior to delimitation),” they share this perception.
But all don’t agree with this perception.
As J&K BJP ST president Chowdhary Haroon argues, “This has been a historic decision. This is going to benefit Gujjars-Bakerwals. Out of STs, Gaddi people are mainly in Bani, Ramban and some parts of Doda, Kishtwar including Bhalessa. In Kashmir, there are no Gaddis. In Kashmir, in district Bandipora, STs are in Gurez, which don’t belong to Gujjar-Bakerwal community. In rest of cases, these all seats belong to Gujjars-Bakerwals.”
“Those from Congress, NC, PDP are critical of the move because they have damaged our cause during the past seven decades. During the present dispensation, our community got the Forest Rights Act, 38 reserved seats in DDC, BDC elections and now nine seats in assembly. If still the community is not happy, then when will it?” he takes a dig at political detractors.
However, those, raising suspicion, rely on simple and lucid “number-game” and enumerate statistics vis-a-vis number of seats, the tribals (including Gujjar-Bakerwals) jointly held in 2009 and 2014 in the Legislative Assembly of erstwhile J&K state.
“If the draft proposals are implemented in letter and spirit, we’ll be placed at a disadvantageous position as compared to the status prior to ‘political reservation’,” some of Gujjar leaders aver.
“Political reservation is welcome. That was long awaited as our constitutional right. But it has not come in the desired format. Criteria, method followed for granting it, are baffling or more appropriately, dicey. We’re still trying to comprehend as to whether we’ve been granted something or what we’re already having has been snatched away,” they maintain.
One of the tallest Congress Gujjar leaders from Kashmir division and the former minister Taj Mohi-ud-Din articulates the churning within the community in a simple and balanced manner.
“Something is better than nothing. I will say this as far as political reservation is concerned, which has come after a long-drawn out struggle. Now these seats will exclusively belong to STs, no member from any other community will be able to contest from these constituencies. Having said that, one needs to remember that all nine seats have not been granted to Gujjar-Bakerwals only. Of nine seats, STs will get four seats in Kashmir division although there is equal concentration of STs in both the divisions. Even out of these seats accorded to Kashmir, one will go to Dard-Shina (ST) tribe (in Gurez), only Kangan and Kokernag will be there exclusively for Gujjar-Bakerwals,” Taj points out.
“We’re having more seats in the previous assemblies as a combined (ST) block. Now it will come down,” he says.
Taj finds it baffling that Gurez was included under reserved constituencies. “Gurez, where hundred percent of the population is Dard-Shina, was not required to be declared as reserved. Anyway, no other community can have a say there. Instead of that, they could have declared Bandipora as a reserved constituency. I don’t know which criteria they have followed,” he states.
Yet another prominent Gujjar voice from the political spectrum in Jammu region, ex-MLA Darhal Chowdhary Zulfikar Ali, presently vice-president J&K Apni Party, explains, “See, as a Gujjar leader, I’m not satisfied. In the previous assembly (2014), there were ten members representing the Scheduled Tribe community. Out of them, eight were from Gujjar community across J&K, one from Gaddi community and another from Gurez.
Eight Gujjar representatives included Javed Rana (Mendhar), Chowdhary Akram (Surankote), Chowdhary Qamar Hussain (Rajouri), I represented Darhal, Abdul Ghani Kohli (Kalakote), Mumtaj Ahmed Khan (Gulabgarh), Ajaz Khan (Gool Arnas) and Mian Altaf (Kangan).
Besides, Nazir Ahmed Gurezi and Jeewan Lal (Gaddi) represented Gurez and Bani assembly constituencies respectively. So see the difference, against 10 seats, we will get nine seats now. How will we be the beneficiaries?”
He further elucidates the cause of disenchantment with the exercise. “The seats reserved in the draft have been traditionally tribal dominated seats. Even if they have not been reserved, tribals have been winning it. Reservation was our constitutional right. It is good that finally after a protracted struggle, we’ve got it.
But our concern is that we have not been accorded reserved seats where they should have been as per population criterion. We wanted representation in the constituencies where ST remained unrepresented, deprived of basic amenities, their constitutional rights.
What we’ve been granted, we were already enjoying in the previous assemblies, which had the number of ST members hovering around 8-10. This was when no political representation was given,” he asserts.
Pertinent to mention here that even if one focuses only on Gujjar members out of ST members in the previous assemblies, there were two members in 1996, four in 2002 and five in 2009. If other ST members were added to the tally, the number would further go up.
While airing his grouse, he brings out yet another major point. “See going by the population concentration of Jammu-Poonch parliamentary constituency, it could well be declared as a reserved ST constituency (in future) if the whole of Rajouri-Poonch continued to be its part. To avoid this prospect and in order to serve the interests (of ruling dispensation), they staggered Rajouri-Poonch districts.
Thus they put the people of twin border districts into a disadvantageous position by truncating them and joining them with Anantnag constituency. We’re culturally, geographically, linguistically distinct from Kashmir separated by Pir Panchal.
Every delimitation exercise keeps geographical compactness and population criteria into consideration. How will the representative serve the interests of the electorate on both sides of the mountain range?”
“There are other areas of concern for us. Erstwhile Inderwal constituency was a tribal dominated, it has been fragmented- one part joined with Kishtwar, other with Padder and the third with Mughal Maidan (now again Inderwal after the Delimitation Commission tweaked its second draft). This could have been a reserved constituency had it not been fragmented. Secondly Gool Arnas tribal constituency has been divided among Ramban, Banihal, Reasi and Mahore. Two ST dominated constituencies have been snatched away,” he maintains.
Yet another veteran Gujjar leader from Kashmir province, however, refuses to get engaged in any debate on delimitation with a crisp one-liner, “I don’t want to make any comment on that.”
National Conference spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar, though does not belong to the community, while speaking to Greater Kashmir, also endorses Zulfikar’s point that they (ST) community would be at a disadvantageous position after delimitation exercise, as per the draft proposals.
“To substantiate my point, we need to go back to 2011 (census) figures. As per their population strength, they were better placed earlier, grabbing more seats (12-14 in 2014). See our party does not talk about castes, tribes or ethnicities as we see J&K as one unit. For the time being, even if we talk about the way fragmentation has been brought about, the seats of STs have decreased. Then there is another point, they (ruling dispensation) are projecting reservation as a revolutionary move aimed at empowering marginalised ethnic groups, particularly Gujjar-Bakerwals. But this (empowerment) has already been done by the National Conference. You will find ST members holding high positions in all spheres, empowered be it bureaucracy, politics, employment, education. This human resource has not emerged suddenly on the socio-political-scape of J&K,” Imran argues.
“National Conference has invested a lot all these years in them, empowering them. NC has not left them at a disadvantageous position. NC built institutions giving an opportunity to not just ST but all backward classes to grow. Draft is not to benefit the ST population. It is only aimed at pitching communities, regions and religions against each other. They are trying to woo Paharis also by luring them with (prospective) reservation card. This is another ploy to create friction among communities. Kashmir has a good strength of Paharis as well in Kupwara, Baramulla, one district in Kulgam, Anantnag, Bandipora,” Imran points out.
Baramulla DDC chairperson Safeena Beig has another facet to the debate. In fact, she brings another angle to ST reservation. “See as a representative, first I’ll share my concern over this draft with regard to Sangrama constituency. They included three tehsils of Sangrama and one tehsil of Tangmarg, confounding both the electorate as well as representatives. There is a lot of confusion with almost every constituency. They (Delimitation Commission) should rethink and review its proposals giving consideration to objections and concerns of people,” Safeena says.
“Now coming to ST reservation, I’ll assert that Paharis should get their due also. This has been promised by the Union Home Minister as well. Paharis have been demanding ST status. Marginalised sections should be given their due, I fully support it but it should not be selective. See, Uri, Karnah are Pahari-dominating constituencies in Kashmir division, Rajouri-Poonch in Jammu division. Their claims should also be considered,” she adds.
As per 2011 census, the Scheduled Tribes formed 11.91 percent of the total population in Jammu and Kashmir. The Delimitation Commission has taken the 2011 census as the base for the purpose of its entire exercise.
The Delimitation Commission, after accepting some of the suggestions, had shared its revised draft with its five Associate members on February on February 25. The members were asked to submit their suggestions or objections on this revised draft by March 4. Now the Commission would put its draft proposals in public domain anytime.