Jammu is not Disillusioned?

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The September 22 bandh was only about protecting Jammu from some side-effects of the loss of autonomy, not an opposition to what happened on August 5, 2019

JAMMU bandh on September 22 over the ending of Darbar Move and a range of other business-related issues signals that the resentments simmering over the last two years against several government measures are now finding a way to surface. The traders in Jammu are understandably upset over the detrimental fallout on their businesses of the government move to call off 140 year old practice of Darbar Move. As part of the bi-annual office moving, thousands of employees along with their families travelled to Jammu during winters. In recent years, a large number of affluent Kashmiris other than the employees had also chosen to make Jammu their winter home. This came as a big boost to businesses in Jammu and also enabled the social interaction between the two regions - albeit, in the current political climate there will be fewer people in the former state who will mourn the loss of the latter.

Now Jammuites are seeking restoration of Darbar Move, driven to make this demand largely by the need to protect their businesses. The traders have other urgent demands: They are sore over the government move to set up 100 Reliance retail stores in Jammu which they understandably fear can drive small time provision stores out of their businesses. There is also anger over e-auction of liquor vends which has paved the way for the outsiders to set up wine shops in the winter capital. Then there are the measures like New Excise Policy and restrictions on banquet halls which too have hemmed in businesses.

The situation of the last two years has had some sobering effect on the people in Jammu. Consequently, the celebration of the anniversary of the revocation of Article 370 this year - August 5 - was largely confined to the BJP and its allies in the region. Though a significant number of people in Hindu dominated districts of the division still support the withdrawal of autonomy, some of its provisions have begun to bite. A looming prospect of demographic change, loss of jobs and land rights have made people uneasy. People also apprehend that their region will be the first destination for the eligible outsiders choosing to settle in J&K.

There has been some unease in Ladakh too. A year ago, all parties in Ladakh closed ranks against the entry of outsiders and threatened to boycott the then LAHDC elections as a result, but the centre promptly assured these protections to the region, as opposed to what it did in Kashmir. The assurance was fulfilled this year. On September 4, Ladakh administration decided to issue “Resident Certificates” only to holders of Permanent Resident Certificates as was the case when Ladakh was a part of Jammu and Kashmir. In Jammu and Kashmir, on the contrary, the administration has allowed outsiders who have stayed in the region for a particular duration to apply for permanent residency rights and also buy land. This has made sections of the majority community in Jammu including the traders uneasy.

But it would be erroneous to believe that there is a rethink taking place in Jammu about the revocation of Article 370. There isn’t as far as the majority of the majority community in the division. The Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry has made this already clear. The reasons are the deep mutually antagonistic political cultures and the largely contradictory interests of the people in Kashmir and Jammu.

True, Jammu is witnessing a degree of anxiety about the post-Article 370 state of affairs. But as things stand, these apprehensions are not deep enough to cause people to turn against the withdrawal of J&K’s autonomy. Besides, in case of Jammu, the fears of a demographic change are being trumped by the expectation of development of the region in the post-Article 370 scenario and more importantly the anticipated shift of political power away from Kashmir Valley. In fact, under the current dispensation this shift has already happened. With delimitation that is supposed to give more Assembly seats to Jammu, this power-shift will also be inherited by a future democratic government.

So, unlike Leh, majority population in Jammu is least likely to either protest in large numbers or oppose Article 370. The people in the region are willing to overlook some minor discomfort as the new dispensation gives the majority community in the region a political weight that is disproportionately bigger than its demographic strength. The September 22 bandh was only about protecting Jammu from some side-effects of the loss of autonomy, not an opposition to what happened on August 5, 2019.

Jammu would certainly have fought any attempt at the apprehended demographic change and loss of land and jobs, had the region been carved into either a separate state or a union territory. And it is probably for the same reason that New Delhi didn’t trifurcate J&K despite the longstanding demand for statehood in Jammu.

Going forward, it is difficult to predict how the situation would evolve over the remaining three years of the BJP government at the centre. But it would be safe to assume that Jammu would have little reason to complain if it gets more Assembly seats from the delimitation commission.

Views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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