From Winter Capital to Political Capital—Growing Posturing in Naya Jammu

Photo credit Excelsior

While former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is decrying curbs on political activities in Kashmir, it’s Jammu which is apparently making most of the political void in the erstwhile state with the leading campaigns on separate Jammu, delimitation commission and Hindu chief minister.

CHAUDHARY Lal Singh continues to oil and twirl his “Dogra-pride” moustache even as the “kingslayer” of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir has been rendered nonentity post the abrogation of Article 370.

But the “shunted-out” stature doesn’t make him a puny politician in the region where the calls and cries for separate Jammu are now dominating the new political discourse. Even Kashmir’s grand old party lately lost its Jammu face to the same demand with a Dixon twist.

“We’re demanding a separate state for Jammu as Kashmir is demanding it,” Lal Singh, founder of Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan (DSS), told Kashmir Observer, rejecting the fringe demand of “joining the idea of separate statehood for Jammu and UT within the UT in Kashmir”.

“We won’t endorse the politics of hate and discrimination on the basis of religion,” Singh, known for his infamous 1947-remark as a forest minister in the PDP-BJP coalition government, said. “We will take everyone along irrespective of religion.”

As the clamor for the restoration of statehood grows in Kashmir Valley and Ladakh, a few lesser known, newly created political parties are demanding a separate statehood for Jammu.

Rana, Raina and others with HM Amit Shah

After the erstwhile state was bifurcated into two Union territories in August 2019, the people of Jammu and Leh had welcomed the decision. But two years later, while the cold desert is changing, gulfs in Jammu are glaring.

At the same time the political activities in JK’s winter capital seem to get momentum amid the speculations of Assembly elections. These heightened political activities—even drawing Kashmiri leaders to the region for rallies and meetings—are fast making Jammu a political capital of JK.

“It was former chief minister and senior Congress leader GN Azad who reignited the political activities in Jammu region,” Zafar Choudhary, a political analyst and journalist from Jammu, told Kashmir Observer.

“Before Azad, the first person who came to Jammu with large-scale political activities was Mehbooba Mufti. But since Azad started doing political rallies in the region the other political parties picked-up and started an outreach. We may call it inspired political activity since Azad’s presence made it competitive.” Lately, even Omar Abdullah followed the footsteps with his Chenab campaign.

Azad with Congress leaders in Jammu. Photo courtesy, PTI

But amid these political shows, said a political activist from Jammu, people are getting confused with “so many narratives” from the different political parties. “While each party has its own narrative, everyone including Kashmir centric parties have an eye on Jammu.”

For instance, the activist said, the newly created parties including Ikkjut Jammu, Dogra Sadar Sabha and Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan are demanding a separate statehood for Jammu.

“This idea has very few takers in the region and such ideas have been flouted from time to time,” Choudhary continued. “BJP has never endorsed such demands.”

But Jammu, asserts advocate Akur Sharma, wants a separate state to control the political order.

“It’s in the interest of nation to secure Jammu for Islamisation,” Sharma, Chairman of Ikkjut Jammu, told Kashmir Observer.

“More political parties have liked this idea and are in talks. Although there’re some differences, I think we will sort it out.”

However, ex-JK Minister GM Saroori argues that a demand from just a few individuals from Jammu doesn’t mean that the whole region demands. “You need to understand that Jammu consists of 10 districts and such a demand [separate state] from Jammu district is unacceptable to the rest of the 9 districts,” Saroori told Kashmir Observer.

Saroori is the part of the Azad’s “group” apparently working on accepting the “reality of abrogation of Article 370” and working restoration of statehood for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

“We have been telling people that since Article 370 is subjudice, so we should demand protection of land and job rights including the restoration of statehood,” Tara Chand, former deputy chief minister of JK, considered as a loyalist to the Azad group, told Kashmir Observer.

It may be noted that at least 20 Congress leaders in Jammu and Kashmir, considered close to Azad resigned from their party positions last month and are reaching out the people of Jammu and Chenab valley amid speculation about Assembly elections in J&K. The group has been unofficially referred to as the ‘G-23’ faction.

“We want Secretariat to function in both Jammu and Kashmir throughout the year,” Gurchain Singh Charak, former JK minister and chairman of Dogra Sadar Sabha, told Kashmir Observer. “This is the only way through which we can stay together otherwise it’s time to separate Kashmir from Jammu.”

Even Lal Singh, who greets his visitors with “Jai Dogra”, said it’s time to take responsibility for “our own regions” and work for their development.

“All the regions [Ladakh, Kashmir and Jammu] have their own identity, culture and religion and so everyone should fight to protect it,” Singh said.

“And that’s why we are demanding separate status for all but that doesn’t mean we want to destroy Kashmir on the basis of religion. We don’t endorse such ideologies.”

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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