The BJP and the Politics of Including J&K’s Paharis in the Scheduled Tribes List

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Srinagar: Ahead of the elections, Union Home Minister Amit Shah told a large crowd earlier this week in Jammu’s Rajouri town that the Pahari community, a linguistic minority in Jammu and Kashmir , was to be listed as a Scheduled Tribe with the Gujjars and Bakkerwals.

The announcement came amid growing concern in the Union Territory over whether socially and economically well-off Paharis could nibble on reserved seats in the ST category for backward Gujjars and Bakkerwals in the J&K Legislature, government jobs and educational institutions. The Gujjars and Bakkerwals are considered the poorest of the poor in J&K and were listed as Scheduled Tribes in 1991.

Reading Section 370 opened the doors of the legislature to both communities for the first time, as the J&K Reorganization Act of 2019 – which downgraded the former state to two union territories – reserved nine seats in the assembly of J&K to candidates ST.

If the Pahari are included in the list of Scheduled Tribes, the Gujjars and Bakkerwals fear that it will not only reduce their prospects for political empowerment, but also that their children will find fewer quota windows in government jobs and educational institutions. ‘education.

Senior BJP official Ashok Kaul, however, said the Union government ’empowered the Paharis’ of Jammu and Kashmir by giving them 4% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions in 2020.

“This was done by streamlining booking rules without disrupting the ST booking quota. A similar decision is also likely in this case,” said Kaul, General Secretary of J&K BJP. The Thread.

Raising awareness of Pir Panjal

BJP’s outreach to Gujjars, Bakkerwals and Paharis as a political vote bank started in 2019, the year Article 370 was read. The Saffron Party has wooed the Gujjars and Bakerwals by reserving nine J&K assembly seats for Scheduled Tribes, of which six seats – Rajouri, Budhal, Thana Mandi, Surakote, Poonch-Haveli and Mendhar – are in the Pir region Panjal. The party also recently appointed Ghulam Ali Khatana, a prominent Gujjar leader, to the Rajya Sabha.

The promising status of Paharis ST was one of the ways the party tried to contact them. In January 2020, Paharis were granted 4% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions under ‘Other backward castes’ category and the BJP also recruited Ravinder Raina, a Pahari, to lead the party’s J&K unit with Vinodh Gupta, also Pahari, as his deputy.

Ravinder Raina with Amit Shah. Photo: Twitter/@ImRavinderRaina

According to independent estimates, there are between eight and 12 lakh Pahari speakers and around 15 lakh Gujjars and Bakkerwals (census, 2011) in Jammu and Kashmir, most of whom live in the Rajouri and Poonch districts of the Pir Panjal region. The two groups can sway the election outcome in 25 seats, according to Jammu-based editor and political analyst Zafar Chaudhary.

The two districts will send six lawmakers to the J&K assembly and the interior minister’s announcement on granting ST status to Paharis appears to be an attempt to create a political base for the BJP in the Pir Panjal region, which also home to the majority of the Paharis. .

“It’s a game similar to the one played by Congress in 1991 when Gujjars and Bakkerwals were granted ST status to turn their socially fragmented population into a bank of political votes,” a Kashmir-based senior political analyst said. who asked not to be named.

The booking puzzle

Although the Gujjar-Bakkerwal tribes and the Pahari community were born into the same social and cultural background, the former live a nomadic life, commuting between the regions of Kashmir and Jammu with their cattle, while the latter are socially stratified , economically well off and culturally rooted. with castes and other ethnic divisions.

While the announcement of the reservation of ST candidates in the J&K assembly was seen by the Gujjars and Bakkerwals as a major step for their political empowerment, the Paharis were not happy. With the support of the Pahari-speaking refugees from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, they managed to emerge as a powerful force in the Pir Panjal region.

The Gujjars and the Bakkerwals have set up a coordination committee which believes that the decision to grant the ST category to the Paharis will jeopardize the rights and interests of the tribal people. “If the Paharis are declared ST, it will not only reduce our reservation quota, but it will also have disastrous consequences for the country,” said Anwar Choudhary, head of the Gujjar-Bakkerwal coordination committee.

exercise caution

The BJP straddles the ethnic divisions in the Pir Panjal region with great caution. The reservation of Gujjars and Bakkerwals in the ST category in the J&K assembly and the planned granting of ST status to the Paharis were projected by the party as a measure to empower socially, economically and politically marginalized sections of Jammu and -Kashmir which according to the BJP only became possible after the downward reading of Article 370.

As the Saffron Party struggles to make political inroads in Muslim-majority Kashmir, it is counting on the electorate in Rajouri and Poonch districts to dim the prospects of valley-based parties such as the National Conference, the Congress and the People’s Democratic Party.

In the recent District Development Council elections, the BJP won only three of Rajouri’s DDC’s 14 seats, while the NC won five, the Congress won three, and the Apni party and one candidate. independent won one seat each. The Poonch DDC is led by an independent Gujjar woman with eight independent DDC members. Congress has four DDC members while the NC has two. The BJP did not win any DDC seats in the district.

The Union Home Secretary did not specify the mechanism under which the Paharis will obtain booking benefits. At Rajouri’s gathering, however, Shah made sure to bracket the nomadic Gujjar-Bakkerwal tribes with the Paharis in order to keep both groups in high spirits.

There was no BJP symbol on Rajouri’s main site, a deliberate move to project a ‘secular’ face of the party among backward Gujjars and Bakkerwals.

“The rally was technically kept apolitical so that Shah presents himself as everyone’s interior minister and not just a BJP leader,” said analyst Zafar Chaudhary.

However, while the Paharis are optimistic about Shah’s announcement, the Gujjars and Bakkerwals seem disillusioned and, in the elections, the disillusionment might even cloud their participation in the polling process, which the BJP might anticipate with its decision to grant ST status to Paharis. .

“The ST quota provides for a 10% reservation in educational institutions and government jobs. If Paharis are declared ST, it will reduce opportunities aimed at social and economic empowerment of Gujjars and Bakkerwals,” said Zahid Parwaz Chaudhary, a prominent tribal activist and leader of the Gujjar-Bakkerwal Youth Welfare Conference.

“Pir Panjal’s Attempted Division”

Realizing the political importance of the Pir Panjal region during elections, whenever they are held in Jammu and Kashmir, the top leaders of the National Conference and People’s Democratic Party camp in Rajouri and Poonch to raise awareness of the BJP’s plan to drive a wedge between the Gujjar-Bakkerwal tribe and the Pahari speaking population.

Farooq Abdullah, President of the National Conference, recently told a rally in Rajouri that “the multi-ethnic unity in Pir Panjal has been a blight on the anti-J&K forces.”

“At present, efforts are also underway to drive a wedge between Gujjars, Paharis and Kashmir especially in Pir Panjal. The diversity of our state is enormous. Deep inside us, our hearts beat together. There are certain common bonds and unifying ties that hold various sections of our society together. We are all worried about our identity, our culture and our dignity,” he said.

For the Peoples Democratic Party led by Mehbooba Mufti, who spearheaded the cause of justice for an underage girl who was allegedly gang-raped by Hindu right-wing activists and who became a catalyst for the downfall of the government PDP-BJP coalition in 2018, BJP tries to launch Paharis against Gujjars and Bakkerwals for political interests.

“The Minister of the Interior comes and goes. The BJP is here today. He may not be here tomorrow. But the rift they (BJP) are driving between you, the enmity they are spreading between you…your religion is one, you are people of the same place. First they pitted Hindus against Muslims and now they want Gujjars and Paharis to fight,” Mehbooba said in a recent video call to the two communities.

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