Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd)
Not that any further proof of Jammu’s continued diminishment in the national conscience was ever required, but the recent call to the national capital for the’All-Party’ meeting on J&K, reiterated the obvious. Representatives of all major national and regional parties were invited – the drama entailing the agenda and some partisan posturing notwithstanding, sections of ‘Jammu’region rightfully felt indignant and slighted at non-representation. Bluntly put, this was not a new woe or a subliminally felt indignity for people of the Duggar lands, but a continuation of the ‘secondment’ that dates to 26th October 1947, the day Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession.
Some Jammu-centric outfits who did protest at the neglect afforded on Jammu, did so, sadly with the same banalities, binaries, and rote argument of ‘Jammu-versus-Kashmir’. Sweeping mention of the lack of jobs, development projects, assembly seats and allocation of funds towards Jammu was indeed posited – but the angst was seemingly couched in the familiar, oversimplistic and tiring framework of ‘religio-divide’ that fundamentally divides the two regions in question, irrespective, if that was the intent or not. Outside of the Union Territory, the majority of the citizenry is not fully conversant with the exact specifics of Jammu’s neglect and they only decode the same to a limited ‘religio-political’ context, when there are in reality, so many more layers to the neglect. Firstly, casing the argument in a limited ‘religio-political’ argument not only belies the multireligious, multicultural and multiethnic diversity of the Duggar lands, but it also willy-nilly paints the erstwhile Dogra reign, prevailing spirit and psyche of ‘Jammu’ to be rather small-spirited and bigoted, especially when it is anything, but that. Sadly, in the dominant national imagination, the earlier rule, role and conduct of Maharaja Hari Singh, hardly bears out the unmatched ‘inclusive’ magnanimity and progressiveness, that always beset the ‘Jammu’/Dogra imprint in historical facts – allowing the ensuing narrative of ‘us-versus-them’, does great disservice to that illustrious history, which in any case struggles to put forth, the facts and figures, as they were.
If the Nehru-Sheikh combine initiated the blurring of ‘Jammu’ and the refocusing of the spotlight on Kashmir, the blame for the perpetuation of that slide must also fall equally on the political leaders from Jammu region (across all major national and regional parties), who rarely made any compelling case, forceful argument or visible impact in ‘Delhi’, to correct the untoward tilt. Such a suppression of a unique region in a larger political context is not unfamiliar, in the rather short history of Indian independence – many areas in the North East, hilly tracts of Uttar Pradesh (later Uttarakhand), Gorkha enclave in West Bengal or even the subsequent States like Telangana and Jharkhand, had successfully fought for their socio-economic-political, assertions. While some areas went to the extent of carving out political states, others managed ‘Development Council’ status, or other fiscal commitments towards the disaffected areas, to correct the obviously inequitable focus and allocation of sovereign resources. All these areas, may or may not have had, a majority populace belonging to a certain ‘type’ or denomination, but, almost all framed a more ‘inclusive’/regional argument, that gave it a regional legitimacy and not a ‘religious’ context – which is a naturally antithetic proposition in a secular country, like India.
‘Jammu’ must do an honest and soul-searching introspection, as to where and what has been its principal argument? Truth be told, Jammu has couched and reposed its fate in the ideological moorings of national parties, which may appeal to the basic-instincts of the disenchanted Dogras, but such gargantuan party frameworks hardly have meaningful time or space to champion sub-regional impulses and urgencies, forcefully enough. The Uttarakhand movement had caught the national attention as early as 1955 when Justice Fazal Ali recommended the formation of hill region as a separate state – even with many national luminaries like GB Pant, HN Bahuguna or ND Tiwari in the then-UP State/National politics, it was the regional and sharply focused Uttarakhand Kranti Dal that shaped the specific argument for the region, and not the national parties. Similar focus was chiseled by Telangana Rashtra Smithi, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, All Bodo Students Union, Gorkha National Liberation Front and many more regional expressions that passionately and powerfully articulated their respective positions and concerns, beyond the ‘on-off’ and transactional approach of the national parties. ‘Jammu’ has not articulated its grouse in an easily digestible, persuasive, and actionable fashion that resonates with the larger citizenry, let alone express the same under any one composite platform. The understanding of Jammu’s neglect in the national agenda, sadly remains nebulous, insufficient, and even at times, wholly wrong. The chimera of ‘Statehood’ that has been imagined for decades, still remains the predominant preoccupation – even if, so much more could have been achieved, by articulation of a powerful and simple case of ‘equity/parity’ with hard facts. But the political dream has always got the better of practical possibilities in the case of Jammu, with it clutching at the straws of impracticalities, at the never-ending cost of transformational possibilities. Reality is, the case of Jammu’s neglect was never truly articulated, shaped and expressed for correction, even when there is an open-and-shut case for the same – blaming ‘others’, beyond a point, is a meaningless placebo.
Even historically, there can be a counterargument as to why should one envision a ‘Jammu’ without a Kashmir or even a Ladakh – this is short-selling the grandeur of Dogra rule that went up Gilgit-Baltistan and Tibet, but then the heroics of the legendary General Zorawar Singh, like Jammu, also remains regrettably unknown, south of the Lakhenpur road border. Ironically, the patriotic, dignified and the famed repute of ‘Gentleman Soldiers’ since time immemorial (as the Dogras are known, even today) has perhaps been taken for granted by the larger citizenry as they remain effectively, voiceless, where it matters. ‘Jammu’ is too glorious an conceptualization to be presented as a animus rooted in just religiousity – it is a proud melting pot and perfect personification of the lofty ‘Idea of India’ which includes all possible renditions of religious, ethnic, socio-economic or linguistic diversities. Framing it into a tighter-lesser and more narrow casing of a religious ‘divide’, is only political, as it always has been since 1947 – Jammu deserves better, than to project itself through that regressive lens.
The practical starting point could be to insist on a common ‘Jammu agenda’ that cuts across all national and regional parties, and to make the leaders from this region (across all political parties) to be accountable for tangible results that go beyond homilies, emotive statements and grandstanding. A ‘White Paper’ that actually quantifies the continued discrimination (perhaps since Independence) in terms of budgetary allocations or reservations towards/against Jammu in a pithy, concise and hard-hitting manner, beyond the generic and verbose ‘us-versus-them’ platitudes, which never cuts ice, beyond the impacted region. Jammu was, is, and will always remain the vanguard of the nation’s defense, in more ways than one can imagine, as it always has been for eons – except that, none beyond they themselves, know about the contribution and sufferings of ‘Jammu’ itself. Perhaps it needs to look beyond national/regional partiesthat have remained mealy-mouthed, and get over its fixation with Kashmir, by articulating its own position without attributions to others. After all, Kashmir is as much a part of India and the J&K region, and attempts to devalue the socio-economic grouses and perceptions of Kashmir, is exactly what the existing platforms have sought and achieved, again, Jammu needs to take the higher ground, even on this.