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Gujjar-Bakarwal-Pahari hyphenation and other takeaways from Amit Shah’s Rajouri speech

Jammu: Seeking to draw a social and political balance between communities, Home Minister Amit Shah today assured reservation benefits to the Pahari speaking people but asserted that this will not be at the cost of quota already being availed by the Gujjars and Bakerwals.

On three-day tour of Jammu and Kashmir, third since last October, Shah addressed a well-attended rally at Rajouri held after weeks of ugly exchange of barbs between the Gujjars and the Pahari speaking people as the latter demanded reservation under Scheduled Tribes and the former opposed it vehemently. The Gujjars were included in the list of Scheduled Tribes in 1991, and Paharis have also been asking for their inclusion, lately.

Both communities had literally held their breaths as they looked forward to a ‘decisive announcement’, but the Home Minister artfully steered clear of any chasm between two. He promised reservation to the Pahari people but assured Gujjars of no compromise to their already existing quota under the Scheduled Tribe.

ALSO READ: Home Minister Amit Shah’s speech in Rajouri: full transcript

Linking the possibility of enlarging Scheduled Tribe to removal of Article 370, Shah said ‘doors are open now’. Following recommendations of G.D. Sharma Commission, an administrative process is on for formal orders of reservation for the Pahari people, Shah said to thundering applause. His quick assertion that Gujjars will not lose even a single percent of their quota earned him another round of massive applause.

After Shah’s speech, the anxiety among the Gujjars and Paharis appeared to be ebbing fast. Initial statements and social media conversations indicated both communities getting conciliatory and reasonably satisfied with Home Minister’s statement.

The Paharis are happy that Shah made public announcement for their inclusion in the Schedule Tribe, and the Gujjars are apparently contented on the assurance that their quota shall remain untouched. Questions were, however, being widely asked about the formula for legally and practically achieving such a reservation under the provisions of Scheduled Tribe.

Here are key takeaways from the Home Minister’s rally:

  1. Since the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, this was the first proper public rally where the political environment before and after the constitutional changes was talked about at length. Shah’s speech, though extempore, was constructed to address three tiers of audience: the local population of Rajouri and Poonch which BJP wants to take along, a wider audience across Jammu and Kashmir and a national audience. By all accounts over 70 percent of those in the rally hangar were the Muslims. Their repeated slogans of Modi-Modi, Bharat Mata Ki Jai and cheers in affirmation to Shah’s questions was a message of approval to August 2019 events not only for the national audience but also across the borders.
  2. The rally was technically kept ‘apolitical’ with no symbol of BJP inside the venue. Shah presented himself as everyone’s Home Minister and not just a BJP leader. This deliberate ‘apolitical’ environment gave a sense of comfort to people of divergent affiliations who wanted to listen to the Home Minister. BJP watchers see this as a platform of neutrality to create space of attraction.
  3. The Home Minister remained completely guarded against Center’s idea of holding the Assembly elections. He made just a single mention of election saying that the exercise was due after the Delimitation process, but he didn’t hint at any timeline for the much-awaited polls. He, however, made a great deal of elaboration on how the Modi regime has taken democracy to the common man. The power of democracy was vested in only three families, which is now shared by 30,000 persons, the Home Minister said with reference to the Panchayati raj institutions.
  4. There was a great emphasis on the post August 2019 scenario. From political reservation to Scheduled Tribes, Forest Rights Act, the development scenario, and militancy. He read out every minute detail to draw a comparison with the past. On every post Article 370 ‘advantage’, Shah sought approval from the public and every time he got resounding affirmation. Today’s rally is a befitting reply to those who used to say that there would be blood bath if Article 370 is abrogated, he said.
  5. Lastly, the hyphenation. In a politically exciting region known for its caste-based vulnerabilities, the Home Minister didn’t mention any community alone even once. Every time he said, ‘Gujjar, Bakarwal and Pahari’. Whole this was reassuring to those who thought BJP was creating wedge between Muslims, the hyphenation could also be indication of how the reservation pattern is being worked out. A repeated emphasis to de-hyphenate Bakarwals from the Gujjars and then politically package the two with Paharis may also have something to do with the categorization of the reservation quota which is being worked afresh.


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About the author

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Zafar Choudhary

A journalist since 1999, Zafar Choudhary is also a policy analyst and author. An alumni of the London School of Economics, his book ‘Kashmir Conflict and Muslims of Jammu’ addresses a critical gap in scholarship on Kashmir. Zafar is founder and editor of The Dispatch

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