JAMMU: With the possibility of inclusion of Pahari-speaking people in the list of Scheduled Tribes getting brighter and more real than ever before, the community leaders may be faced with a political dilemma difficult to negotiate with.
Following up on the provisions made in the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act of 2019, the Delimitation Commission has proposed to reserve nine Assembly seats for the Scheduled Tribe population. Allocation pattern suggests reservation of all three seats in Poonch district, two of the five in Rajouri district, one each in Reasi, Anantnag, Ganderbal and Bandipore districts.
While the Gurez seat in Bandipore is for the Shina people among Scheduled Tribe, the remaining eight are for the Gujjars and Bakerwals. Five of the remaining eight seats are in Poonch and Rajouri, the two districts which account for largest concentration of both Gujjars and the Pahari-speaking population of Jammu and Kashmir.
Roughly one-third of above 1.2 million combined population of Rajouri and Poonch are the Gujjars, and everyone else a Pahari on the nearly common ground of language. There is huge diversity within the Pahari group as it comprises multiple social layers among the Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. Scheduled Caste make seven percent of the population in Rajouri while in Poonch district their number as small as a little over 500.
As per the present legal position of the political reservation, the Gujjars now have exclusive entitlement of contesting elections in five of the eight Assembly Constituencies of Rajouri and Poonch. This effectively exits the topmost of Pahari leadership of Jammu and Kashmir from the electoral process.
In the intensively identity-driven politics of Jammu and Kashmir, while Gujjars have a widespread of community leadership, the topmost Pahari leaders of Jammu and Kashmir are all from Rajouri and Poonch districts. Their present status is clearly out of the electoral fray but they are strongly holding on to the hope of getting included in the list of Scheduled Tribes much before the elections.
This confidence of the Pahari leadership is influenced by public and private commitments being made of BJP leaders at different levels. The BJP is playing it out with both Gujjars and Paharis to widen its footprint beyond its traditional areas. The Gujjars are deeply wary of their and the condition of Paharis being exploited for reasons which eventually bring no benefit to any of the two communities.
It is reliably learnt that the Pahari-speaking people are most likely to get included in the list of Scheduled Tribes in the forthcoming months. This reservation, instead of a loose language basis, may have the area –populated by Pahari-speaking people –as the primary criteria.
This could come as hugely great news for the Pahari-speaking people, in an election season, but there is also another side to it. The inclusion of Pahari people in the list of Scheduled Tribe may just be a step short of granting them political reservation in the legislature.
Upon their inclusion in the ST, while Paharis will enjoy all constitutionally mandated provisions of reservation but the political reservation shall be available to the ST (Gujjar and Bakerwal) and ST (Shina), and not to ST (Pahari Speaking People). Even as, at 54,000, the Gaddis and Sippis (ST) are numerically superior to Shinas, their population is spread across several constituencies in four districts which could not get them a reserved constituency.
When asked, how could a community even upon inclusion in the ST be kept away from political reservation benefits, a source familiar with the process told The Dispatch that “the Pahari speaking people were not enumerated as ST in 2011 census which is the basis of present delimitation process”. The informed source further said, “the Gujjars and Bakerwals of Jammu and Kashmir had wait for 30 years after their inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe to actually get reservation in the legislature”.
On the practical aspect of including Paharis in the Scheduled Tribe, the source familiar with the process said that consultations are at advanced stage and any relevant decision will be at political level at an appropriate stage.
If the outcome of this process is to be believed happening soon, the Pahari community will have a major social victory in a shortest span of struggle time but this will come with an initial political cost. For all obvious reasons, the Paharis will be the electors but their leaders will have no opportunity to context election until the relevant constitutional provisions are brought in at a later stage.
WHO ARE SOME OF THE TOP PAHARI LEADERS?
While stalwarts of the likes of Maulana Masoodi were the top Pahari colleagues of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah but they appropriated their identity more as Kashmiris than Pahar
is. Mohammad Shafi Uri, who remained a legislator, minister and MP for several decades, is yet another top Pahari leader but with a community identity limited to election seasons. Muzaffar Hussain Baig, the co-founder of the Peoples Democratic Party, has till date been the most widely respected Pahari leader but he never consolidated on the community politics. Similarly, Zafar Iqbal Manhas, currently with Apni Party, is also a widely respected Pahari leader but with no ambitions to represent the whole community.
The effective concentration of Pahari leadership, therefore, in the Rajouri and Poonch districts. Master Ghulam Ahmed, GM Mir Poonchi, Rafiq Hussain Khan, Nisar Khan, Mirza Mohammad Iqbal, Abdul Aziz Shawl and Master Beli Ram have been some of the top Pahari leaders in the previous decades.
Among the current Paharis leaders, the most popular are those closely associated with the BJP and its allies but there are also a number of other veterans.
Mirza Abdul Rashid from Darhal in Rajouri district is a veteran Pahari leader who has remained legislator and Minister a number of times from Darhal and Rajouri constituencies. He also served a term in Rajya Sabha and was Speaker of the Assembly in the late 1980s. an old Congress hand, he is with the National Conference for over two decades.
Syed Mushtaq Ahmed Bukhari has represented Surankote Constituency in Poonch district and remained a Minister in the Farooq Abdullah government. A strong Pahari ideologue, he is with National Conference.
Murtaza Khan, also among co-founders of the Peoples Democratic Party, is currently with the People’s Conference of Sajad Lone. Khan is from Mendhar and has spent a term as MLC. Once a key member of the PDP, he had quit the party in 2013 and joined the Congress. Khan has always been close to Muzaffar Baig.
Shafiq Ahmed Mir, a former journalist, is one of the most vocal Pahari leaders. A strong votary and practitioner of the Panachatay Raj institutions. He had once put Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in difficulty when alliance leader Rahul Gandhi noted Mir’s concerns for Panchayat system and invited him along with his colleagues for discussion in New Delhi. He also led a delegation of his Panchayat colleagues to Prime Minister Modi. Mir is the J&K chief of Panchayat Conference and a member of the District Development Council of Poonch.
Shabir Ahmed Khan from Rajouri is another Pahari leader. A former legislator and Minister, he is with the Congress and is currently the vice-chair of the District Development Council.
Ajaz Ahmed Jan from Poonch, a second-generation leader in the National Conference, is also a major Pahari leader. A former legislator, his father was also an MLA.
Mohammad Iqbal Malik, is one of those Pahari leaders who carry some current at present –for being with the BJP. After his retirement from government services, Malik went through almost all parties and contested two Assembly elections before arriving in the BJP. He contested and won the 2020 DDC election on BJP ticket from Darhal block, a constituency that doesn’t have a single Hindu vote. Malik is BJP’s poster boy for the Muslim areas.
Pradeep Sharma, who contested 2014 Assembly elections on BJP ticket from Poonch is also a Pahari leader. He was later nominated as an MLC.
BJP’s state president Ravinder Sharma, vice president Vibodh Gupta and senior Congress leader Ravinder Sharma are also the Pahari leaders from Rajouri but they belong to the Constituency which has not been reserved for STs.