No easy way for BJP in J&K, Ladakh     

Each of the regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh has its own expectations from the Modi government. Meeting them may prove to be an uphill task

No easy way for BJP in J&K, Ladakh      

Aasha Khosa

The drawing rooms in Jammu homes are not abuzz with talks of the big change, nor is there a sign of euphoria in the streets on what was once a general belief – that a complete merger of the state with the rest of the country is a panacea for all that troubles people there.

“There is a sense of uncertainty in our lives,” said an advocate, who, in his late twenties, had left Kashmir with his parents after a close relative was shot by terrorists and a handwritten list with his father’s name on it as one of them to be targeted, was found pasted on the wall of their house. “We have worked hard and settled here after a long struggle. With this decision, I am not sure if the locals (Jammu Dogra) would continue to have good relation with us,” he said on telephone from Jammu.

As life turned normal in the Hindu-majority Jammu region after the big bang decision of the Modi government to withdraw the special status of Jammu and Kashmir by nearly abolishing the contentious Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, and splitting it into two Union Territories, the simmering discontentment across the region is waiting to explode.

“My family is worried that rich people from Punjab will come and buy our land and also snatch our jobs,” said Ashwini Sharma, a Shimla-based journalist who is visiting his family in village Karloop, 25 km from Jammu city. There were no celebrations in his village as his 89-year-old father revisited the times when with a single order of the government of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah (land reforms), the family lost 70 per cent of fertile paddy land to the tillers. The patriarch told his sons that he fears the remaining land on which the family grows the famed Jammu Basmati would also go away.

The Modi government may have to revise its premise that its landmark decision will face hurdles only in Kashmir because of separatists and terrorists. On the ground, the challenges in Jammu and Ladakh are equally humongous. Already, BJP leaders like Nirmal Singh have started asking for guarantees and protection of land rights and jobs for the Jammu population. “We know that investors would not immediately go to Kashmir for the fear of gun and violence remains intact there; they would swarm Jammu and try to buy land for setting up offices and industries,” the BJP leader told this reporter.

“It’s, therefore, a mixed bag for the region,” he said. He also believes the hype about the removal of article 370 has raised the expectations of Jammu people. Therefore, if the situation does not throw up tangibles, the BJP will face a huge embarrassment in the election.

In Jammu, Eid was celebrated with gaiety and usual fervour even in Doda and Poonch, much to the relief of the administration. These towns with large Muslim populations had become laboratories for separatists and mainstream leaders in their attempt to woo Muslims and Hindus into their respective folds. This would lead to clashes and tensions occasionally.

However, on the political front, the challenge had just begun for the BJP in its stronghold of Jammu. Though the ending of special status is seen as a “rebuff to the politics of separatism and blackmail in Kashmir”, people are wondering what their gain is. “Jammu wanted to become a separate state – away from Kashmir - and now we are part of a Union Territory and our fate is linked to Kashmir,” said a BJP leader not wanting to be named.

Sources say despite the big Modi-Amit Shah stamp on the recent moves on J&K, BJP’s cadres are unhappy over the “injustice to Jammu”.

If the Modi government’s plan works well on the ground, Jammu will gain five to seven seats in the J&K Legislative Assembly bringing it almost at par with Kashmir. At present, the J&K Legislative Assembly has 87 seats of which the four for Ladakh would get nullified. Jammu will have some 2.5 lakh more voters as the West Pakistan refugees, under the new rule book, are entitled to cast their vote in state elections too. Given that the refugees mostly comprise the Scheduled Caste people, a seat is expected to be reserved for them.

However, this formula of striking a power balance between Kashmir and Jammu is likely to see resistance from leaders and people based on regional interests and will, therefore, be easier said than done.

Ladakh seems to have separated from J&K in a clean cut as there are jubilations and public festivities in Leh. Yet, the Muslim majority district – Kargil – not joining these celebrations leaves scope for tensions between the two parts of the UT in the coming days. The tussle in sharing political powers, positions and resources, will continue and mar the emergence of a new territory of Ladakh.

The Modi government’s major challenge will come from the Kashmir region where the situation is under control because of the huge presence of security forces on the ground. One aspect of Modi government’s decision that finds a taker in all parts of the state is the outright rejection of mainstream leaders as “corrupt and that breeding nepotism”. People are not missing the leaders of National Conference like Omar Abdullah and that of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) like Mehbooba Mufti who are in detention.

This is scary as the government has rounded up even the second line of command of the two parties, leaving nobody to speak for the people.

However, demonising PDP and NC leaders could end up as a self-defeating game for the saffron party. With no political leadership in Kashmir, the risk of youth running amok in venting their anger in streets is too real to be ignored. Also, given the huge stakes that Pakistan has in keeping the pot boiling in Kashmir, the Valley may become a fertile ground for Pakistan-backed Islamic terror groups to poach on and prepare them to fight to avenge their honour.

In Kashmir, the BJP is no force to reckon with; its organisational edifice is yet to come up and people have a suspicion about the party’s real intentions. Many of the party’s known faces like Khalid Jehangir, who contested election against Farooq Abdullah, are not taking a stand on the issue. It has even put its ally like Sajjad Lone under house arrest.

Since Rome was not built in a day, the planned development and job creation in Jammu and Kashmir and even Ladakh would not come in a jiffy. Does the BJP have a plan of action up its sleeves to address the unrest among the youth in a state which is facing a whopping 40 per cent unemployment, the highest in the country?

Only time will tell.

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