Jammu’s search for its identity

By Sahil Mahajan

Jammu’s search for its identity has become acute. It is groping in the dark. Ironically, Jammu is itself responsible for what is happening to it nowadays. Over the decades, it pursued a policy of searching its identity and voice by airing its grievances against Kashmir . It failed to recognise the consequences that it would visit upon it because of the voices that it promoted to seek attention.

As long as J&K was a state , the narrative of its discrimination was plausible because many believed that the region had been treated unfairly by the new set of rulers who had come to occupy the high positions. In a fair analysis, it can be said that apart from the poor class of leadership in the region, there was a delusion amongst the people of Jammu that they had the privilege of the royal era privileges. And, for them, the royal era of Dogras was the ultimate thing. That said, they appeared to be following a single-track in which they were the only stakeholders in the destiny of J&K. And when the changed political realities started haunting them, they resorted to another extreme- that alternated between aggressive posturing in public and beseeching in private. All this was reduced to a game of individuals aspiring to be shareholders in power
What has changed ? An honest answer is that  Jammu has lost its narrative of discrimination that it had used as a political weapon to secure concessions and privileges.The abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35 A for which there were some very strong voices in the plains of Jammu, should have brought some magnificent changes to the destiny of the region. The facts are contrary to the perceptions that are being percolated, but the common man in Jammu has started weighing pros and cons of what has happened, and what is happening and how the consequences will play out for them and the next generations.

Fortunes have reversed. Jammu can no longer blame Kashmir for what its plight is as of today, notwithstanding the accusations or substance to those charges in the past , because it had sought liberation from the status quo that existed in the Indian constitution, which it thought and honestly believed also, was the main source of its shrinking role in the decision-making and share in the government services. There were genuine basis for the charge as well. Jammu’s voice was shrinking. There  were two reasons : Kashmir-centric parties whether National Conference or PDP, or for that matter national parties, Congress or BJP, worked to marginalise Jammu. As far as NC  and PDP were concerned, their constituency was in Kashmir Valley, and they had extended it to some hilly parts of the region on the south of Pir Panchal . Needless to say, they were looking at Jammu from the prism of what is now fondly called ” Chenab valley” of the three districts of Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban or the erstwhile ‘Doda District’. Added to it were the twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch. Kashmiri parties stepped into claim the space where the mainland of Jammu or the plains of the region vacated both in the psychological and political  terms. Encouraged by their success in the hills of Jammu, the Kashmir-centric parties started their campaign to claim space in Jammu plains too.  It became a source of friction and the political clashes that assumed uglier dimensions that were visible in its terrible form in 2019, the year that changed everything forever in Kashmir and Jammu and Ladakh.

A question arises, whether after whatever happened in 2019, brought Jammu to the political and administrative equality of Kashmir of yesteryears. The answer is  surprising. There is no end to the perceived and genuine inequalities. Instead , it is less equal than ever before. It had the minimal voices to take up issues against the state governments  by one way or the other and it had a self-acquired claim that the region was more nationalist and Indian than others. It counted its sacrifices in saving Kashmir for India since 1947, more so after the militancy erupted in the Valley in 1989-1990. It was this assertion of its nationalistic credentials  that it hosted tens of thousands of Kashmiri Pandit migrants, and a sprinkle of Kashmiri Muslims who were as pained and persecuted by the violence in the Valley as were the Kashmiri Pandits. The violence, when it erupts, engulfs everyone. The minorities feel it more. This is a universal reality.
Next set of questions : was Jammu fighting for the domicile rights of West Pakistan refugees as an assertion of its pro-Jammu narrative or was it struggling for the packages for Kashmiri Pandit migrants as something that would be seen as a deliverance for the region. These were humanitarian issues, and Jammu, true to its traditions, raised its voice without knowing that when it lost its own. Being nationalist is a good thing up to a certain extent . Didn’t jammu felt hurt when the news media in 1990s  attributed each incident of militancy-related violence , bomb explosions, encounters, fidayeen attacks and  Kargil War to the whole of  Jammu and Kashmir? Jammu suffered in trade, tourism, but still allowed its narrative to be suppressed by others.

Where does Jammu figure  in the whole thing . Jammu has a tradition of  retaining its dignity even in against worst adversities.The new things have thrown new challenges – and Jammu will have to fight its own battle. No one is going to come to its rescue. It has been exploited by all sorts of people – what it needs is a way to fight for its dignity . Before that it needs to ponder its gains and losses in an objective manner, and it should be a purely Jammu prism , where the lens should be all inclusive, not exclusive of any of its demographics and sub regions, . That can bring in sight what it aspires to be .