Union Home Minister Amit Shah began his three-day Jammu and Kashmir visit on Monday, amid unexpected support from the Pahari community for whom he may announce a “bonanza" of sorts.
The speculation is that Shah will grant the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the community during his rallies in Rajouri and Baramulla on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
The Pahari community has been nursing a deep wound against Kashmiri regional parties for not granting them the ST status, unlike to the Gujjars and Bakerwals decades ago.
The two communities are neighbours in the hilly area, but there has always been a silent strife between the two.
Over the past few months, amid the news of Shah’s visit, Pahari leaders, irrespective of party affiliations, have been silently calling upon their supporters to participate in huge numbers in the rallies.
The murmurs about the ST status for Paharis, leading to reservations in government jobs, scholarships, college and university admissions, have worked up the Gujjars. They think it will put them at a disadvantage as Paharis are doing better than them in terms of jobs, economy and exposure.
जम्मू-कश्मीर के तीन दिवसीय प्रवास पर आज जम्मू पहुंचा।विभिन्न कार्यक्रमों के माध्यम से जम्मू-कश्मीर की जनता से संवाद करने के लिए उत्सुक हूँ। pic.twitter.com/mEmBHIZ76V
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) October 3, 2022
The likely “empowerment" of Paharis has triggered a dissension of the cadres in the National Conference (NC). While the Paharis are looking forward to Shah’s visit and openly supporting him, the Gujjar tribe is peeved.
In Shopian, some Gujjar members asked the government not to fiddle with the ST status of the community. Guftar Chowdhary, a young Gujjar leader from Pir Panjal, told News 18 that Centre should rethink about the proposed move and not gift the status to the “well-off" community and pull the Gujjars down.
“Why should the Guptas, Vermas, Syeds, Mirzas who ruled the region in the past be given ST status," he asked, adding “the creamy layers of society" should be excluded.
While the Gujjars are sulking, the Paharis seem to be in a celebratory mood. Khafil ul Rehman, a senior NC leader and former MLA, in a meeting with his supporters, exhorted them to participate in the rally at Baramulla on Wednesday.
“We all should join the rally and show our collective strength. I want you to be in the front row of Amit Shah saheb’s rally. If we don’t achieve ST status today, we will never get it," he told the gathering at Tangdhar, a constituency that is near the Line of Control and has a mix of Gujjar and Pahari communities.
He said he has kept 20 buses ready for their travel to Baramulla, where Shah will address a rally on Wednesday.
Muzaffar Baig, former Jammu and Kashmir Deputy Chief Minister and a formidable Pahari leader from Baramulla, in a video message asked his supporters to make Shah’s rally successful.
“Shah saheb will fulfil the demand we have been raising for the past 35 years. It will be a positive and historic decision. I appeal to everybody to attend the rally and demand justice," he said.
In the past few weeks, Mushtaq Bukhari, a senior NC leader from Rajouri, Mohammad Ehsan from PDP, and several others have resigned and openly supported the BJP on the issue of granting ST status to Paharis.
Former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti on Saturday alleged the BJP was polarising the communities using the ST status bait. In a tweet where she put a video byte, she appealed to the communities to stay united.
“There is tension in Pir Panjal in the wake of the Home Minister’s visit and likely announcement of ST status. Old relationships are being torn apart. First, Hindus and Muslims were pitted against each other and now they want the Gujjars and Paharis to fight," she remarked.
BJP senior leader and former deputy CM Nirmal Singh, however, hit back at Mufti and said it was her party and others in Kashmir that were pitting communities, faiths, regions and tribes against each other and his party stands for inclusiveness and empowerment of all.
Meanwhile, Shah’s announcement of gifting ST status to the Pahari community will need a follow-up in Parliament if it has to become a law. The reservation will be a first in the country to be gifted to a linguistic group. For that, the Centre would have to amend the Reservations Act.
Granting the ST status to Paharis, many say, may boost the BJP’s chances in Jammu and Kashmir, where nine seats have been reserved for the community.
Although the elections in J&K are not scheduled yet, many see Shah’s J&K visit as a precursor to the polls.