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The price of politics
2/17/2020 12:26:40 AM

Bhopinder Singh

Post-independence, public imagination, political passions and administrative prioritisation in the “Crown of India” were fronted by the Kashmir Valley, followed by the uber-strategic Ladakh (literally, the “land of the passes”) and thereafter by the Duggar Jammu region. This hierarchy of importance was recalibrated in the revised status of the Union Territory (UT) to retain “normalcy” in the Valley (the foremost concern), address the Kashmiri Pandit issue (a matter of urgency) and relegate the Jammu region (the last priority). This hierarchy sustains still. This continued diminishment of the erstwhile land of the Dogra Kingdom in the pre-independence era, which held sway in swathes of Jammu & Kashmir, including Ladakh and expansive reaches of Western Tibet, Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan and Nagar, is an ironic turn of fate. The largest princely State in the British Raj to accede to the dominion of India is a forgotten and twisted footnote in history. As a corollary price paid for delayed accession, it was deliberately suppressed by new political forces and impulses, which were wholeheartedly endorsed by “New Delhi”, to decrement the Jammu region. If Pakistan was externally vilified for its role in the first Kashmir War of 1947-48, internally, Maharaj Hari Singh was conveniently painted as the dilly-dallying monarch under whose rule a situation was allowed to develop. Allowing such a narrative facilitated independent India’s first public rejection of the abhorred two-nation theory when political forces from Kashmir were allowed to systematically dismantle the primacy of “Jammu” and thereby ride the moral high horse of a democratic and non-discriminating “India.” Unnecessary allusion of “plebiscite” was a further display of ostensible statesmanship that sought to demonstrate fair-play for Kashmir but at the cost of “Jammu” sensitivities as contextualised to the fate of former Dogra royals. The Maharaja was forced into abdication and died a broken man. Jammu had no voice in Delhi to argue for its rightful share in India’s immediate aspirations. The iron-fencing of Article 370 predicated Jammu’s fate within the overall pie of Jammu & Kashmir, whereas within the State itself, Kashmir emerged as the epicenter of all subsequent focus. Two distinct dynamics dominated the State’s affairs. First, the political machinations surrounding Sheikh Abdullah’s ambitions and his oft-competing relations with “Delhi”, which led to a cat-and-mouse game of outwitting each other. Here, “Jammu” played an insignificant role of a supporting cast. Second, from the national perception of the Indian citizenry, the recurring wars (1947-48, 1965, 1971 and 1999) and the armed insurgency (early 1990s onwards) kept the lens firmly on Kashmir and at best on safeguarding Ladakh, which holds out proudly in the face of Pakistani-Chinese dimensions. Even though there’s a perennial strategic vulnerability in the “chicken’s neck” of the Sambha-Pathankot corridor of Jammu region, which hosted one of the fiercest tank battles in combat history, it remains solely a matter of military records. This is rarely appreciated in the same breath as the other “chicken’s neck” in the Siliguri corridor. Recognising this threat perception, the Jammu region is littered with garrison towns in virtual rows to safeguard the “integrity” and “sovereignty” of India. It has done so since time immemorial. It remains the first in line of defence against foreign invasions and marauders.
This institutionalised task of burying Jammu’s sense of purpose, relevance and sensitivities simmers in the region, though this remains consistently unaddressed. The socio-cultural debasement soon assumed political-religious undertones that got coined as the “Jammu-Srinagar divide.” While such simplistic “divides” served an invaluable purpose for peddling partisan politics, they do incalculable harm in further distorting the secular, multi-cultural and glorious traditions of the Dogra Kingdom.
The Jammu region itself is not a homogeneous composition. Reducing it to a “Hindu” identity militates against the profound reality of the Dogra rulers, whose progressive moorings, culturalised secularism, equality and various other societal freedoms got enshrined in the Constitution. The 10 districts of Jammu region host a religio-ethnic-cultural diversity that epitomises the majesty and travesty of “India” in equal measure — the region hosts the Dogra Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims (distinct from Muslims in the Valley) with their own distinctions as also the nomadic Gujjar-Bakarwal tribes that were in the news for the horrific rape case of a little girl in Kathua. The reductive oversimplification of the “Jammu-Srinagar divide” afforded a factually wrong communal attribution on perceptions even though the Gujjar and the Bakarwals are ethnically distinct from the Kashmiri Muslims. Sadly, Jammu’s unheard frustrations morphed into assuming an unwarranted and communally binary reaction. The societal, multi-cultural and martial traditions of the Jammu region and history are unmatched and unrecognised outside the realm of the Indian armed forces and the people of Jammu themselves. Tellingly, Dogra soldiers are known as “gentleman soldiers” owing to their finest soldiering instincts, ethos and bearing that behoves civilisational sophistication. Not only does the region populate regiments like the Dogras, Jammu & Kashmir Rifles, Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry, Punjab and many others — unbeknownst to a larger India — it also has the highest number of gallantry awardees in service of the nation. This would undoubtedly accrue to the composite Dogra identities. Jammu’s dignified silence and sacrifice — in allowing the more pressing fires in Kashmir to take the centrestage and the abandonment by unscrupulous politicians of all parties — has left it to be conveniently ignored and taken for granted. The wholly political exercise of abrogating Article 370 and the looming delimitation exercise in the UT was received with latent and instinctive excitement in Jammu but that mirage has given way to despondency again. If anything, it has only strengthened the historically-irrelevant “Jammu-Srinagar divide” and carved out space for political harvest, nothing more. Jammu needs historical acknowledgement and correction besides development. All of this needs national intent and not necessarily more legislative members (though that helps, too) as that is again a political minefield. Jammu has always guarded India with its blood and to imply that it can only be recognised at the cost of Kashmir is further diminishing of the Dogra identity and nobility of yesteryears and shortchanging it politically, yet again.
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