Jammu Dogras Absence of defining & ‘owning’ the narrative

Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd)
Political movements for identity assertions and corrective actions are borne out of perceived denialism and inequities – the subliminal quest (because it still hasn’t taken an impactful shape or form,yet) for the frustratingly suboptimal Jammu/Dogra identity in the national imagination, is that, and sadly,so much more. Unlike the recent ‘regional’ identity successes of Telangana, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh or even Gorkhaland and Bodoland (both were bestowed with territorial administration/council) – hand on heart, where exactly does acknowledging the neglect of Jammu/Dogras resonate amongst national priorities, within the corridors of power? The honest answer would be a very dismal reality-check. Put simply, the scale of ignorance and diminishment of Jammu/Dogra history, culture, relevance and investment for future, is unprecedented in the fairly long list of continuing regional disparities, in India. No region/identity has done so much for the fundamental ‘Idea of India’, and received so less.
To continue putting blame on the ‘Valley’, as has been the wont, is not only convenient, vain and even partially wrong, but it also perpetuates the rote and tired script, that leads to nowhere. The entire narrative changes, if Jammu/Dogras, were for once to blame themselves for allowing their own case and storyline to get distorted (the politics followed, consequentially) and for getting routinely seduced by piecemeal sops that were dolled-out by ‘Delhi’ (all national parties without exception, did little). History is instructive, that no regional ‘identity’ assertion succeeded on account of any national party, ever. The national parties were always forced to ultimately accept the regional disaffection, but the championing of the ’cause’ was always led by a regional expression, be it Uttrakhand Kranti Dal, Chhattisgarh Rajya NirmanManch, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Gorkha National Liberation Front, All Bodoland Students Union etc.- Where is that equivalent and focused platform that refuses to get distracted, attracted or abused for other partisan agendas, other than that of the concerns of dignity, correction, and investment of Jammu/Dogras?Never forget, national parties appeal to sub-sections of society and never to the composite whole of a region, and that unified, indivisible and force-multiplying whole is only afforded by a dedicated front, to articulate the regional ‘identity’ case.
The next question is, what should Jammu/Dogra angst be all about? Put simply, it is about a false (or at least, unknown or ignored) storyline of a people/region, who are undoubtedly the finest example of the profound and constitutional ‘Idea of India’, but have been denied their dignity of correct narrative, share in independent India, and investments in their future. By falling for the emotional polarising trap of religion, caste, ethnicities, ‘Valley-versus-Jammu’ or any suchlike ‘divides’, is to diminish the unique ‘case’ of Dogra history, as that is exactly what all those who claim to stand for Jammu/Dogras (read, national parties since independence), but have done a pittance till now, would want to keep as the essential ploy. Much before words like ‘secularism’, ‘inclusivity’, ‘societal reforms’, ’empowerment’, ‘gender rights’, ‘educational reforms’ etc., became fashionable, the Dogra reign and ethos, practiced all that. Reducing the conversation to ‘Valley-versus-Jammu’ is to sound petty, inglorious and unbefitting, of the factual history and narrative.
Just how many people in India would know that J&K State of the Dogra Dynasty was the biggestPrincely State (far-far bigger than its continuously reduced size, today). That it was unquestionably the most progressive, modern and inclusive in character. How many in India would realise that Maharaja tried his utmost for all his people (memory in ‘Valley’ runs very short on this count) in taking difficult decisions, including the much-ridiculed protectionism that was guaranteed, as part of Accession terms. He was ousted unceremoniously from the evolving script, post-independence – and the Dogras allowed that to happen. It’s not just the Dogra dynasty or Maharaja Hari Singh who passed away, but also the fate of Jammu/Dogra, for posterity. The so-called villains from ‘Delhi’/’Valley’, came later and only did what they could – but what about the Dogras?
The task on hand is way beyond trying to mark Hari Singh’s birthday as a holiday or trying to preserve Mubarak Mandi, locally. Before everything, start by telling the country first and foremost,as to why the Jammu/Dogra story and angst is unique, hitherto unheard and unbelievably worthy in its essence for correction and recognition, and that not acknowledging the same, is a travesty of nationalism. Jammu/Dogra regional emotion and plot should always be of a larger Duggar notion that embraces all religions, castes, sects and ethnicities within, with pride and no discrimination. Shining examples of valour and sacrifice like Maj Somnath Sharma, Subedar Bana Singh, Brigadier RajenderJamwal, ASI Babu Ram or Sepoy Aurangzeb Khan were not just Brahmins, Sikh, Rajputs or Muslims – they collectively belong to the regional Duggar identity, and that is what makes the Jammu/Dogra ’cause’, as it were, so magnificent, compelling and noble.
Independent military historians of eminence and scholarship marvel at the unmatched and raw heroics of a General Zorawar Singh, as there is no other warrior of matching fortitude, dare and conquests. Not to take away from the heroics of other historical icons, but a nation that has internalised Maharana Pratap, Shivaji, Akbar, Ranjit Singh etc., just how many would have heard of the awe-inspiring legend of Zorawar? Even the freedom fighter and tribal warrior, Birsa Munda, has joined the lexicon of deserved heroes (and rightfully so), by no less than the Prime Minister himself, who routinely invokes his heroics (just recently with ‘correcting mistakes made after independence’ speech at unveiling of Netaji Bose statue) – but General Zorawar? There has simply been no articulation of Jammu/Dogra stories, with any meaningful persuasion at the national level.
The only times Jammu appears on the national media is for issues like the Kathua rape case, Rohingyas, abrogation of 370, vivisection of the State to a Union Territory, and most recently, delimitation exercise – visibly passionate and vocal positions were taken by sections of people who hailed some of the executive actions as transformational and decisive. Step back,let’s ask ourselves, if the same truly transformed the destiny of Jammu/Dogras, or was it just the perverse joy of unhappier people in other parts of the Union Territory? Did these events add to the much-needed clarity, empathy and understanding of Jammu/Dogra history in the national imagination? Did the region/people come out looking truly befitting of its supreme Dogra ethos, and a national urge to address its issues, in earnest? Political questions like Statehood or separate Union Territory are important, but they cannot be the starting point of correction journey – it has to be the storyline, arguments and reasons that justifiably demand corrections (be it correction of history, future investments, or even delimitation exercises). To dream that all things will fall in place, once the region gets its ‘own’ territory or leadership, is to expect a different result with the same inaction and bitterness of decades. Past suggests, they may remain taken for granted, and essentially unimagined.
Couple of years back, the author had suggested through articles and to many eminent locals to brand Jammu, ‘The most Valiant City of India’ – it was met with a combination of inexplicable silence, muzzles or reverts like ‘Jammu is actually the City of temples’! Alternative branding options aren’t wrong, as a multi-cultural landscape, Jammu can be so many things at the same time. But the trick is to cherry-pick the most galvanising, rousing and topical appropriation, as demanded by the times that be – with ‘temples’ Jammu would be pitted with a Varanasi, Madurai, Ayodhya etc., each with its own resonances of divinity. But on the most powerful, patriotic and moving claim that can be made today, it is shocking and embarrassing that most (including some Dogras) do not recognise their own worth – Jammu/Dogras has unquestionably and silently given more blood to the nation, than any other region/state. There are 3 dedicated Regiments i.e., Dogras, JAK Rif & JAK Li and multiple others like Punjab Regiment which recruit Dogras in abundance – every year the roll count of gallantry awardees in Armed Forces & Police Services are brimming with Jammu/Dogras, and yet in national imagination, perhaps other States like Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab etc., ‘own’ that perception and honour. Again, a story that is staring to be told and ‘owned’ remains withered because the local emotions are predominantly vested in ‘Valley-versus-Jammu’, distractions. Not only is the ‘Valley’ an inextricable part of our nation, even if it has wounded sentiments currently, but it was/is, and ought to be always, a part of the larger Jammu & Kashmir identity, as it has been for eons. Hard and unpalatable as it may sound, if only Dogras accept their own failings for once, without any buts/ifs/’them’ etc., and decide to script their own inclusive, dignified and noble story worthy of acknowledgment and correction, will the transformation (psychological, political and administrative) ever take place.