Rethinking Jammu’s Politics

Prof. Rekha Chowdhary (Retd)

Lt. General Bhopinder Singh (Retd.) has started a very interesting debate in Daily Excelsior (‘When the agenda of ‘Jammu’ becomes bigger than Political agendas’, 14 May, 2020). In his article he has raised pertinent issues related to the region and its future. While he identifies the real agenda of Jammu as its ‘development’, he laments it being overtaken by the partisan approach of the political parties. The political parties, he argues, have been “peddling peripheral agendas, subliminal emotions and jingoism that short-sells the much needed and tangible development focus of Jammu”. And what gets lost in the process is Jammu’s voice and articulation of its ‘angst’. What is this angst about? It is about Jammu’s neglect. There are multiple words used to refer to this neglect – words like ‘abandonment’, ‘diminishment’, ‘decrement’ of the region. This angst as he notes, is about the ‘convenient and auto-reflexive instinct of putting Jammu to the back burner’, misreading its ‘normalcy’ and continuously showing apathy to its raging discontent. Holding the Central Government responsible for this apathy, he clearly states : ‘fact is, Jammu has a very genuine and long-lasting issue of getting a raw deal from the Centre’. Using self-reflexivity, and self-criticality, General Bhopinder Singh rues the polarising tendencies and a politics of ‘us versus them’ in the local political narrative. These polarising tendencies, in his opinion, are neither in conformity with the ‘Dogra’ history nor beneficial to the political future of Jammu region. Pointing towards the need for an alternative politics for the region, he makes a case for a ‘cohesive, transformational, non-partisan and impactful’ voice of the region. Only such a unified voice, he hints, can impress upon Delhi to give a fair deal to Jammu. The task for creating such a politics, he further argues, should not be difficult – given the sufficient availability of the political, societal and cultural resources in Jammu region. Invoking the secular, progressive, inclusive and multicultural Dogra history, he makes a forceful appeal for the alternative politics in which political parties rise above their partisan concerns and while following differences on other issues, make a common cause for Jammu’s agenda.
Points raised by General Bhopinder Singh are very pertinent and need to be further debated by Jammu’s civil society and intellectuals. Already a response has been registered by Vikramditya Singh (‘Issue of Jammu region’, Daily Excelsior, May 18, 2020). He has referred to Jammu’s status as junior partner ‘in the multi-regional state founded by Dogras in 1846’ and agreed to General’s suggestion of forming a ‘larger common agenda along non-partisan lines’. He has further opened the debate by referring to efforts made by Karan Singh and recommendations made by Gajendargadkar Commission in 1967 and Sikri Commission in 1979. He has also pointed towards five issues related to: restoration of full statehood for J&K with structural arrangements of fair distribution of authority between two regions; fair delimitation exercise; domiciliary provisions with safeguards for land purchase by outsiders; appropriate reference to Dogra rulers in the history books; and projection of Jammu as investor friendly region.
Going back to the debate initiated by General Bhopinder Singh, one cannot but agree with him that Jammu is standing at the crossroads and it faces an urgency to rethink the approach and strategy of its politics. This need for such an exercise becomes much more pressing in the context of the all-pervasive feeling about neglect and invisibility of Jammu region. That the feeling persists even after the structural changes that took place in August 2019 – makes an important case for rethinking and devising a politics that can lead to greater visibility of Jammu region and add to its bargaining power.
What can be the nature of this politics? As has been rightly argued by General Bhopinder, Singh, certainly this cannot be the politics based on binaries and polarisation. Nor can this politics be based on exclusivist religious, ethnic, or cultural identities. This has to be a politics corresponding with the complex plurality of the region and rather than remaining confined to the dominant, mainland, urban population, it has to be much more inclusive. It has to be a politics with which people living anywhere in the region – whether in Jammu city or the remote corners of Doda belt or the Poonch-Rajouri belt can identify with. It has to be politics with which the majority community as well as the the minority community are comfortable with. It has to be a politics that is relevant both to the rural or the urban population and lastly it has to be a politics that brings into its fold all the cultural communities of the region – the Dogras, Paharis or the Gujjars and so on. In other words, it has to be in reality the ‘Regional’ politics in its nature.
If the aim of the alternative politics is to articulate Jammu’s agenda; give the region a visibility and a voice and also the negotiating tools – nothing less than a completely ‘Regional’ politics is required. Whole Jammu, speaking with one voice, making a common regional cause – can not be passed over and would certainly demand immediate attention.
However, to shape such a politics there is two-fold requirement – first of overcoming the binary narrative around Jammu’s identity, that of defining Jammu with reference to Kashmir and secondly, owning the real strength of Jammu and developing a sense of pride in it. The tragedy of Jammu’s politics has been that it has not been able to develop an autonomous politics of its own revolving around its own aspirations and its own logic. Much of the time, its narrative has been formed in reaction to Kashmir’s politics. To come out of this narrative, Jammu needs to look inwards and own its strength. Jammu’s strength lies in its complex diversity. This has been the only region of the erstwhile state that has such a rich resource of plurality and diversity. As General Bhopinder Singh rightly asserts, in its diversity, Jammu not only represents the ‘idea of India’ but also represents a model for many others, including Kashmir. It is around this diversity and plurality of the region that the identity of Jammu needs to be redefined. It is this diversity that should become the basis of our pride. At a time when so many other regions and identities elsewhere in India are confined by the processes of homogenisation and communalisation – here is an example of Jammu’s rich diversity which forms the basis of its mixed society, and its really lived secular culture. One can go into the details as to how Jammu has continued to provide a real example of mixed society and a lived secular culture despite the turbulence and conflict of varied kinds over the decades (that may required another article). However, this lived reality of Jammu has not been reflected forcefully in its politics.
There certainly remains a mismatch between the lived reality of Jammu’s society and the political narratives. While Jammu over the years has been becoming more multicultural and more cosmopolitan, nowhere in the political narratives of Jammu, its multicultural and cosmopolitan nature is reflected. Nowhere in these narratives, one gets to see a glimpse of the sense of ownership and pride with respect to Jammu’s inclusive society and its secular nature. General Bhopinder Singh is making a pertinent point by referring to the Dogra history and its inclusive and secular nature. It is an act of ‘owning’ the plurality and showing a sense of pride in it. It is also an effort to redefine Jammu’s identity. Taking this definition away from the negatives of ‘us versus them’ or away from the binaries of Kashmir versus Jammu – to the positive definition of Jammu’s identity. Jammu as a region of rich cultural resources – its diversity and its plurality; its inclusivity and its accommodative nature; its cosmopolitan nature.
Once Jammu’s regional politics gets to be asserted on this sense of Jammu’s identity and once it seeks to shed away the binary and polarising tendencies from its narrative, it will be able to articulate its political agenda in a forceful manner. It will not only have a ‘voice’ but also an ‘assertion’. For its own sake, Jammu needs to assert its own political position. Rather than waiting for the justice to be done to it, it needs to negotiate for its ‘dignity’, ‘equality’ and ‘partnership’. What disturbs most of Jammuites is the lack of political parity. A forceful political ‘voice’ of Jammu is the first step towards claiming the political parity.
In creating the political ‘voice’ of Jammu, (other than the political parties) the civil society, particularly, the members of the intellectual class has an important role to play. They must come forward to debate as to how such a voice can be articulated and asserted. While responding to the debate initiated by General Bhopinder Singh they must address a few more questions: What is it that Jammu wants? If it wants political parity and a sense of dignity and equality within Jammu and Kashmir, how can this be achieved? What is the nature of Jammu’s identity? How can Jammu’s identity be redefined?
Being the stakeholders, it is important that they address these questions and assert their agency at this historical juncture.
(feedback welcome at