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Pir Panjal emerges key electoral battleground to capture power in J&K – Mrit News

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With the Pir Panjal bitterly divided between Gujjar-Bakerwals and Paharis, Hindus and Kashmiri-speaking population, the stage is set for the BJP to make inroads.

With the Pir Panjal bitterly divided between Gujjar-Bakerwals and Paharis, Hindus and Kashmiri-speaking population, the stage is set for the BJP to make inroads.

National Conference (NC) president Dr. Farooq Abdullah is touring the Pir Panjal valley, the second such visit since Omar Abdullah’s back-to-back meetings of the region in May. In a meeting with party workers in Surankote, Dr. Abdullah instructed to “unify the cadre” and prepare for the yet-to-be-declared Assembly elections.

The sharp focus of the NC on the Pir Panjal is a reflection of how the J&K Delimitation Commission has recast the Pir Panjal valley, comprising Rajouri and Poonch district, electorally by reserving the highest five Assembly segments for the Schedule Tribes (ST). All the parties are wooing the electorate in the region, fast emerging as the key pocket to win inorder to rule the Union Territory (UT).

It is no coincidence that NC vice-president Omar drove over 200 km to tour the Pir Panjal valley in May, followed by his father Dr. Abdullah this month. The previous visit came just 10 days after the J&K Delimitation Commission put the final stamp on its report on May 5.

The Commission, for the first time ever, reserved nine Schedule Tribe (ST) seats for the J&K 90-member Assembly. The highest six Assembly segments — Rajouri, Budhal, Thana Mandi, Surankote, Poonch-Haveli and Mendhar — were reserved from the Pir Panjal valley, which is home to significant population of Gujjar, Bakerwals and Paharis.

Hindu CM for J&K?

Meanwhile, a tribal faultline set on the ground by a Congress minister in 1992 is turning out to be the stepping stone for the BJP to realise the dream to have a Hindu chief minister for Jammu and Kashmir in the next Assembly elections. The Pir Panjal valley is fast turning into a key electoral battleground to capture the power ladder in the Union Territory (UT).

The path for the reservation was set in motion in 1992 by then Union Minister for Telecommunication Rajesh Pilot, who was a Gujjar leader. Even if the J&K cabinet had recommended in 1989 that the ST status be granted to all the three communities, only Gujjar-Bakerwals were given the ST status “on the basis of vulnerable economic conditions” by the efforts of Pilot. However, the decision to leave out Paharis created a permanent rift in the region, which is home to around 11 lakh population comprising mainly Muslims from the Gujjar-Bakerwal community and Paharis, which also include Hindus. The growing animosity reached to the point where the two communities, despite being Muslims, stopped marrying into each other.


“It was indeed in 1992 that two communities witnessed a growing rift. Otherwise, the two tribes lived in harmony in the past. I doubt if the BJP would grant ST status to Paharis for they would not like us to be equal. Because that will end the divide”Nasir Rahil Writer from Rajouri

“It was indeed in 1992 that two communities witnessed a growing rift. Otherwise, the two tribes lived in harmony in the past. I doubt if the BJP would grant ST status to Paharis for they would not like us to be equal. Because that will end the divide,” Nasir Rahil, a retired educationist and a writer from Rajouri, who belongs to the Pahari tribe, said.

Mr. Rahi do see a drift in Gujjar-Bakerwal population in the Pir Panjal towards the BJP after the recent move to have nine seats reserved for the community. Several prominent Gujjar-Bakerwal intellectuals, social media influencers and politicians are busy building pro-BJP narrative by projecting Kashmiri-speaking population as unreliable and opportunist. “Yes, the reservation move has changed the mood of the Gujjar-Bakerwal community here,” Mr. Rahi said.

The Pir Panjal valley, which got an additional seat during the recent delimitation process, has eight Assembly segments. For the BJP, winning the Muslim-majority segments from this Valley will act as a stepping stone for pushing a Hindu chief minister without aligning with any major political party from the Kashmir valley, which till now is dictating the politics of the entire region.

NC urges unity among tribes

Sensing a drift in the traditional vote bank, junior Abdullah took prominent and reverential Gujjar leader Mian Altaf from Kashmir’s Kangan area to the Pir Panjal to woo back the population during his tour. Mr. Abdullah held dozens of meeting with party workers in all the assembly segments and addressed well-attended eight public rallies.

“This program was decided much earlier (than the delimitation commission report). The connect was important because we had the party election last year. The leadership wanted to take feedback from the grassroots, both with regards to the party functioning and also the situation that obtained post August 5, 2019. The result was obvious. People are disillusioned and disappointed with the way they have been treated,” Abdullah’s close aide Tanvir Sadiq said.

Mr. Abdullah, in his speeches, pitched for reservation for Paharis too and also sought unity between tribes “to put up a joint fight to win back what was lost by J&K on August 5, 2019”.

“While Gujjars have a right to ST status, so do the Paharis. None should overlap each other and that’s what we have been saying all along. Dr. Farooq Abdullah as the chief minister sent a letter to then Prime Minister Indra Gandhi to grant reservation to Paharis,” Mr. Sadiq said.

If the BJP, Mr. Sadiq said, thinks that pitching one community against another will benefit them, they are wrong. “People understand their shenanigans. No amount of gerrymandering can change the fact that when the time comes, Gujjar, Bakwerwal, Paharis will punish the BJP for what they have done post August 5,” he said.

With the Pir Panjal bitterly divided between Gujjar-Bakerwals and Paharis, Hindus and Kashmiri-speaking population, the stage is set for the BJP to make inroads.

“The Pir Panjal is one of the key electoral battlegrounds for the parties associated with the Gupkar alliance to win. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is confident to earn faith of the voters from the Pir Panjal. The population here is aware of the greater designs of the BJP. They have always aligned with the Kashmir valley and stood shoulder to shoulder with other parts of the erstwhile state,” senior PDP leader Naeem Akhtar said.

The PDP is banking on the goodwill generated by former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti when she stood firmly for the eight-year-old Gujjar girl, who was raped and murdered by the members of the other community, and against the eviction of Gujjar-Bakerwals from the forest land.


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