Political Empowerment Of Gujjars in JK
Dr. Javaid Rahi
The announcement made by Chief Minister J&K in a function at Jammu to bring a bill in the State Legislature for Political Reservation of Scheduled Tribes and to amend the constitution in this regard has generated a new ray of hope among 12 Tribal Communities of the State which include Boot, Beda, Moon, Garra, Chnagpa,Balti, Purigpa, Shina-dard, of Ladakh besides Gujjars , Bakerwals Gaddi and Sippis tribes of the State .
Gujjar and Bakerwal community which constitute a major group among tribals of Jammu Kashmir are politically very important . This third largest ethnic group of State has welcomed and hailed this announcement made by the Hon'ble Chief Minister, because according to them this is the only way which will eradicate their poverty, caste stigma and social inequality.
After delimitation , when Assembly Segments were re-constituted in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the tribal Gujjar Community emerged as a significant political force . knowing this,the Tribal ethnic group were united behind imagination, therefore, it embossed as an important vote bank which was very difficult to ignore or surpass by the political parties of the state. In short, the role being played by Muslim Minority vote at national level politics , the same role is being played by Gujjar votes in J&K state.
In Jammu and Kashmir State has substantial Chunk of Tribal Population which plays a big role in political process and power formations. There are 21 Assembly constituencies where Gujjars constitute 20% to 50 % of franchise. Besides there are nine Assembly segments where Gujjar Candidates won elections which includes ,Havali, Surnkote, Mendher, Rajouri, Darhal, Gool, Arnas, Kangan and Uri . In other 13 constituencies , Gujjar Vote can turn the tables include, Kalakote,Kupwara, Karnah, Riasi , , Nagrota, Inderwal, Noorabad, Shopiyan,Kokernag, Shangs, Tangmarg, Pahalgam and Langate. Except Leh district of Jammu and Kashmir Gujjar live in every corner of the State and each Assembly as well as Parliamentary constituencies in the shape of substantial Vote bank. This is the only community of the State who take part in elections in Militancy effected areas despite the threat perceptions.
For Political parties of the State , to recognize Gujjar as an important and significant political force, openly was tedious one. After Independence various races and groups tried to emerge on socio-political scenario of the state but Gujjars who were pushed to remote and far flung areas lacked behind in all walk of life. All linguistic and ethnic groups progressed in a big way during past 60 years but this was not the case with Gujjars .
This is for the first time that any Congress lead govt. in the State has made its mind for political empowerment of Tribals in the State especially Gujjars of the State . It is pertinent to mention here that the Scheduled Caste community of the State enjoys this constitutional privilege from 1956. Under Section 46 of J&K Constitution several seats have been reserved for scheduled castes. As per the provisions of J&K Constitution, the Scheduled Castes enjoy 8% reservation and it has been observed that the general condition of Scheduled Castes is far far better than the people belonging to the Scheduled Tribes of the State. Democracy cannot flourish nor its objectives will be fulfilled till it uplifts the communities which are victims of social inequality and caste stigma.
If we go through the 60 years of independent India, we see that Gujjars have always sacrificed their lives and property for their motherland. This has also been acknowledged by various scholars, army brass and commissions constituted by the central and the state governments for recommending various steps to improve the life standard of Gujjar and Bakerwal tribe.
After various recommendations by a number of commissions and panels constituted by the central and state government from time to time for amelioration of the lot of weaker sections of society in India, the Government of India had sanction a funds for the development and upliftment of the Gujjars in Jammu and Kashmir in early seventies. Cogress and Mrs. Indera Gandhi took keen interest in the political vote bank of Gujjars and organised big rallies and conferences. A department was also established to look after Gujjar affairs. Former Minister Ch. Mohd . Shafi Khatana was entrusted the job of betterment of Gujjar and Bakerwal community and he was given a post of Advisor to Government of Jammu and Kashmir for Gujjars Affairs in 1971-72. This is for the first time that political importance of the Gujjars was recognized in order to achieve maximum gains. At that time, a good chunk in the budget outlay of the state specified for the development and welfare of the Gujjars in the state. During 1971-72, funds were also earmarked and placed at the disposal of District Development Commissioners of different districts for the development of this down trodden community.
After establishing State Advisory Board for the Development of Gujjar and Bakerwals in the state in 1974-75, the central govt. released a special assistance of Rs. 13 Crores to the state for the upliftment and betterment of Gujjar Bakerwal community. A few many special plans including opening of Gujjar Hostels, scholarships to the Gujjar children of the state , rehabilitation of the Gujjar nomads were initiated. This was a great step towards recognizing the Gujjars as an important and significant vote bank by the Congress and National Conference. As per routine , the members of Gujjar Board are mainly nominated by the party in power. They belongs to such areas where party in power has to oblige the Gujjar lower level leadership like Mukadams, Choudhries , Sarpenchies and Panches and others to oblige Gujjar vote bank besides the Gujjar workers are given possible perks to work for the party. This board is of state level but it has also formulated its district bodies which help the District Administration to implement the various development plans for the Gujjars.
In 1975-76, when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah came into power , the first ever Gujjar Bakerwal Advisory Board was framed and Gujjar found its place in National Conference hierarchy as well. Begum Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was the first Vice Chairperson of the Board. She through medium of Gojri Language and by working hard in Gujjar areas succeeded in gaining the attention of all the Gujjar leadership and they steadily and gradually joined National Conference. Owing positive steps of Gujjar Board, it was a new era for Tribal Community . Lacs of Gujjars joined National Conference and it was due to efforts of Gujjar leadership that National Conference remained in power for a long time. When Congress saw that Gujjar vote bank is slipping out of their hands then Mrs. Indira Gandhi , the then Prime Minister intervened herself into and pursued Gujjar leadership including Mian Bashir Ahmad the tallest Gujjar Leader to join Congress. It is worthwhile to mention here that differences were emerged between Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Mian Bashir Ahmad on some important issues of Gujjars.
In 1991, when Scheduled Tribe status was granted to Gujjar and Bakerwals, was expected to bring big changes to eradicate poverty, caste stigma, illiteracy among Gujjars but the view has not been substantially changed as no political reservation was given to Scheduled Tribes of the state till date. It was owing to the efforts of Congress party in Centre that scheduled tribe status was granted to Gujjars and Bakerwals and now it is the Congress regime which deems it inevitable to grant political empowerment to Gujjars ..
From 1996 to 2002, when National Conference was in power, the Gujjar leadership pressed hard to govt. to be sensitive in affairs of Gujjars and Bakerwals of the state. It was demanded that there should be political reservation for Gujjars besides formulation of Tribal Ministry/Deptt. and Deptt. of Gujjar Affairs and implement the Schedule Tribe Status in its true spirit. But National Conference govt. could not gain this opportunity and it resulted in the defeat of National Conference. Another major cause of slipping Gujjar Vote Bank from the hands of National Conference was its so called Autonomy Report. The same report opposed the scheduled Tribe status granted to the Gujjars by the centre in 1991.
The Gujjar vote bank once again shifted to Congress and they were also inclined towards Peoples Democratic Party which was alliance partner of Congress in 2002 elections. National Conference was shrinked to 28 Assembly seats in 2002.
This is a fact that since congress come to power for last one and half year, it was hoped that their leadership will take keen interest in the affairs of Gujjars as per party's history which include the steps like providing the Political Reservation for Gujjars in both the Houses of State Legislature, amend S,RO 294 as per the wishes of Gujjars., raising of Gujjar Regiment in Indian Army, allotment of Land To rehabilitate the Nomadic Gujjars, inclusion of Gojri in The 8 th Schedule of Indian constitution, speedy implementation of Developmental Sachems for Gujjars, revoke the order regarding Closing Forests to Nomadic Movement of Gujjars , establishment of Shopping Complexes at District and Tehsile Headquarters level for Gujjars, proper representations in Govt. Jobs/ Schemes, introduction of Cattle insurance Sachems For Banharas and Bakerwals, enhancement of Seats for Gujjars in Professional Colleges, relaxation of age bar in favour of Gujjar Candidates in Police and other recruitments, the backlog be cleared under SRO 126 with immediate effect, providing employment to Trained Professional graduates, suitable Market Facilities For livestock and Milk Products.
These historical steps will strengthen Gujjar identity in the state and the people belonging to far flung areas of the state will be able to play their positive role in the development and progress of the state