Years before the archrivals NC and PDP would lock horns over the proposed Sainik colonies and separate Pandit Township in state assembly, Jammu province had become a hotbed of controversial colonies majorly housing non-state subjects. Amid the raging debate, Bilal Handoo reports the Jammu’s jink that is threatening to alter demography of the already polarised state
An ailing ex-official in late Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad’s government still remembers how Indira Gandhi’s desire sweated Bakhshi in his office in May 1962. That spring, the only daughter of India’s first prime minister wanted to acquire a piece of land in Srinagar. Then Sadri-Riyasat, Karan Singh was too kind to offer her land free of cost from his own Karan Mahal estate at foothills of Shankracharya. But when the matter reached Bakhshi’s office, the J&K prime minister expressed his reservation – because Nehrus were no state subjects.
But displeasing Nehru was perhaps the last thing Bakhshi would have wanted. “It was then,” recalls Ab Rehman, Bakhshi’s former official, “a more ‘loyal than a king’ official suggested Bakhshi: transfer the land to Nehrus’ pandit relative in Kashmir, who would hold it for them.” But the said pandit, recalls Rehman, refused to be a party of indirect violation of state subject laws promulgated by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1927.
“On Kashmiri Pandits’ insistence,” Rehman says, “Hari Singh had enacted the state subject laws with dual purpose: first, preventing mainland India Hindus usurping employment opportunities for pandits in state; and second, to protect the distinct ethnic identity of J&K people.” Bakhshi’s erstwhile official maintains that the state subject laws also helped the Dogra monarch to protect demographic character of his ruling state by banning non-locals to acquire land and properties in J&K.
Indira eventually had to drop the idea after her pandit relative’s tacit refusal, says Rehman, a witness to the incident. “Besides she realised it well that her desire had actually a potential to trigger massive rage in valley.” Interestingly, the event is also mentioned by Jawaid Alam in his book, “Kashmir & Beyond”.
Fifty four years later, another ‘sweating’ spring dawned in Kashmir. Accusations are flying thick and fast that attempts are underway to settle non-state retired army officers in sainik colonies, non-state white collar officers serving in J&K, non-state beggars in temporary shelters and non-state students studying in various institutions in Kashmir.
These issues have soared political mercury in J&K with separatists and opposition accusing the ruling PDP-BJP coalition government of conspiring to alter J&K’s demography. “It is unfortunate,” says Omar Abdullah while training guns at Mehbooba government over the proposed colonies, “that a meeting was called by home ministry in which the Chief Minister was not present and the state was represented by Governor NN Vohra.” The NC working president was pointing at a high-level meeting held in Delhi recently in which for the first time state was represented by Governor at a time when a political government was in vogue in J&K. The meeting proposed the setting up of sainik colonies in state on 350 kanals of land besides KP settlements.
“But the state government has no plans to set up a sainik colony for non-state subjects ex-servicemen,” Mehbooba Mufti told the ongoing assembly. She reminded Omar how the Sainik Board came into being in 1965 and how in 1975, a sainik colony was inaugurated in Jammu city by then Chief Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. “At the moment,” asserts the lady CM, “we are going ahead with transient camps for KPs.”
To set up separate colonies for KP return is not genuine, Omar retorts. “Setting of Jagti-like camps in Kashmir valley is against our identity and against Kashmiryat.”
Last time, interestingly, Omar was himself at the centre of the controversy gripping the state assembly at a time when his government was mulling to pass a bill regularizing ‘non-local’ slum dwellers across state. It was 2011 fall and NC’s Mir Saifullah raked the issue in assembly, questioning Omar government: how two flats were allotted to non-state subject in Jagti housing camp meant for Kashmiri Pandits? Mir named some officials, including one kingpin Vinod Bhat and Commissioner who had allotted flats to non-locals on money consideration. “A non-state subject Ramesh Kumar from Gurdaspur,” Mir says, “was also allotted a flat.”
As Omar’s revenue minister Raman Bhalla tried to set the records straight saying 4278 flats were allotted only to Kashmiri migrants in Jammu, hardly anyone took him seriously.
It was Omar’s deputy Tara Chand himself disclosing that 35 illegal colonies exist in Jammu district—“out of them, thirteen colonies were legalized between 2002 and 2010.” Qasim Nagar—housing 80 per cent non-state subjects as per Chand’s Congress colleague, GM Saroori—was under the process of regularization by the Jammu Development Authority, Chand asserted.
Before staging a walkout from the Legislative Council on March 13, 2013, PDP had vainly asked Raman Bhalla whether there were any discrepancies in allotment of accommodations under Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojna particularly with reference to non-state subjects. No “satisfied” reply came. “The fact of the matter was,” says a senior Congressman, “PDP was seeking answers from the man (Bhalla) whose politics always thrived on non-state subject vote-bank existing in these colonies.”
But after Hurriyat patriarch Syed Ali Geelani threatened agitation against government’s plan to regularise what he called “Israeli-pattern settlements housing 4.5 lakh non-state subjects” across state, NC shelved off the plans on pretext of conducting a survey in these unauthorised colonies. Its coalition partner Congress however pressed for their regularisation to “salvage its traditional votebank”. The colonies proposed for regularisation were Indira Colony, Gorkha Nagar, Jogigate, Sanjay Nagar, Balmiki Colony, Shiva Colony, Channi Rama, Kacha Talab, Goswami Colony, Hyderpora, Puran Nagar, Basant Vihar, Gorkh Nagar Extension Bahu Fort, Mohalla Masjid Bagh-e-Bahu, Nai Basti, Vikas Nagar, Shant Nagar, Qasim Nagar and Kabir Colony.
With power shift, a comprehensive policy for regularization of illegal colonies is being framed. Even BJP’s Dr Nirmal Singh admits that magnitude of such violations is huge. “We will come up with the policy to regularizing these colonies within next six months,” states Singh, forcing Congressman GM Saroori to react sharply: mostly non-state subjects are living in these colonies.
Several non-locals living in makeshift sheds across Jammu have already triggered a street-level manifestation of communal tensions. “The oldest settlement in Jammu exists on BC Road,” Saroori says. “Maratha Colony, Panjtirthi, Qasim Nagar and others house labourers from UP, MP, Bihar and from other Indian states.” Emergence of these colonies has been slowly altering Jammu’s demographic composition.
Only one new settlement cropped up in Jammu between 1960 and 1969 as per the official records. By 1970s, the number went to 22 and 35 by ending eighties. Then came the flood in Tawi River, rendering several non-local slum-dwellers in Gandhinagar homeless. The visiting PM Rajiv Gandhi announced shelters for the non-locals in the area that became Rajiv Nagar, Saroori says.
These settlements proliferated post-nineties. From 1990 to 95, 25 new settlements came up in Jammu. By 2000, over 30 additional settlements cropped up. “It never stopped after that,” says a senior scribe from Jammu. Over the years, these non-state subjects continued receiving Congress patronage in lieu of becoming its vote-bank, he says. But 2014 changed everything.
“That was watershed year, consolidating the Hindu vote and dividing the Muslim vote,” the scribe continues. “Because of ‘Modi Wave’, Congress lost its colonial votebank to BJP. Now, Congress is decrying over the issue because its votebank stands MODIfied. It was the same votebank that helped BJP’s Kavinder Gupta (incumbent speaker) to win Gandhinagar. So, obviously, no politician would go against these votebank colonies.”
Among these colonies, Rajiv Nagar is said to be an example of ‘communal politics’ at play. The only volunteers visible in the slum, claims Arun Dogra, a Jammu-based hotelier, are from RSS-VHP—known to cry foul over Muslim (state subject) migration in Jammu. “Unfortunately,” Dogra says, “major political parties appear at peace with this communal co-existence. Fact is, it doesn’t take one much time to realise how deep-rooted hostilities run in Jammu. VHP-RSS demands a separate Hindu-majority Jammu, while elements in NC have been seeking to recast Jammu province’s Muslim majority areas into a new Chenab Hill Development Council.”
Amid this controversial colonial outbreak in Jammu, the state is being accused of behaving like a “Nero when Rome is burning”—despite being alarmed, repeatedly.
When former 16 Corps Commander Lieutenant-General JBS Yadava sent a detailed communication to Farooq government in October 2001 on the emergence of new colonies in Jammu, he was told, “General, don’t meddle in civilian affairs!”
Gen Yadava had asked some uncomfortable questions, like how could government allow new settlements on government and strategically-sensitive spots. “Actually,” says Sandeep Sharma, a social worker from Jammu, “both NC and Congress cadre favoured these contentious enclaves by assuring non-locals of getting their settlements regularised.”
But at times, this ‘colonial politics’ went fatally wrong. In early 2000, says Sharma, when a minister sent his henchmen to set off large-scale forest fire near Sidhra to clear land, “it ended up charring three of the would-be settlers to death.”
Similar fears resurrected in Jammu last year when the ex-Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed issued an order to bulldoze the Muslim habitats in forest land in Sunjwan, Bathindi, Raika and Sidhra. “Targeting only Muslim-inhabited areas while ignoring non-local populated areas like Gurkha Nagar, Qasim Nagar, Rajiv Nagar, Janipur, Roop Nagar, etc shows how RSS-type mentality is being advanced in Jammu,” says Abdul Majeed, president Muslim Federation Jammu. “At least 28 residential colonies have been built illegally in Jammu, which were regularized in revenue records from time to time. All this was overlooked as the inhabitants are not Muslims.”
Majeed says the non-state subjects are today calling shots in Jammu market and industry with official backing. “Half of Gandhi Nagar today has non-state subjects who have acquired fake state subject certificates over the years.”
Foreigners from Burma, Bangladeshi and Nepali are equally being settled in Jammu by state government, says Pritam Sharma, Chairman Kranti Dal. “State government is working for their settlement by constructing illegal colonies for them in Qasim Nagar, Bithandi, Sidhra, Sujma, Narwal, Satwari, Nagrota etc,” Sharma says. These non-state subjects are creating imbalance in Jammu area. “Cases of theft have increased manifold in Jammu after their arrival,” he says. “But instead of taking action against them, state government is concretizing their clusters and even issuing ration card to them.”
Notably, this “foreign population” exists in Jammu province in addition to over 1.5 lakh West Pakistan refugees (non-state subjects) living in squalid camps in border districts of Jammu, Samba and Kathua district for past 62 years.
Fearing that Mehbooba government is trying to “re-enact the 2008 turmoil”, Omar Abdullah sees an uncanny similarity between what the PDP did in 2008 and what the PDP-BJP government is trying to do now with the sainik colony proposal. “But in power,” says Sharma, “even NC or Congress was no different.” The only difference is that, he says, it is happening at a faster pace at the moment, “and in a systematic manner”. Saffronisation of the state administration, Sharma says, is acting like a catalyst for these designs.
Perhaps it was the sign of the same Saffronisation that forced Jammu Development Authority (JDA) to use brute force to destroy Muslim property worth lakhs of rupees in anti-encroachment drives in recent past. “Since the BJP came in power,” says a top JDA official, “the process has been accelerated.”
While Muslim “encroachments” are being cleared, the official says, nobody is asking how thousands of kanals of agricultural and forest land in Jammu outskirts were converted into housing colonies by private builders. “JDA has only developed seven colonies while three were developed by J&K Housing Board till date. Rest what you see around in Jammu is proliferation of unauthorized colonies with political backing and at behest of JDA and Jammu Municipal Corporation.”
Noticing the same, Pakistan time and again castigated Delhi for “altering the demographic makeup” of J&K. But Delhi always dismissed it as Pakistan’s blitzkrieg propaganda. But facts on grounds (especially in Jammu) apparently support Islamabad’s position.
Officially, 3000 fake Permanent Resident Certificate holders (unofficially 1.25 lakh) have been found in Jammu so far. “All these designs need to be defeated cutting across political affiliations,” says Langate lawmaker Er Rasheed. “Let people of Jammu understand the sensitivity of the issue and wake up to protect the special status and rights of the people of state.”
But perhaps, it is not that easy – given the ‘deep systemic’ patronage received by these non-locals.
When a cop from Punjab was recently found serving in J&K police department for past many years, the popular conspiracy theories got reaffirmed. Like the cop, the two ‘influential’ non-local families from Punjab were found enrolled in J&K’s municipal electoral rolls lately. The Singlas (owners of Kashmir Steels) and the Bansals (owners of Kashmir Tubes and Narmada Steels) also figured in electoral rolls of Punjab!
Markedly, what the ‘iron lady of the India’, Indira Gandhi, couldn’t acquire in Kashmir fifty four years ago, is now being acquired freely by any non-state tom, dick and harry—who are, whether you like it or not, controversially yours!