As the BJP’s latest moves aim to earn the goodwill of Gujjars and Paharis in J&K ahead of the Assembly elections, all eyes are on Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s upcoming two-day visit to the Union Territory from October 4.
“Mr. Shah’s visit will bring a new dawn. Thousands of people are expected to participate in the rallies. There is an open invitation for all to join. We are hopeful that the Schedule Tribe demand of Paharis, a wound festering for the past seven decades, will also be addressed,” Abdul Hamid Bhat, BJP’s general secretary in Baramulla, said.
The Pahari community, a linguistic group mainly residing in the Pir Panjal valley comprising Rajouri and Poonch districts, are expecting a major push to their demand to be included in Schedule Tribe (ST) list from the Union Minister. Paharis are also spread in parts of the Kashmir valley. The move seems to be aimed at building on goodwill among smaller Muslim communities in the J&K.
Earlier this year, the Centre nominated Gulam Ali Khatana, a Gujjar Muslim from J&K, to the Rajya Sabha seat. If Schedule Tribe status is granted to Paharis, the BJP is likely to expand goodwill from the Pir Panjal valley with seven Assembly segments. Gujjars, Bakerwals and Paharis are non-Kashmiri speaking population of J&K. Paharis also comprise both Hindus and Muslims unlike Bakerwals and Gujjars, two prominent nomadic clans.
Many senior leaders, including former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussian Baig and National Conference’s Aijaz Jan, have also urged the Mr. Shah to grant Schedule Tribe status to Paharis.
“I appeal to people to participate and join the rally of Shah sahib. His visit is a welcome sign. People should make it a success and place their demands before him for justice. I am hopeful the long-pending demand to have Scheduled Tribe status for Paharis will be granted,” former Member of Parliament Mr. Baig said.
National Conference’s Mr. Jan said the anger, fuelled by abrogation of special provisions of Article 370 and 35A, will be diluted to some extent if ST status is granted to Paharis.
“We are hopeful of a full-fledged ST status for Paharis. The public rally in Rajouri will be a Paharis clan’s rally. Gujjars should not get unnerved, their reservations should be kept intact and not disturbed,” Mr. Jan said.
Meanwhile, scores of students belonging to the Gujjar and Bakerwal communities protested against any move to grant ST status to Paharis in Jammu. At present, there is 10% reservation in jobs for STs in J&K.
“We will not accept any step to grant ST status to Paharis. It will cause an identity crisis. ST status is not granted on the basis of linguistics. We warn against diluting the 10% reservation quota of Gujjars and Bakerwals,” a protesting student said.
The Union Minister is scheduled to announce development initiatives for J&K during his visit. He will also chair a meeting of security agencies to review internal security of J&K.