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Poll blow to Jammu statehood call

Srinagar, Oct. 12: Few issues had aroused such intense political passion during the campaign for the election to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly as the demand for a separate statehood for Jammu and Union Territory status for Ladakh.

“Trifurcation” was the slogan that dominated the electoral campaigns in both Jammu and Ladakh. The 2002 electoral verdict has dealt a deep blow to the advocates of a separate state for Jammu, but those seeking to convert Ladakh into a union territory are stronger than ever before.

In Jammu, the campaign for a separate statehood is led by the Jammu State Morcha, an umbrella alliance of some 20 groups. The RSS supported the Morcha and the BJP entered into an electoral alliance with it. While publicly the BJP distanced itself from the demand for a separate state, privately it was known that most of the leaders in its local unit were in favour of Jammu’s statehood.

The electoral results have proved to be a disaster for both the Morcha and the BJP, which has managed to win only one seat, compared to the nine it won in the last Assembly elections. Besides, only one Independent candidate, a Congress rebel linked to the Morcha, has managed to win a seat to the new Assembly.

One of the biggest losses for the Morcha was the defeat of Virendra Gupta. A professor at the Jammu University, Gupta is one of the ideologues of the alliance from Jammu West constituency, situated within Jammu city and believed to house the core of the support for a separate state.

Why did the Morcha and the BJP fail' Clearly, issues of governance were ranked higher than the separatist plank. But, more critically, voters seem to have been put off by the expedient and “confused” politics of the BJP and, by association, that of the Sangh parivar. For instance, although allied with the National Conference at the Centre, the BJP was deeply opposed to it at the state level; the state BJP had entered into a tactical alliance with the Morcha, while its central leadership was denouncing the demand for a separate state.

The BJP and the Morcha may have lost, but it is unlikely that the movement for a separate statehood will die down easily. For one, there are clearly forces outside the Sangh parivar which are also in favour of detaching Jammu from Kashmir.

The Jammu Kashmir National Panthers Party, led by Bhim Singh, has won an unprecedented four seats in Jammu. The Panthers Party, too, is believed to have vigorously campaigned for statehood.

In another, not surprising development, the convener of the All Party Statehood Movement, Yash Bhasin, has accused the RSS of trying to hijack the “movement for a separate state”, and declared that the Sangh parivar’s efforts have failed. Instead, he argued that the Panthers Party has “emerged as the nucleus of the movement for reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir”.

While the movement for trifurcation in Jammu may take some time to revive, the demand for making Ladakh into a separate Union Territory has been given a tremendous boost by the election results. The two Assembly seats in Leh district went uncontested to members of the Ladakh Union Territory Front.

Hours before the nominations were filed, all major political parties in the district dissolved themselves into the new Front. Although the Front was formed by the Buddhist majority of Leh, it secured the support of the Muslims for the two candidates, but not for the demand for carving out a separate Union Territory.

In Kargil district of Ladakh, the picture is mixed. While the National Conference retained one of the seats, it lost the other to an Independent. It is clear, however, that the residents of Kargil, mostly Shiite Muslims, are not in favour of a Union Territory status for Ladakh.

The demand for a division of the state, per se, is not new. The UN mediator, Sir Own Dixon, had recommended a partition of the state in 1950, and elements within the Praja Parishad agitation of the early 1950s had also sought that Ladakh and Jammu be detached from the Valley if full integration of the state was not achieved quickly.

More recently, however, is the widespread feeling within Jammu and Leh of deprivation as well as political and economic discrimination by politicians from Kashmir.

It was being argued that not only will separation from Kashmir ensure better governance, more economic opportunities and a greater share of political power, but Jammu and Leh would also be able to distance themselves from militancy.

This logic is considered dangerous for several reasons. Trifurcation will destroy the composite identity of the state, which has existed as one unit since 1846, and send a dangerous message to the whole nation. If Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists cannot live together in one state, can they do so in a larger entity'

It would most probably lead to a transfer of Muslims from various parts of Jammu, including parts of the city and also Doda, Rajouri and Poonch, assuming that the whole province was made into a separate state.

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