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Paharis, PoK refugees expecting ST status during Shah’s 3rd visit to J&K

Amit Shah is expected to take call on the number of nomination seats for Kashmiri migrants and PoK refugees in the Legislative Assembly as suggested in the Delimitation Commission report (Image courtesy: Twitter/@AmitShah)

Union Home Minister Amit Shah is expected to announce a special status to nearly a million Paharis and Pahari-speaking people in his forthcoming visit to Jammu and Kashmir next weekend.

Authoritative sources revealed to IndiaNarrative.com, that during his visit to the Union Territory on October 1-2, Shah would be unfolding a special package, including reservation in government jobs and some seats in the Legislative Assembly, for the Paharis and the Pahari-speaking people, including the refugees from Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) who could be brought at par with the Gujjar population in enjoying these benefits.

If it matures, it will be Shah’s third visit to Jammu and Kashmir after withdrawal of its special status and break up into the two separate UTs in August 2019. “Everything has been put in place. But we are waiting for the final confirmation from New Delhi”, said a senior bureaucratic source. According to him, as desired by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, all arrangements were being done for Shah’s visit to the Pahari-dominated Rajouri and Poonch districts in Jammu besides Kupwara and Baramulla in the Kashmir valley.

Currently the benefits of Scheduled Tribe (ST) status in job reservations and seats in J&K Assembly are limited to only the Gujjars whose current population is estimated at 13 lakhs. There has been no census of the Pahari and Pahari-speaking population after 1941. Journalist Zaffar Choudhary, a Gujjar from Jammu as also a Kashmir-based former Pahari legislator, put the number of the Paharis at around 8 lakh. Their main concentration is in Rajouri, Poonch, Kupwara and Baramulla districts.

“It will be difficult for the Centre to outrightly make Paharis and Pahari-speaking people share-holders in the reservations for which the Supreme Court has fixed the limit of 50%. It can create an unrest among the Gujjars. But Home Minister can grant a package of benefits to Paharis on geographical basis. Rather than being universal, it could be an area specific reservation”, Choudhary said.

There is a palpable unrest among the Gujjars with regard to speculations of the ST status to the Paharis. A number of retired government officers and Gujjar intellectuals have opposed the ST reservation to the Paharis in social media. However, none of the prominent Gujjar politicians has uttered a word in opposition to the suggestion. “This makes it clear that Amit Shah ji would go ahead with grant of ST or ST-like status to the Paharis and the Pahari-speaking population. Almost all the PoJK refugees are Pahari-speaking”, said a former Minister from the community.

Shah’s main engagement would also be to trigger the BJP’s campaign for the UT’s first Assembly elections which are expected to take place either in December-January or anytime next year. At Rajouri, Kupwara and Uri (Baramulla), he is expected to hold interactions with the members of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs). Arrangements are underway for his address to at least two public rallies, one each in Kashmir and Jammu.

In October 2021, Shah conducted a 4-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir. It was his first visit to Srinagar and Jammu after J&K’s reorganisation in 2019. Later in March 2022, Shah visited Jammu, mainly to attend the Raising Day ceremony of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). In New Delhi, he has been taking regular reviews of J&K’s political and security scenario with the top Police, civil administration, paramilitary, Army and intelligence officials.

Rajouri, the border district of Jammu and home to the BJP’s J&K President Ravinder Raina, has been a key destination of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah after 2019. Before Shah, Modi visited Rajouri twice in the last 3 years, though his schedules were fully dedicated to the Army. He was keen to celebrate Diwali with the soldiers.

Sources said that on his return to Jammu from Rajouri on October 1, Shah was likely to hold a meeting with the BJP leaders, including former Ministers and legislators. He would brief them about the strategy to be adopted in contesting the forthcoming Assembly elections.

Before returning to New Delhi on October 2, Shah is scheduled to address a public meeting with thick attendance from the members of the Gujjar and Pahari communities at Kupwara. BJP’s Kashmir unit is currently making arrangements for Shah’s first political rally in Kupwara– for decades known as the “Gateway of Militancy”. This will be virtually the beginning of the BJP’s campaign for the Assembly elections.

Shah is also likely to hold a security review meeting with Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and senior officers of all security agencies engaged in counterterrorism.

Significantly Shah is expected to take call on the number of nomination seats for Kashmiri migrants and PoK refugees in the Legislative Assembly as suggested in the Delimitation Commission report released and adopted early this year. In the erstwhile J&K State Assembly, Governor was competent to nominate two women as members on the recommendation of the Chief Minister.

The Delimitation Commission has recommended nomination of two Kashmiri migrants, including one woman, to the J&K UT Assembly. It has also suggested that refugees from PoK could also be nominated to the Assembly but their numbers have not been mentioned. However, the BJP’s J&K unit has proposed nomination of 8 members from the PoJK refugees.

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