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Amit Shah in J&K, Can Announce ST Status for Paharis: Community Pride, Neighbor’s Envy?

The Union’s interior minister, Amit Shah, began his three-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Monday, amid unexpected support from the Pahari community for whom he could announce a sort of “bonanza”.

Speculation is that Shah will grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the community at his meetings in Rajouri and Baramulla on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.

The Pahari community has inflicted a deep wound against the regional parties in Kashmir for not granting them ST status, unlike the Gujjars and Bakerwals decades ago.

The two communities are neighbors in the hilly area, but there has always been a quiet battle between the two.

GUJJARS SULK

Over the past few months, amid news of the Shah’s visit, Pahari leaders, regardless of party affiliations, have silently called on their supporters to join the demonstrations in large numbers.

The buzz about ST status for Paharis, which led to reservations in government jobs, scholarships, admission to colleges and universities, has stoked the Gujjars. They think they are disadvantaged by this, as Paharis outperform them in jobs, economy and fame.

The likely ’empowerment’ of Paharis has led to disagreements among executives in the National Conference (NC). While the Paharis look forward to Shah’s visit and openly support him, the Gujjar tribe is annoyed.

In Shopian, some Gujjar members asked the government not to tamper with the community’s ST status. Guftar Chowdhary, a young Gujjar leader from Pir Panjal, told News 18 that the Center should reconsider the proposed move and not grant status to the ‘well-heeled’ community and bring down the Gujjars.

“Why should the Guptas, Vermas, Syeds, Mirzas who ruled the region in the past get ST status,” he asked, adding that “the creamy strata of society” should be excluded.

CELEBRATING PAHARIS

While the Gujjars are sulking, the Paharis seem to be in a party mood. Khafil ul Rehman, a senior NC leader and former MLA, in a meeting with his supporters urged them to join the rally in Baramulla on Wednesday.

“We all need to join the rally and show our collective strength. I want you to sit in the front row at the meeting of Amit Shah Saheb. If we don’t achieve ST status today, we will never get it,” he told the rally in Tangdhar, a constituency close to the Line of Control that has a mix of Gujjar and Pahari communities.

He said he has 20 buses ready for their journey to Baramulla, where Shah will hold a meeting on Wednesday.

Muzaffar Baig, former Deputy Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and a formidable Pahari leader from Baramulla, in a video message asked his supporters to make Shah’s demonstration a success.

“Shah Saheb will meet the demand we’ve been asking for the past 35 years. It will be a positive and historic decision. I appeal to everyone to attend the rally and demand justice,” he said.

OTHERS RESPOND

In recent weeks, Mushtaq Bukhari, a senior NC leader from Rajouri, Mohammad Ehsan of PDP, and several others have resigned and openly supported the BJP on the issue of granting ST status to Paharis.

Former J&K chief Mehbooba Mufti claimed on Saturday that the BJP polarized communities using the ST status bait. In a tweet in which she posted a video byte, she called on communities to stay united.

“There is tension in Pir Panjal following the visit of the Interior Minister and the likely announcement of ST status. Old relationships are torn apart. First Hindus and Muslims were pitted against each other and now they want the Gujjars and Paharis to fight,” she noted.

However, BJP senior leader and former deputy CM Nirmal Singh hit back at Mufti saying that it was her party and others in Kashmir that pit communities, religions, regions and tribes against each other and that his party stands for inclusiveness and empowerment of all.

Meanwhile, Shah’s announcement of granting ST status to the Pahari community needs a follow-up in parliament if it is to become law. The reservation will be a first in the country being donated to a language group. To this end, the Center would have to amend the Reservation Act.

Granting Paharis ST status, many say, could boost the BJP’s chances in Jammu and Kashmir, where nine seats are reserved for the community.

Although the elections in J&K are not yet scheduled, many see Shah’s J&K visit as a harbinger of the polls.

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