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Three's company


The demand for a separate Jammu state has existed since the early 1950s, when Jammu and Kashmir was granted special status under Article 370 of the Constitution. Elements within the saffron-backed Praja Parishad, in a violent reaction to the granting of this status, were the first to demand statehood for Jammu. Balraj Madhok had founded the Parishad on the RSS's existing base in Jammu.

The Parishad spoke about the golden days of Dogra rule over J&K and sought public support "to get rid of the Kashmiri domination". The Kashmiri leadership dismissed the agitation as "a reactionary and communal revolt by a handful of feudal lords and parasitic classes that opposed agrarian reforms for having removed the social base of their power". Jawaharlal Nehru, too, opposed the Parishad's "narrow communal approach".

Academic Navnita Chadha Behera notes that the movement did not acquire a mass character "owing to its limited social base, especially in the rural areas (that had benefitted from the land reforms even in Jammu..."
Outfits like the Jammu Mukti Morcha (JMM), founded in March 1990, too have championed the cause. They believe that it is the only way to address "regional political and economic imbalances" and argue that Jammu's geography also supports the idea. They say it is a well-defined natural region, bound by the Ravi in the south and Pir Panjal in the north, with a distinct cultural and historical identity.

Behera in her book Demystifying Kashmir notes that the JMM failed to mobilise mass support for its cause, "in part because the organisation is of recent origin and its founders, a group of intellectuals, have confined their activities mainly to processions, strikes and memorandums..." Behera notes that the Union home ministry is believed to have propped up the outfit to "counteract the Kashmiri demand for independence. "

The JMM joined hands with the RSS and was renamed as the Jammu State Morcha to contest the 2002 elections. It lost 10 of the 11 seats that it contested.

Ladakhis have also been seeking union territory status for the region since 1947. The Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) revived the demand after communal tensions broke out in the region following a minor scuffle between a Buddhist and some Muslim youth in Leh in 1989. The LBA called for a boycott of Kashmiri Muslims and for freeing Ladakh from Kashmir. "The social boycott against Kashmiri Muslims was soon extended to the local Muslims, rupturing the centuries old bonds of amity, " writes Behera.
The LBA dropped the demand in favour of an Autonomous Hill Council in October 1989 on the lines of a similar council in Darjeeling. The arrangement provided a mechanism of self-governance.

But an umbrella group - the Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF) - was formed in 2002 to revive the demand yet again as the council remained hamstrung. Two LUTF members were elected unopposed to the state assembly. The front broke in 2005 and dealt a blow to the unified fight for the demand.

Communal undertones have frustrated the efforts to wangle separate statehood for Jammu state and union territory status for Ladakh. In fact, J&K's division has been a sensitive issue since it would involve the state's trifurcation into a largely Hindu Jammu, Muslim-majority Kashmir and Buddhist-dominated Ladakh.

Sumit Ganguly echoes the belief in his book The Kashmir question : Retrospect and Prospect. He writes, if the demand is conceded, it could lead "to violent social disruptions in the state, polarise the community. . . and unleash perilous consequences for communal relations in the rest of India".

The argument is premised on the fact that J&K has long stood as a refutation of the two-nation theory and its trifurcation essentially on communal lines would compromise the basis of how India defines its nationhood. "... trifurcation would forever end the possibility of reviving the plural traditions of communal harmony in the state that was once a symbol of the very idea of India, " writes Ganguly. "It is no coincidence that the only group in the Kashmir Valley that has supported the idea of the division of the state is the Jamat-e-Islami. "

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