Ahead of the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, which are likely to be held next year, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in a move to woo the voters, granted Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to nearly 12 lakh Pahari community in the region.
The announcement was reportedly made by Union Home Minister and BJP leader Amit Shah in October this year during his visit to the region.
“Thanks, HM Sh@AmitShah Ji for conceding the long pending demand of granting ST status to the #Pahari community. This could have been possible only in a government headed by PM Sh@narendramodi Ji which has the courage and conviction to transform #JammuAndKashmir,” Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh wrote on his Twitter handle.
Prominent Pahari community leader, former minister and once the close confidante of Farooq Abdullah (former J&K CM), Syed Mushtaq Bukhari, who had quit the National Conference in February this year, said, “The struggle of 40 years has finally paid off. We are thankful to the BJP government.”
“Credit goes to the BJP. Congress always sabotaged our cause. We are highly thankful to the home minister and prime minister because justice has been finally delivered to us,” said Bukhari.
“It was the reason why I left National Conference Party. If there is nothing wrong when Farooq Abdullah talks about Kashmiris, Pt Prem Nath Dogra talked about Dogras and Mian Altaf talks about Gujjars then how Mushtaq Bukhari could be wrong when he demanded justice for the Paharis,” he said.
“My struggle has succeeded. Even if I don’t join BJP then also I will fully support them,” added Bukhari.
Further speaking about joining the BJP, Bukhari said that no offer from the BJP has yeat come to him to join the saffron party.
He, however, candidly admitted that the ST status was part of the BJP’s pre-poll strategy to win the trust of over 12 lakh Pahari community before the upcoming assembly elections.
“It is the biggest ever gift to my community and we are highly obliged to the BJP and do whatever is required from us,” he averred.
Amit Shah at his Rajouri rally on October 4 had promised to provide the ST status to the Pahari community and assured that “the reservation quota of Gujjar and Bakerwals won’t be affected.”
In his speech, Shah had taken a swipe at Congress, the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for “depriving Gujjars, Bakerwals and Paharis from their rights since 1947.”
Pahari community, it may be stated, largely resides in Rajouri, Poonch, Baramulla, Anantnag and Kupwara districts.
While the 2011 census puts the Gujjar-Bakerwal population at 1.25 million, Paharis claimed their population is over two million in Jammu and Kashmir. However, as per a rough census estimate, their population stands at one million.
The community is largely found in the region between the Jhelum and Chenab rivers in the districts of Poonch and Rajouri in Jammu and Uri of Baramulla district and Karnah and Tanghdar in Kupwara district.