Intro: In the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the Opposition National Conference and its partner in power are indulging in controversies for their own sake. This needs to be condemned in the strongest words.
Incidentally, it must be said that the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir appears desperate for power. In 2002, it had partnered the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the loaves of power. It had no qualms in joining the National Conference (NC) after the 2008 Legislative Assembly elections to stay in power. That way, it had stayed in power for a straight 12 years.
Losing power after such a long time appears to have traumatised it. And staying out of power for at least another six years till this government completes its term, at least, is a trauma that is looking the Congress in the face now. Hence the desperation of its leaders. Both the NC and the Congress are thus now looking to create troubles, more imaginary than real, for the government in the state. Incidentally, the PDP and BJP under the Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, have formed a government primarily aimed at reconciling the rivalry of regions, the Kashmir Valley and the Jammu region.
The agenda of the PDP-BJP Government is also clearly spelt out: Equitable development of all the three regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. In this endeavour, the government has the full support of the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi. But the NC and the Congress seem hell bent on increasing the rivalry between the regions as this agenda of the Mufti Government looks dangerous to them.
They are seeking to create serious trouble for the Mufti Government which is grappling with a lot of challenges. The most serious challenge it faces is that of empty coffers that the NC-Congress coalition government allegedly left behind.
That is why the NC and the Congress are fanning trouble over alleged shelving of the artificial Tawi lake project in Jammu and the alleged shifting of AIIMS from Jammu to the Kashmir Valley. Public sentiment in Jammu is already simmering, on the boil like its summer now, and the NC and the Congress are playing politics on these (non-)issues.
These are non-issues aimed at raising the tempers against the Mufti Government. These non-issues are also being sought to be used by the two parties to draw a wedge between Mufti’s PDP and its coalition partner, the BJP.
These are non-issues in view of the categorical clarifications issued by Dr Jitendra Singh, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), and the PHE, Irrigation & Flood Control Minister in Mufti’s government, Sukhnandan Choudhary. The two ministers have announced that the questions of shifting AIIMS from the Jammu region, to the Kashmir Valley as is being alleged, and shelving the artificial Tawi Lake, do not arise.
The ministers were categorical in their assurances in public and there is no reason to doubt their statements. Dr Singh, an expert in the field of medical education and research, has denied publicly that any proposal for the alleged shifting of the AIIMS from Jammu was under government’s consideration. Incidentally, Dr Singh was a Professor of Medicine at the Government College & Hospital, Jammu, before seeking voluntary retirement to join politics full time. His words also carry weight as he fully understands primary, secondary and tertiary health care.
AIIMS is the first tertiary care health institution planned to be set up in the Jammu region, spreading over a vast area of over 26,000 square kilometers. In contrast, the much smaller Kashmir Valley, spread over only 16,000 sq km, already has a very good tertiary medical care institution in Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS).
Incidentally, SKIMS was set up by a NC Government headed by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah over three decades ago (it has already completed 32 years of operations). Of course, when the Sheikh decided to set up SKIMS in Kashmir, the decision had the backing of the Congress then headed by late Indira Gandhi. Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was then in the Congress.
There is a historical imbalance between the Jammu region and the Kashmir Valley created by the NC, and supported fully and silently by the Congress leadership of the state. This is just one example of the long history of discrimination against Jammu which the Mufti Government is seeking to correct. This is what it has set out to do when it says that an equitable development of all the three regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh is what it has set out to do. During the NC’s repeated stints, in different spells, be it by Sheikh, his son Dr Farooq Abdullah or grandson Omar Abdullah, it was almost an unwritten rule that the Jammu region had to be discriminated against. Party leaders from the region always had to tow the line decided by the Kashmir Valley-centric leadership. Not those things have changed for the better now.
Successive NC Governments of the Abdullah family treated the state virtually as their fief. They always treated the three regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh differently, with the Kashmir Valley always given the preferential treatment and ignoring both Jammu and Ladakh. Ironically, the NC is now attempting to fan trouble in Jammu so that its discrimination is forgotten and it is not seen as the wrong doer all these years. To prove the NC’s preferential treatment to Kashmir, these examples will suffice. Decades ago, a Government Medical College (GMC) was to be set up in the state. Later, a Regional Engineering College (REC) was to be established. This too was done in Srinagar. Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences (SKUAST) was again established in Srinagar, and not Jammu.
When militancy broke out in Kashmir many years ago, the Hindu scientists of SKUAST had to run away from Kashmir to save their lives, to Jammu. These scientists are the ones who established the so-called SKUAST-Jammu (SKUAST-J) campus at Chatha.
An institution for training physical education teachers was opened up in the state. No prizes guessing where it was established. Of course, this too was established in the Kashmir Valley, in Baramullah. Still later, Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) was established as a premier medicare institute in Srinagar. A Central University was sanctioned for Kashmir during United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. A severe agitation broke out in Jammu with the result that to quell the unrest in Jammu, a Central University was sanctioned by the UPA for Jammu also.
The UPA did not do any charity to sanction the Central University in Jammu. It was forced to. Why did it happen in the past that any and every institution was set up in Kashmir only? Why did Jammu have to always agitate to get its rightful share in power sharing with Kashmir? Why did Jammu always have to expand its energies in a futile manner always? Why does it happen, time and again, during the NC and Congress regime that an institution is only set up in Kashmir? The battle of ideas is what constitutes the essence of this democratic debate and must always go on. Or there is a chance that the government may become complacent and self-serving. And this should never be allowed to happen.
The opposition must question the government on any issue based on principles. However, it is expected that it must also congratulate the government on a praiseworthy action. It should not indulge in opposition for opposition’s sake. That should be the clear bottom-line and principles. On the alleged scrapping of the artificial Tawi Lake in Jammu city and the alleged shifting of AIIMS, from Kashmir to Jammu, the opposition is only playing dirty politics. It is a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black!
Sant Kumar Sharma (The writer is a Jammu based freelance journalist)