The four bills set for passage by the BJP in the ongoing winter session of Parliament concerning Jammu and Kashmir are strategically aligned with the party's electoral objectives in the Union Territory.
Before the imposition of Central rule in June 2018, Jammu and Kashmir's quota laws already favoured Jammu over Kashmir.
Changes introduced by the Centre-appointed lieutenant governor headed Jammu and Kashmir administrations in the last four-and-a-half years have further skewed these laws in favour of Jammu where most of the BJP’s supporters are based.
These bills stem from recommendations put forth by a three-member committee headed by retired Justice G.D. Sharma, alongside Munir Ahmad Khan and Rup Lal Bharati.
Established in March 2020 by the Union Territory's appointed government, the committee's suggestions paved the way for bills including The Constitution (Jammu & Kashmir) Scheduled Tribes Order (Amendment) Bill, 2023; The Constitution (Jammu and Kashmir) Scheduled Castes Order (Amendment) Bill, 2023; and The Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023. These bills aim to recognise new social groups such as Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes, and Other Backward Classes respectively.
The BJP's underlying aim appears to be creating a social coalition to secure electoral wins in Jammu and Kashmir. Specifically, The Constitution (Jammu and Kashmir) Scheduled Tribes Order (Amendment) Bill, 2023 targets the politically significant Pahari community (predominantly Muslim in Jammu's Rajouri and Poonch, also known as Pir Panjal) and a few other tribes/communities in J&K's Scheduled Tribes list. This aligns with the BJP's strategy to engage with the Pahari-speaking population in Jammu's Pir Panchal region, where they hold the majority in seven out of eight segments.
Granting Scheduled Tribe status to the Paharis enables their eligibility to contest polls on reserved seats designated by the delimitation commission. This is crucial for the BJP due to the demographic dynamics in Pir Panchal. The 2011 census highlights their majority presence in several segments.
The BJP's attention to the Pir Panchal region is apparent from its past successes and efforts to maintain a delicate balance between various communities, particularly the Gujjar-Bakerwals and the newly proposed Scheduled Tribes like Paharis.
The bill, The Constitution (Jammu and Kashmir) Scheduled Castes Order (Amendment) Bill, 2023, aims to include the Valmiki community in the Scheduled Castes list of Jammu and Kashmir. The third bill proposes renaming "Weak and Underprivileged Classes (Social Castes)" as "Other Backward Classes," thereby expanding the OBC list to include 15 additional communities/classes, such as West Pakistan refugees and Gorkhas.
The majority of the newly recognised OBC groups hail from Jammu, seen as a BJP stronghold since the 2014 shift in Hindu votes toward the party.
This trend of favouring Jammu over Kashmir in reservation laws is evident across various aspects, spanning job quotas to admissions in professional colleges. The proposed alterations further tip the scales in favour of Jammu, underscoring a historical advantage for the region in these domains.
The changes in reservation laws have notably impacted the selection processes for key positions, as seen in the recent civil service examination where candidates from Kashmir were significantly underrepresented. There are concerns that these shifts in reservation policies heavily favour Jammu, exacerbating disparities between the regions.
This imbalance in reservation policies could have profound socio-economic implications for Kashmir, which is recovering from the years of turmoil and opportunities available to people in other parts of the country post-liberalisation in the '90s.
Observers stress the need for a more nuanced and comprehensive approach to ensure equitable representation and opportunity across regions and communities in Jammu and Kashmir.
They believe that after having increased the number of assembly seats by six in Jammu against one, the BJP has made serious efforts to accrue benefits to the Hindu majority in Jammu to retain the support that the party has earned since 2009 following the Amarnath land agitation.