Ex-Director General of Police and former Vice-Chancellor of Baba Ghulam Shah University, Masud Choudhary on The Straight Line Talks with Renu Kotwal.
Being an expert at both political and administrative matters and belonging to the Gujjar and Bakerwal community, we would like to ask you, why is it that the community which has so many prominent leaders is still suffering the most? Big names like Mia Altaf and Zulfiqar Choudhary who themselves were ministers in the State Cabinet belong to the same community but still ‘FOREST RIGHTS ACT’ never got implemented in our state. Why are the leaders of this community so non-serious about their own people?
Mr Masud Choudhary: It is known to all that the weak always suffers. Unfortunately our people remained away from urbanisation since many people are nomadic and even those who are settled still live in outskirt areas. The places our nomads choose to live in have no water supply, no electricity, no road connectivity and the houses also kuccha. These areas are called Gujjaristan because it is cut off from the main population.
Your question is about why the people in power of this community are not working. Presently there are seven to eight members in house and I don’t blame those in power because they are from different parties. They must follow the discipline and code of those parties which they belong to.
If Schedule Tribes got political reservation, then only this restriction would be removed. If our leaders start talking about just the Gujjar and Bakkarwal community, the other communities will discard them. They will lose. That is the bizarre thing that has happened with our community. We have job reservation but not political reservation and thus our leaders cannot voice our pains on a political platform.
Moreover, our leaders are not like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, Sir Chotu Ram who talk about their communities. It is better to not call them community leaders even because they are just here to win elections.
Since Governor Satya Pal Malik has already been bringing new laws and acts and making big changes, isn’t it high time to implement ‘THE FOREST RIGHTS ACT’ as well? Has anyone from your community met the governor regarding this?
Mr Masud Choudhary: The nomadic of all the states of our country and the Reserved Category people are always discriminated against. I can’t call it inbuilt hatred but an inbuilt indifference which is present in the prejudice of administration against SC/ST whether it is in Jammu and Kashmir or other states.
From last two years, mainly in Jammu, communalism is spreading. Like in Kathua, the Gujjar and Bakkarwal community’s population is about two percent and it is just three percent in Jammu. If ninety seven percent of people will start saying that they are causing demographic change, then this logic is senseless according to me.
They are living in border areas of Jammu and Kashmir. They are contributing towards the nation. There are no complaints against this community. They live in forests but never harm the forest resources. The people who are invading forest land illegally are land mafia. These people are poor and live under tents in forest. Unfortunately from the last two years, these innocent people are targeted. PDP wanted to do something for this community but its alliance was not with a party which favoured the interests of this community.
In other states like Odisha and Bihar ‘Forest Rights Act’ has helped tribal communities in contributing towards the economy. So this act should be implemented in our state too like rest of the country. In Jammu and Kashmir some people want to ignite communal violence.
Both Congress and NC had ruled in J&K for a long time. But what is the reason behind the fact that none of these political parties and big Gujjar leaders tried to bring the forest right act into light even before communalism was an element in J&K?
Mr Masud Choudhary: As I said already that there is an indifference against ST in the whole country. Everyone believes ‘let it be as it is.’
Do you think Gujjar Bakkarwal community is used only and for vote bank? Are they used during the election rallies and then they disappear?
Mr Masud Choudhary: You know their traditional dressing sense has such aura that they can be easily recognised as Gujjar. They are not in huge numbers in election rallies but due to their different style they get the attention even when they are present in any rally in small numbers. But this vote bank politics won’t go on for long.
There was a time when our community was uneducated. If I talk about my time, I was among the two or three people who were postgraduate. Now the time has changed, our people are now in Indian Administrative services and many are in State Services. Our people are moving forward.
Earlier political parties didn’t bother about us but now our own people are in politics. Why would a Gujjar vote for someone else? Gujjars believe that neither do we have power, nor can we be Chief Minister, so all they want is relief from problems that they face.
During last two years in Jammu, people have tried communalising the area but it hasn’t happened. Some people have also helped our community during tough times. Majority wants peace but few people want disturbance in state.
After Rasana case, Tribal activism got initiated in your community. Yet, it was seen that the tribal activists blamed each other over corruption and other money matters. Instead of fighting for Asifa they were fighting with each other. What is your view on this kind of activism?
Mr Masud Choudhary: First of all I want to say that in Rasana case, the CM played a very positive role. There was pressure but still CM did not compromise. Two of BJP leaders tried to communalise the incident but Jammu’s people are wise they didn’t get trapped in this propaganda.
If I talk about tribal activism there are internal conflicts. Every tribe has a tribal chief and among them there is a hoard for domination. The incident which took place in Vijaypur Samba was disheartening. But what comes out of it is that, there are conflicts but there is awareness too. You cannot trample the tribals. Both administration and Police were with tribals in Rasana case, they worked without pressure. There is a saying in our community ”SEB GUJJARO KI NANI EK HAI”. There can be internal conflicts but we stand and believe in our community.
Kashmiris call Gujjars core nationalists. After Rasana case, Jammu started socially boycotting Gujjars. So, if we talk about the common Gujjar, where does he stand?
Mr Masud Choudhary: Gujjar’s are misunderstood by everyone. The Kashmiris are more nationalists than us. They are in the Administration and many other governmental organisations. Their salaries come from Indian government.
Gujjars are courageous. They are not afraid to live in Jammu or Kashmir. The most important thing is that they have nothing to lose in Jammu and nothing to lose in Kashmir either. They neither have property in Kashmir that will get destroyed nor do they have palaces in Jammu. Gujjars are loyal towards the nation, they are not agents of Pakistan or anyone.
The political situation in the state is difficult to understand. But Gujjars cannot be lured on either side. Yes, religious affiliations are present in Kashmir but people stood with tribals in the Rasana case. In the end, it is not about choosing a side.
There are many political parties and organisations that have sprung up in both Jammu and Kashmir. So, in which direction the state politics is going? Is it a fractured mandate or an invisible consolidation?
Mr Masud Choudhary: See, currently it is difficult to understand. After gaining Independence we were taught in school, college and university that Mahatma Gandhi is the ‘father of nation;. He is everyone’s ”Bapu”. From the last two years, people are building temples of his murderer.
We always addressed Nehru as ”Chacha Nehru’. The new generation has begun calling Nehru as a destructive leader and no one is condemning such acts. It has created a confusion in the whole nation. PDP and BJP alliance was a hope but it didn’t work. If you read the history of India we find that Hindustanis have never accepted extremists. Here, all the communities live together and move together.
If we talk about MP and Rajasthan, they are called as Hindi heartland because it has majority Hindi speaking people and Muslim population is low in these states. You cannot call UP as Hindi heartland because it has 20% Muslim population. In present scenario BJP is ruling in both states and centre and yet the results of these recent elections is result of extremism. Today Kashmiris are more conscious about political situations. They hear news on radio and T.V and care more about what is happening around them. A basic truth is that common people don’t like violence and hatred.
Do you think NC is strong in Kashmir and Congress is getting revived in Jammu?
Mr Masud Choudhary: People of J&K want a stable government. If the Governor hadn’t dissolved the assembly, a grand alliance would have happened. If Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav can form an alliance, why can’t we? I don’t want to speak about NC but they have improved their performance in politics. I can’t see congress anywhere right now. BJP has support in Jammu, they won 25-26 seats last time. But people are not happy with BJP’s rule. So one thing is sure, there will be no independent party government. There will be an alliance.