Gujjars want to be party to talks over Kashmir
24 October 2000
The Asian Age
Chandigarh: The Gujjar-Bakkarwal community of Jammu & Kashmir has demanded the inclusion of its representatives in any future talks that the Government of India might open with any terrorist organisation of the valley. Articulating this at a news conference in Chandigarh on Monday, a Poonch-based Gujjar leader, Mr Shamshir Hakla Poonchi said: “There can be no lasting solution to the Kashmir tangle without taking our people into confidence.” According to him, there are more than two million Gujjars and Bakkarwals living in Jammu and Kashmir, who must be accorded their due recognition and representation in any future political or administrative structure that is evolved. Mr Poonchi warned that there could be dangerous consequences for India if proper steps were not taken to protect the Gujjar-Bakkarwal interests in Jammu and Kashmir. “Our community is spread across five states, and we are, therefore, capable of launching and sustaining a country-wide campaign,” he warned. Elaborating his position, Mr Poonchi said: “Our people, irrespective of the fact whether they are Muslims or Hindus, have always been true patriots, devoted to the Indian cause. We want to ensure that the ruling National Conference government’s two-faced anti-nationalism finds no place in a future Kashmir.” He made an outright rejection of the Farooq Abdullah government’s controversial autonomy resolution demanding a reversion to the pre-1953 status for Kashmir. “The Government of India must see through the evil, anti-India designs of the Abdullah clan,”he said. The Gujjar leader, however, said he saw nothing wrong in opening a dialogue with the Muslim militants with a view to re-integrating them to the national mainstream. “If it means lasting peace and prosperity for all sections of Kashmiris, we are even willing to accept the leadership of those who are currently part of militant tanzeems like the Hizbul Mujahideen, provided they lay down arms. If they contest the elections and win, we will happily accept them,” he said. Mr Poonchi insisted that the people of Jammu and Kashmir had never been allowed to exercise their democratic right of freely electing their own leaders. “Elections in the state have consistently been a sham exercise where the Government of India has repeatedly employed its might to promote and install the Abdullah family despite their obviously suspect credentials,” he said. To prove his contention, he said in spite of being in a more than 40 per cent majority in as many as 21 Assembly and at least two parliamentary constituencies, the Gujjar-Bakkarwal community has never got adequate representation in the legislature. The Gujjar leader also pointed out that the delineation of the Assembly and parliamentary constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir are skewed and are not based on population or geographic area.