Young voters, including indigenous people, waiting to vote at a polling station in Bandipora, Kashmir. Four tribal groups were included among the scheduled tribes of Kashmir two months before election/ WAHID RAFIQI

By Tauseef Ahmad & Sajid Raina

Srinagar:  On 11 May 2024, the Jammu and Kashmir Pahari Cultural and Welfare Forum, a socio-cultural organisation representing the Pahari tribal community of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), issued an appeal to  its members: support People’s Conference president Sajad Gani Lone, former separatist and a candidate for the 2024 Lok Sabha election from the Baramulla  constituency in Kashmir.

Raja Aijaz Ali, president of the forum, declared at a press conference that the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the leading J&K parties, had done “grave injustice” to the Paharis, and that Lone, as social welfare minister in the erstwhile state before it was made a union territory in 2019, played a role in the 2020 decision to grant a 4% reservation to Paharis. 

As social welfare minister in 2018, Lone had been the minister in charge of the bill enabling reservations in jobs and college admissions for Paharis, more than 100,000 of whom are registered as voters in the Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency. 

As many as 1.6 million of the Pahari ethnic group were added to the list of scheduled tribes (ST) in the union territory when the Rajya Sabha passed the Constitution (Jammu and Kashmir) Scheduled Tribe Amendment Bill, 2023 on 9 February 2024. 

The Paharis are dominant in the Uri and Karnah assembly segments of Baramulla, meaning that their support was seen as a significant boost to Lone. 

The move to extend reservation benefits to four ethnic groups ahead of the elections by including them among scheduled tribes is seen by observers in Jammu and Kashmir as part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s strategy to buttress its  electoral strength in the union territory. 

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