Abandoning Darbar Move; Why? Why Not?

Abandoning Darbar Move; Why? Why Not?

Haroon Reshi

Taking important decisions regarding Jammu and Kashmir in a hurried manner has become a new norm since New Delhi bifurcated the state into two Union Territories (UTs) and revoked its internal autonomy on August 5, 2019. Since then a range of political and administrative decisions was taken by just issuing circulars or statements either from Home Ministry in Delhi or Lieutenant Governor’s (LG) office in J&K.

On June 20, LG Manoj Sinha, in a public address announced the ending of Jammu & Kashmir’s 149-year-old ritual of ‘Darbar Move’ — a biannual practice of shifting civil secretariat and other offices including Raj Bhawan and Chief Minister’s offices for six months each in summer capital Srinagar and winter capital Jammu. He announced, “Now both the Jammu and Srinagar secretariats can function normally for 12 months. This will save the government Rs 200 crore per year, which will be used for the welfare of the deprived sections.”

This announcement was followed by an order issued by Commissioner Secretary, Estates Department, M Raju, on June 30, asking employees to vacate the ‘Darbar Move’ related accommodations at both places, in Srinagar and Jammu, within 21 days.

This way, the practice started by Maharaja Gulab Singh, the then Dogra Maharaja, in 1872, came to an end after 149 years. It is believed that the autocratic rulers had started the bi-annual shifting to escape from difficult climatic conditions in the two regions —harsh winter in Srinagar and scorching summer in Jammu. However, post-Dogra era the politicians across Jammu and Kashmir claimed that the ‘Darbar Move’ practices continued to forge an emotional integration of the people of two regions. The question that how far the durbar move has served its perceived objective of regional integration or good governance is a matter of conjecture, although.

In the late 80’s the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had ridiculed the Darbar Move practice in J&K during his visit to the Valley. Gandhi was stuck in the Valley due to the heavy snowfall and the government, at that time, was functioning from Jammu. The prime minister opposing the Darbar Move practice went to the extent of accusing the state government of staging an escape from people’s problems.

In a public meeting, the prime minister in the presence of then chief minister Farooq Abdullah had said: “When the people face problems in Kashmir during harsh winter, the government escapes to Jammu and likewise, when Jammu’s hot weather makes life miserable, it runs away to the valley to enjoy its pleasant ambiance.” In the context of this particular occurrence, Farooq Abdullah attempted to lessen the burden of ‘Darbar Move’ by shifting only 17 departments to Jammu and keeping 20 others permanently in Srinagar, in October 1987. His move, however, was halted due to the agitation led by Bar Association Jammu.

However, the significance of the Darbar Move has remained a topic of debate in J&K for quite a long time. Even the J&K High Court, last summer, taking a suo moto cognizance of the issue, had suggested that the annual Darbar Move ritual be stopped. The bench headed by then Chief Justice Gita Mittal pronounced that the decision-makers should review the ‘Darbar Move’ practice keeping in mind the financial implications incurred by the “hopelessly fiscally deprived Union Territory”.

As per the information produced to the court by the authorities, an allowance equivalent to 50,000 per annum is paid to employees involved in the shift. On every move, hundreds of truckloads of files and other pieces of equipment are being ferried from Srinagar to Jammu and vice versa.

The court was also informed that a huge amount was being spent on the surveillance and security for the ‘Darbar Move’ with the deployment of a large number of security personal. Estate’s department, in its affidavit, informed the court that Rs 127 crore was spent for providing accommodation to such employees during 2018-19 and 2019-20.

On the government decision of ending the 149-year-old ritual of ‘Darbar Move’, a mixed reaction by the people and the political parties in Jammu and Valley was observed. Many have opposed the decision saying stopping the practice will impact social, cultural, and economic connectivity between the two regions. However, some have applauded the decision saying it will ease out the burden on the exchequer. Some say that the decision about continuing or ending this one and half-century old tradition should have been taken only after a thorough consultation with the people of both regions, or at least the decision should have been left to be taken by an elected government in the future. KASHMIR IMAGES spoke with some politicians and analysts about the issue. Here are the excerpts:

‘Darbar Move’ has been a ritual in Jammu and Kashmir for about 150 years, without any interruption. Such historical practices usually become essential parts of the lives of the concerned people and their culture and history; and the sudden scraping of such rituals are bound to give them a sense of emotional loss. The material loss in these cases is always secondary.

While discarding the tradition of ‘Darbar Move’, the government has justified its move by saying that every Darbar Move caused a loss of Rs 200 crores to the exchequer, in terms of spending on security arrangements and transportation of the official records and equipments from one place to another. However, the same government had earlier claimed that it is in the process of digitalization of the official records to ensure the smooth functioning of the e-Office. That means, after the completion of digitalization of the official records, there was no need to ferry the truckloads of files with ‘Darbar Move’ now.

As for as spending on security arrangements is concerned, one can argue that these expenditures are not being done because of ‘Darbar Move’ itself, rather they are done due to the abnormal situation in the region. The security expenditures would go down unquestionably once the violence ends and peace is restored. In this scenario, there would be no need to provide accommodations to the employees in the security zones, as well.

Even if the Darbar Move really causes a brunt of Rs 200 hundred crores on the exchequer, it is not a big deal for a region like J&K that has a one lakh crore annual budget. It is like peanuts for the government.

Also, I do not agree with those who argue that since there has been a growing conflict between the people of two regions, the Darbar Move scraping would ease out the anxiety among the people of both regions. The tradition of ‘Darbar Move’ has never been a cause of conflict between the people of two regions. People of both regions have developed a sense of resentment towards each other over the years because of some other situations and reasons, and I think confrontations and clashes of interests in people occur at every place that is grappling with conflict.

Similarly, I disagree with those who assume that abandoning Darbar Move might be an attempt to pave the way for further bifurcation of J&K. I strongly believe that there would be no further bifurcation. I say this because further bifurcation would neither suit the security arrangement of the region nor would it serve any political interest of the government.

That said, I think even after feeling the emotional loss due to the ending of the ‘Darbar Move; people in both regions would start living with the new change. There are ample examples where people are living in the same state or region, yet delinked. Take for example, Uttar Pradesh (UP): One would find many people living in the eastern part of that state but never been to its western part. Many people from Banaras might have never been to Lucknow and vice versa, yet all these people are identified with the same state. This would also be the case with the people of Jammu and the Valley.

To conclude I would say that it is very difficult to gauge the impact of scraping Darbar Move tradition on the people of J&K. That is because of the lack of any significant public reaction to this decision. Many things and situations that, earlier, used to be the identification of J&K have been changed over the years, particularly during the past two years and yet people did not show their resentment to the change. In the absence of the reaction from people, one cannot measure the impact of these decisions on the masses.

Since ‘Darbar Move’ was an unprecedented tradition found only in Jammu and Kashmir region; I think, sooner or later, this system was supposed to be abandoned, or at least to be upgraded as per the requirements of the modern era.

This is the age of technology. Shifting offices from one place to another would not be effective and workable. Apart from huge expenditures on shifting of the offices, this Darbar Move practice had some other demerits as well. For example, every time offices at the civil secretariat would stop working a week ago before they actual move from one place to another; and then it used to take another week to set the offices to restore the work at second place. All this used to happen twice a year and it eventually would cause a loss of time. The ‘Darbar Move’ practice had been a cause of controversies many times in the past as well. Although common people from Jammu or the Valley have never been in conflict with each other because of this traditional practice, it has indeed created conflicts of political nature in both regions. The question, whether the capital of J&K should be in Srinagar or in Jammu was always a point of discussion and disagreement in political circles. However, while stopping the tradition of Darbar Move, the government has not touched the sensitive question of capital, and that is good.

As for as the social, economic, and cultural bonds of the people between the two regions is concerned, I don’t think that stoppage of Darbar Move tradition would impact these bilateral relations of the people. I am sure people from the Valley would continue to come to Jammu in winters to get refuge from the harsh winter days. Also, a large number of Kashmiri students are studying in educational institutions and coaching centers in Jammu. They will also continue staying in Jammu.

People from the Jammu region had already stopped visiting Kashmir due to the abnormal situation in the Valley. During the past 30 years, only Kashmiris used to come to Jammu, and I think most of them will continue to come.

Most of the decisions about J&K are taken haphazardly, and even the constitutional changes are made out of the blue during rcent future. The swift decision to close the ‘Darbar Move’ is no exception. The government has said that since the digitization of the records has been done, there is no need to ferry the staff from one capital to another. I appreciate the digitization of official records, but I would like to know how would a computer work in absence of a human being? No matter how much digitized we go, the human element is very important for the functioning of a government. Even though election campaigns can be held through virtual mode, yet politicians go for physical and face-to-face interaction with the people. It is only because humans connect an emotional bond with each other, machines do not. If the people of Jammu and the Valley do not meet each other, then what is the fun of having regional integration?

Moreover, the ending of the Darbar Move will have its economic repercussion on the people of two regions, particularly the traders of Jammu. I also wonder why they did not wait for the elections to let the elected representatives of both regions take a decision on ‘Darbar Move’, even if this tradition was necessarily to be abandoned, why were they in a hurry?

The Prime Minister, in the all-party meeting at New Delhi, told us that he wants to remove Dilli ki Doori (the distance from Delhi) and the Dil ki Doori (the distance from the heart); but here we see a gap is being created between the two regions by scraping the 150-year-old tradition of Darbar Move. Let me tell you that you can only bridge the distance between Delhi and Kashmir if you first bridge the distance between Kashmir and Jammu.

In my view, other than the administrative feature, the Darbar Move had two important aspects —social and commercial.

As far as the social aspect of the Darbar Move ritual is concerned, it has helped to strengthen social relationships between the people of both regions. Had there not been ‘Darbar Move’ people of Kashmir and Jammu would have not been so connected.

In commercial proportions, Jammu would benefit enormously due to the Darbar Move tradition. Most of the secretariat employees going to Jammu with Darbar Move would take their families along to spend about six months there. They would spend their earnings there not in terms of daily needs only but they also used to purchase things for their home as well. Even I have seen people shopping for the marriages of their children in Jammu markets because they would find these things inexpensive in Jammu than Valley. Firstly, because, traders in Kashmir have to pay more transportation charges for the goods than the traders in Jammu, thus the things are reasonably priced in Jammu. Secondly, as per my experience, Jammu shopkeepers are much friendlier to their customers than the shopkeepers in the Valley. So the Jammu traders were the beneficiaries of the Darbar Move activity, of course in their own right.

Therefore, I say considering only these two benefits —social and commercial— the government should have not abolished the Darbar Move ritual.

The move to stop the ritual of ‘Darbar Move’ seems to be intended with creating distance between the people of the Valley and Jammu. They dismembered the erstwhile state with the same intention. However, I think the relations between the masses of both regions are not so week that they can be destroyed by such moves. The relations between Jammu and the Valley are not new; rather, they are deeply rooted in the history of this region. Ours has not been an artificial state. We have centuries of history providing evidence of strong links between the Kashmir and Jammu regions.

For example, the period of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, the eighth sultan of Kashmir, also called Budshah (the Great King) has been an era of strong relations between the two regions. Budshah’s both queens were from Jammu. They were sisters of Raja of Jammu. His son lost his life while fighting against Muslims and in favor of his Hindu maternal uncle in Jammu. Then, look at the history of the Lohara dynasty, which was Hindu and ruled Kashmir for three hundred years.

As for as, the links between the common people of the two regions are concerned, they too have roots in history. Shepherds from the Jammu region have been coming into Valley every summer with their live stokes. They were emotionally and historically connected with this place.

Ironically, the government has stopped the ‘Darbar Move’ practice saying that it had economic disadvantages. But let me say that everything is not to be looked at and gauged through the economy. They must have considered the historical connection between the people of the two regions before abandoning the practice of Darbar Move. This practice has been strengthening the relations between the people of Jammu and Valley for about 150 years, and they stopped it just in a day.

‘Darbar Move’ ritual was one of the key sources for the social, emotional, cultural, and economic bonds between the people of Jammu and the Valley. It also helped to keep Dogras and Kashmiris connected despite their chronic resentment towards each other, which eventually helped to maintain communal harmony in both regions. One cannot deny the fact that, barring a few incidents, people in Jammu or in the Valley have not indulged in communal discord beyond a limit despite repeated provocations during the past seven decades. That is why I believe that ending this one-and-a-half-century tradition was not an intelligent decision in terms of regional integration of the two places. Also, I am afraid that stopping the bi-annual practice of Darbar Move might pave the way for a harmful competition between the two regions.

That said, I am not surprised by the lack of public reaction against this decision in Jammu because perception has been evolved over the years that the civil secretariat was dominated by the Kashmiris; people in Jammu, by and large, would consider it as their disempowerment. This perception could have been dealt with properly. I think disbanding the Darbar Move ritual has much to do with regional politics than governance issues. This move may give electoral benefit to the BJP in Jammu region in the assembly elections, if and when they are held.

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