51-year-old Ghulam Ali Khatana from Jammu has worked with the RSS affiliated Muslim Rashtriya Manch and has held several positions within the BJP.
Ubair Ul Hameed | TwoCircles.net
SRINAGAR — Ghulam Ali Khatana, a little-known political activist affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the President of India.
The development has come as a surprise in the political circles in Jammu and Kashmir.
51-year-old Khatana is the second Gujjar leader from Jammu and Kashmir to be nominated for the upper house of the parliament. Prior to Khatana, a senior Congress Gujjar leader Chowdhary Mohammad Aslam from Poonch’s Lassana village too had been a Rajya Sabha MP from June 2006 to November 2008.
Khatana is a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Tribal Morcha and Minority Morcha, a party spokesman for Jammu and Kashmir, and a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Khatana, a Jammu native, participated in student politics while studying electrical engineering. He joined the Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party in 2001. In 2008, he joined the RSS and later on, he moved to the BJP where he has held different positions.
Political observers in the region believe that the BJP nominated Khatana to woo the Gujjar tribes, who make up to 15 per cent of J&K’s population.
Community leaders from the Gujjar community welcomed the move and said that the BJP would benefit electorally from this.
Tribal rights activist and Gujjar leader Javed Rahi said the community in J&K has been overlooked in the political arena for decades, and Khatana’s nomination will help fill that void.
“After the abrogation of Article 370, we were expecting steps for the betterment of Gujjars and Bakarwals. This decision is historic for the tribal population,” he was quoted as saying by The Tribune.
Ravinder Raina, the BJP’s Jammu and Kashmir president, said Khatanna’s nomination was a deliberate choice made after months of talks. He said that numerous names were discussed, but his name received permission from the highest level.
Raina said that Khatana “joined the party when no one would have imagined BJP coming to power at national level or in Jammu and Kashmir”.
“Through all difficult times he remained a committed worker of the party without any personal interest”, Raina said.
The Gujjar community, according to Raina, has always been fiercely patriotic and nationalistic, and their sacrifices deserve to be honoured and acknowledged.
Before Ghulam Ali Khatana, Chowdhary Mohammad Aslam, a prominent Congress Gujjar politician from Poonch’s Lassana hamlet, served as a Rajya Sabha MP from June 2006 until November 2008.
Nine seats were set aside for Scheduled Tribes (STs), mostly Gujjars and Bakerwals when the 90 Assembly districts in J&K were recently delineated. The BJP, which has a solid support base in approximately 30 seats in the Jammu area that are primarily populated by Hindus, is now asking for assistance from the Gujjars and Bakerwal group to win a majority.
In J&K, the Gujjar and Bakerwal communities were designated as a scheduled tribe (ST) by the then-Congress-led central government in 1991, but in 2022, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government granted them a political quota.
According to the BJP, Khatana’s nomination may also affect other regions of the nation, such as Rajasthan, where there are a sizable number of Gujjars. Gujjars are primarily Hindu throughout the rest of the country but are Muslim in J&K.
Khatana has played a vital role in garnering support for the BJP’s decision to repeal Article 370 among his community. Soon after the abrogation, he organised a national-level gathering in Jammu that was attended by important Muslim leaders and intellectuals.
Ubair ul Hameed is a fellow with the SEED-TCN Mentorship Program. He tweets at @UbairUlHameed