AIIMS exposes deepening divide in Jammu and Kashmir

Moazum Mohammad

Srinagar: The raging controversy over the announcement of setting up of a branch of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in the Valley has once again exposed the regional divide in Jammu and Kashmir. In its maiden budget, the Narendra Modi-led government announced establishment of AIIMS in Kashmir while equally balancing the move by announcing Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Jammu region.
Apart from Opposition National Conference, Congress, Jammu-based political parties and trade unions created a furore and observed one-day shutdown against what they termed as ‘discrimination’ with that region.
The move created a wedge in state’s oldest political party NC as well with many of its Kashmir-based leaders opposing their Jammu counterparts.
“It’s local issue in Jammu. Basically, it’s a personal issue of (provincial president Jammu) Devender Singh Rana. It’s not a party policy to oppose AIIMS in Kashmir. It will hurt party interests if we pursue it,” said NC youth President Salman Sagar.
Salman listed the reasons why AIIMS is necessary for Kashmir compared to Jammu. “Jammu people have access to PGI Chandigarh. Also, that region has ASCOMS medical college, Khalsa Medical College and one of the best super speciality hospitals. What else we have other than SKIMS in the Valley,” he told Kashmir Reader.
According to Congress party leader Raman Bhalla, his party is not against Kashmir but Jammu should be granted AIIMS as well because the ruling BJP has promised so to masses.
“We will not compromise. We are not against Kashmir. We want welfare of people. Why can’t BJP grant AIIMS for Jammu? Jitendra Singh is a union minister while Nirmal Singh is deputy chief minister. But we know they can’t solve problem. They just exploited people during elections,” Bhalla said.
Close on the heels of 2008 Amarnath land row, the establishment of Central University in Srinagar during previous NC-Congress regime ignited the tension in Jammu forcing the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to urge the Union government to grant another university in Jammu.
Delving into the issue, former HOD political science at Kashmir University Prof Noor Ahmad Baba said the roots of the divide lay in ‘colonialism’.
“It’s not Jammu versus Kashmir. A dominant community of a small portion of Jammu claims to represent entire region. This dominant community was basically ruling Kashmir through maharaja before 1947. After 1947, the power equation changed and they lost their dominance because Kashmir got due share. Since then they hold a grudge Kashmir is getting more share,” Baba said.
“Jammu has no history compared to Kashmir, which has a long history of evolution and development. Jammu has received extra share in terms of development.
“The dominant community is playing politics on AIIMS issue. I would suggest the medical institution should be set up in between Kashmir and Jammu that is Banihal. Though it will be still in Jammu but they (dominant community) want it to be in centre of Jammu where they enjoy hegemony,” he said.
“I don’t see such a big regional divide over it. The idea to come up with this issue is to maintain visibility. Earlier it was only BJP talking about Jammu region being deprived. After 2002, PDP started talking about Kashmir. Now congress and NC are saying so. It’s more of competitive politics,” said Jammu University’s political science teacher Prof Rekha Choudhary.
Though Doctors Association of Kashmir believes the issue should not be politicized given that human lives are precious in both the regions but Kashmir is in dire need of super-specialty hospital because the Valley remains cut off from outside world mostly in winters.
“This is shameful that we are playing politics. Every patient should get quality healthcare but since we are living in a mountainous region, it becomes difficult for patients to travel to super specialty hospital especially when the valley is cut off. Also, the magnitude of diseases viz a viz rise in cancer cases, cardiac ailments and chronic renal diseases are on rise,” said president DAK Dr Nisar-ul-Hassan.
He said the sole tertiary care SKIMS hospital doesn’t cater to entire population because of rising number of patients.
“For instance, a patient has to remain in queue for long time. Once his turn comes, a patient is either moribund or dead. Such patients need super specialty services and AIIMS like center is must for this part,” Dr Nisar said.