Sunday, August 17, 2008

Jammu and Kashmir aflame

Praful Bidwai | The News International, August 17, 2008

Jammu and Kashmir is burning. Jammu has witnessed an intensely chauvinist, communal and violent agitation for over seven weeks over the cancellation of an order transferring 100 acres of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. This is pitting Jammu against Kashmir, ethnic groups against other ethnic groups, and Hindus against Muslims in dangerous new ways.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has politicised and exploited the agitation cynically. It imposed an economic blockade which closed the Jammu-Srinagar highway for weeks and brought goods transportation to a halt, causing great public suffering.

The explosion of intolerance in Jammu is reproduced like a mirror-image in the Kashmir Valley, where mainstream parties joined separatists in marching to Muzaffarabad with the ostensible aim of selling perishable fruit in Pakistani Kashmir—just when the blockade was lifted. More than 20 people were killed in condemnable, highhanded police action.

The twin agitations threaten J&K’s unity and plural, multi-cultural, and multi-religious character in unprecedented ways. In less than two months, the BJP has succeeded in driving an emotional and political wedge between Jammu and Kashmir—something that jihadi separatists working with Pakistani agencies couldn’t achieve in the nearly 20 years of the azadi movement.

The origins of the present ferment go back to the state government’s decision to establish the SASB, thus interfering gratuitously with spontaneous Hindu-Muslim cooperation in organising the pilgrimage for decades. It has promoted this on a gigantic scale.

Matters came to a head last May when the Congress-People’s Democratic Party government illegally transferred forest land to the SASB. This triggered militant protests in the Valley.

Hurriyat moderates and the PDP joined hardline separatists in giving a communal colour to the land transfer, prompting its cancellation—only to provoke counter-protests in Jammu, which were taken over by the BJP through the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti.

The twin agitations have deepened communal polarisation, and radicalised both Hurriyat and Hindutva hardliners.

The Centre failed to enforce the law and open the Jammu-Srinagar highway until it was too late. Its belated attempt to defuse the situation through an 18-member all-party committee hasn’t made headway.

The SASS wants the land re-transferred to the SASB and Governor N N Vohra removed. Such demands are vindictive or totally devoid of political rationality. This only shows that the BJP wants to prolong the Jammu crisis and milk it politically.

The SASS, a 28-group network, is basically a Sangh Parivar enterprise. Its three top leaders—Leelakaran Sharma, Mahant Dinesh Bharti and Brig (Retd) Suchet Singh—have RSS backgrounds and are closely linked with the J&K National Front, which demands the state’s trifurcation: Jammu and Kashmir as separate states, and Ladakh a Union Territory.

The demand is despicably communal. No wonder the RSS national council backed it in 2001. In the 2002 Assembly elections, the RSS supported the Jammu State Morcha, which demands statehood for Jammu.

Any division of Jammu and Kashmir along religious lines is a recipe for the separation of the Kashmir Valley from India. It will harden and freeze two opposing identities—a “Muslim Kashmir,” and a “Hindu Jammu.” Nothing could better help the Valley’s discredited pro-Pakistan Islamic separatists like Syed Ali Shah Gilani, who oppose a pluralist, secular identity for Kashmir.

The demand for trifurcating J&K will play straight into the hands of Pakistani hardliners who want to erase whatever progress has been made in informal talks seeking a solution to the Kashmir problem without redrawing boundaries, and who want to retrogress to the perspective of securing Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan—as part of “the unfinished agendas of Partition.”

Why has the BJP embarked on this dangerous course? It’s desperate to rescue its sagging fortunes by finding any issue on which to win support. It’s organising traffic blockades on the Amarnath issue nationally and mouthing shopworn clich├ęs like “injustice to Hindus.”

The BJP even brazenly denies that there ever was an economic blockade in J&K! General secretary Arun Jaitley calls this “a myth” and contends that the Jammu agitation is entirely peaceful.

Yet, Jammu’s protestors, who increasingly resemble Hindutva’s storm troopers in Gujarat-2002 in appearance, have indulged in stone- and acid-throwing attacks on truck drivers. According to the far-from-hostile state government, Jammu has witnessed 10,513 protests and 359 “serious incidents of violence” on the Amarnath issue, in which 28 government buildings, 15 police vehicles and 118 private vehicles were damaged.

Eighty cases of communal violence were registered, in which 20 persons were injured and 72 Gujjar homes were burnt.

As many as 117 police personnel and 78 civilians were injured in the Jammu violence, and 129 cases were registered and 1,171 arrests made. Schools, colleges, government offices and hospitals were paralysed.

Grievances in Jammu, many of them legitimate, took this regrettably violent expression thanks to communalism’s baneful effect.

The BJP was pivotal in planning and executing this violence. Its leaders have gone Back to Basics—unembellished, crude, super-sectarian Hindutva.

L K Advani just can’t wait to become prime minister. His speeches have become shrill, and his body language has changed. This is no longer the Advani who wanted to inherit the “moderate” Vajpayee legacy. This is the Advani of many past Rathyatras—aggressive, warlike, spewing communal venom, and leaving a trail of blood.

Advani will now stoop to any level to collect political brownie points, regardless of the issue. The other day, the issue was the UPA government’s alleged weakness in the face of terrorism. Then, it was the India-US nuclear deal, the culmination of a long process the BJP itself initiated, and which its urban-middle-class core constituency supports.

Now, Advani is drumming up Hindu-chauvinist hysteria over 100 acres of land, laying claim to it on the specious ground that the Hindus must have the first claim to land anywhere in India by virtue of their numerical majority—and hence primacy.

This is an egregiously, if not classically, anti-secular proposition.

Why is the BJP so desperate? Barely one month ago, after a series of Assembly wins, it had primed itself up into believing that its victory was imminent in the next Lok Sabha. It even started announcing candidates.

But the BJP was badly checkmated during the confidence vote. It lost it—despite trying every trick in the book. Worse, Advani was eclipsed by Mayawati’s dramatic emergence as an alternative.

The BJP’s plans went awry. The victorious and now aggressive Manmohan Singh couldn’t be convincingly depicted as “India’s weakest-ever prime minister.” The BJP botched up its in manipulative political act, where it’s supposedly unmatched.

It wanted to create a Bofors out of the cash-for-votes “sting.” But after the CNN-IBN tapes’ telecast, that looks like collusive but ineffective “entrapment.”

The highest number of MPs defying their party whip during the confidence vote were from the BJP. Thanks to its MPs’ involvement in the “cash-for-questions” scam, human trafficking, and the latest acts of defiance, the BJP has lost 17 of its original 137 Lok Sabha seats.

The National Democratic Alliance once had 24 members. Now it’s down to five.

As trouble brews in all of its state units, the BJP will use inflammatory tactics to buoy up its fortunes. The Indian public will have to pay the price—unless it sends the party packing.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights
activist based in Delhi. Email:

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