Asghar Ali Engineer

(Secular Perspective August 16-31, 2008)

First there was agitation in Kashmir Valley against the transfer of the land to Sri Amarnath Shrine Board which forced the Government to take back the land allotted to The Board and now for more than a month Jammu is burning demanding the land back for the Sri Amaranth Shrine Board. What has sustained the agitation so long in Jammu? Who provoked it and for what? Is the peace of land a real issue? These are important questions which must be answered satisfactorily.

Before we answer these questions it must be said that this is very dangerous agitation and if it is prolonged indefinitely, can result in very serious political consequences. It is indeed very irresponsible and thoughtless agitation, at least the way it is being conducted. I am not judging whether the agitation is justified or not – it is altogether a different issue – but the violent way it is being conducted.

It need not be stressed that it is BJP which is trying to cash in on this agitation and is having its eye not only on election in Jammu and Kashmir but on forthcoming Loksabha election in early 2009 In an article before “Discontent of the Democracy”, we had pointed out that democracy is being grossly misused by all sorts of vested interests be they communal, separatists or casteists. These interests do not stop short of even breaking the country, if it serves their interests.

The politicians, even if they are not communal or separatists do everything with an eye on winning elections. Power, not the people, is their priority even if they employ pro-people rhetoric. Today’s democracy has strayed far from ideal of pro-people governance and draws its dynamics mainly from hunger for power. Each election further reinforces this conclusion.

Before we throw light more on this issue of Amarnath land in J&K we would like to comment on agitation going on in Jammu. The agitators claim that no party controls the agitation and that people of Jammu – meaning Hindus of Jammu themselves are leading the agitation, not any political party. Though not wholly but partly it is true. Jammu is really on fire.

The agitation in Jammu is indeed draws its dynamics not from ‘land for Amarnath’ issue but it is highly complex thing. There has long been simmering against “Kashmir Raj” in Jammu region of the state. Basically it is regional divide but unfortunately now it is being turned into communal divide mainly by the BJP by raising the Amarnath land issue. The noted scholar and journalist Shri Balraj Puri who has for years dedicated his life for just and fair settlement of J&K issue has repeatedly pointed out that different regions of J&K be given regional autonomy. He also headed a commission to find solution to this problem appointed by Farouq Abdullah Government. However, the report prepared by the Commission, was thrown into the dustbin.

One important argument in favor of uniting three regions i.e. the Hindu dominated Jammu, Buddhist dominated Laddakh and Muslim dominated Kashmir Valley is to emphasize secular nature of the country and the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is indeed a laudable argument and this unity of all three regions must be maintained. However, the communal and so-called secular politicians too can hardly benefit from such ideal unity. They, on the other hand, exploit such regional divide, for their own end and play with communal sentiments to win elections.

In short term of course the Amarnath land issue will have to be resolved to the satisfaction of both the regions of the state but for the long term solution issue of regional autonomy will also have to be addressed and if a solution combining the two is found it may result in greater stability in Jammu region. But it is election time and issue of regional autonomy may have to wait until after the election. But flames of Amarnath issue must be doused through political wisdom.

The Hindus of Jammu should not play into the hands of politicians and should accept solution which is reasonable and acceptable to people of Valley also. The agitationists are usually sown on T.V. Channels saying this agitation will go on until land withdrawn is returned to the Shrine Board.  May be they are exaggerating the demand as it is usually done. But they have to be wise while actually resolving the conflict.

Think of it what will happen to valley if land is returned to the Amarnath Shrine Board? Will the valley be not on fire again? And separatist forces are quite active in Kashmir. Who will benefit from such a situation? Will it not push Kashmir further into the lap of separatists? Will it be in the interest of integrity of the country? Will Hindus of Jammu be serving a sectarian or national cause?

The Hindus of Jammu have not only used violent methods and make Muslims of Jammu feel insecure? They have blocked road to Kashmir valley stopping supplies of essential commodities, even medicines. Even if Kashmir had not been facing separatist movement, it would have been highly undesirable to do so. Now medicines are being airlifted by pharmaceutical companies and the Union Government.

It is so strange that Mr. Jaitley, General Secretary of BJP is flatly denying that trucks carrying provisions to Kashmir or trucks bringing fruits from Kashmir have at all been stopped. There is limit to lying and indulging in falsehood. Something which is being witnessed by the whole world is being flagrantly denied and by the party which claims to be a party with a difference.

It is having dangerous consequences in the valley. Now the apple growers and other orchardists have readied their trucks to be taken to Muzaffarabad in POK otherwise their fruits will rot. Now Mr. Shivraj Patil, the Union Home Minister has announced compensation for the apple and other fruit growers. The Hindus of Jammu should think in whose hands are they playing? Is returning of land to Shrine Board is more important than integrity of the country?

The Shrine Board issue can be resolved through dialogue with the people of Kashmir but it would be very difficult to douse the separatist fire in the Valley   And as for the BJP and Mr. L.K. Advani less said the better. His prime ministerial ambition has blinded him to all the consequences of his communalizing the Amarnath issue. It is totally futile to tell him that it is not communal but regional issue and has to be handled with great care and caution.

A regional issue is not only being starkly communalized but also being grossly misused to win Loksabha elections. Mr. Advani is saying that those who oppose return of land to the Amarnath shrine are opposed to Kashmir being integral part of India. What a superb logic Mr. Advani! Until yesterday those who opposed Ramjanambhomi issue were being described as anti-national and anti-Hindu. Now Mr. Advani himself has totally forgotten Ramjanambhoomi issue as it is hardly likely to yield political result.

I was horrified the other day to watch on NDTV trishuls being raised by BJP leaders in presence of Mr. Advani and provocative speeches being made. Amarnath issue has come as a godsend to fulfill Mr. Advani’s prime ministerial ambition does not matter if Kashmir is pushed to the brink of separation.

Of course no one can expect Mr. Advani to give up his prime ministerial ambition by starkly communalizing the Amarnath land issue. We can appeal to the wisdom of people of Jammu not to play in the hands of BJP and communalize what is a regional issue. Also the real solution, some maintain, and this is based on the interpretation of the Shri. Amarnath Shrine Board Act (SASBA) by the court.

According to the sources stick to two things: The Amarnath Shrine Board Act passed by the J&K Assembly in 2000 and the court directions interpreting its powers and functions regarding the Yatra. The rest – land transfer, its revocation and everything else – be treated as null and void. And one can have dialogue in the spirit of unity and solidarity among the people of both the regions and problem can certainly be resolved.

Let us remember whatever the merit of agitation for return of land in the Kashmir Valley, the agitators never communalized it. The Yatra was carried out in peace and not a single yatri was attacked by the agitators in the valley. It is true the politicians in the Valley also exploited the issue to the hilt in view of the coming elections but Yatra was not interfered with. No one has pointed out a single instance of Yatra being blocked or Yatris being harassed.

We have full trust in people of Jammu and those of India as a whole. Let the BJP communalize the issue and exploit it for its electoral politics but I am sure people of India would use their wisdom to reject such communalization of this controversy. Here I would like to reiterate that we must give up first past the poll method we use for declaring a candidate elected. It has done enough harm to our democracy by making it more and more sectarian and go for 51% minimum votes to win the election which will make it more inclusive as our country is highly diverse. First past the poll method is quite exclusive in nature and communal and casteist parties thrive in this system.


Centre for Study of Society and Secularism


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