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Current Affairs ( 20 Aug 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Manufactured spontaneity burns Jammu and Kashmir

By M Bashir Manzar


Srinagar:  As the dead bodies con­tinue to pile up in the Kashmir valley and in Jammu, once again after Ayodhya, a piece of disputed land has taken the form of cleaver to split apart communities and regions. Political opportunism and bureaucratic overreach have created a situation ripe for picking by Hindu rightwing groups and Kashmiri separatists.

The fallout of the controversy and agitations has claimed more than 20 lives, driven a wedge between the people of Jammu and Kashmir and created fear and division in the hearts of the Muslim population of Jammu (whose predominant ethnicity is Gujjar, Bakerwal and Pahadi Rajput).

In the valley the lan­guishing embers of separatism have been stoked to a raging flame and even formerly moder­ate leaders have begun talking about a new state of Greater Kashmir that will include the dis­tricts of Rajori, Doda and Poonch carved out the Jammu region and Kargil from Ladakh. And for all the denials by the Army that there is no economic blockade ASSOCHAM has said that J&K has suffered a loss of 1,500 crore in the past few weeks.

The agitations, both in Kashmir and Jammu that saw several people dead and hundreds injured and resulted in unabated strikes and curfews have been projected as spontaneous by separatists in Kashmir and Hindu rightwing groups in Jammu. The reality is that they were anything but spontaneous.

Though new platforms - Amarnath Sagharash Samiti in Jammu and Action Committee in Kashmir - were floated to give a "peoples' movement" colour to the agitations, the strings are being pulled by the same actors - separatists in Kashmir and Hindu rightwing groups in Jammu.

A look at the composition of the Amarnath Sangharash Samiti reveals that it is dominated by people from BJP, Shiv Sena, RSS and VHP. The Action Committee similarly is made up of members of both factions of the Hurriyat, JKLF and Dukhtran-e-Milat. Both groups have some 'non-political' traders and lawyers as members but they are just the garnish on the main dish.


The genesis


The genesis of the Amarnath issue goes back to 2003 when the then Governor of Jammu and Kashmir S K Sinha took over as the chairman of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) that manages the annual yatra to Amarnath  and  appointed  his Principal Secretary Arun Kumar as its CEO. From 2004 the SASB started making demands on the state government for land to make shelters and other facil­ities for pilgrims.

Every year hundreds of thousands of pilgrims make the arduous trek to the holy cave to pay homage to a Shiv Ling formed by an ice stalagmite.

Earlier this year Sinha wrote to the government, asking for forest land in Nunwan, Pahalgam and Batal and to set up an independent development authority that would   be run by the Governor. The proposal for an independent body was turned down but the then state govern­ment headed by the Congress and supported by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) issued an order on May 26, 2008 diverting 800 kanals (100 acres) of for­est land to the SASB.

For first few weeks, the land transfer order was opposed by environmentalists and the local media on purely on environmental grounds. The state government parried by claiming that the transfer was not a permanent transfer and had only been temporarily 'diverted'.

The real fire under the controversy was lit by Arun Kumar who on 16 June 2008 in a press conference said that the land had been transferred to the SASB on a permanent basis and would not be returned after the completion of the Yatra. But he really stoked the flames by asking why pollution of the Dal and Wular lakes by the predominantly Muslim residents was tolerated but pollution by the mainly Hindu pilgrims wasn't.

And that was exactly what the hardliners in the Valley were waiting for. In no time the streets of Srinagar became a sea of protesters.

Exploiting the high tempers Syed Ali Geelani, who heads his own faction of Hurriyat Conference, was the first to give the issue a religious- political colour by drawing parallels between transfer of land to SASB with the establishment of Jewish settlements in Palestine. "Jews first took refuge in Palestine and then established their own state while the Palestinians are now being forced to live the life of nomads in their own motherland and the same is being done here in the name of shrine board..." He claimed the extension of the 15-day yatra to two months and the transfer of land were manifestations of "India's cultural aggression."

 Mufti Muhammad Basliir-ud-Din Ahmad, the grand Mufti of the state, accused New Delhi of attempting to change the demo­graphic character of Jammu and Kashmir and issued a fatwa against the "illegal" transfer of forest land to the SASB. "It is a pre-planned conspiracy of New Delhi to change the demography of the state and to erode Article 370. As Grand Mufti of the state, I appeal to my nation to continue the protests till the government concedes their genuine demands," he said.

Archrivals, Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, the leader of the other Hurriyat faction, came together and formed the Action Committee to 'fight the land transfer under the chairmanship of a known lawyer, Mian Abdul Qayoom. Both factions of the Hurriyat activated their rank and file to intensify the agitation.

Sensing an opportunity the main opposition party the National Conference, during whose tenure in power the SASB had been created in the first place, began a vocal opposition to the transfer. The PDP, the Congress's partner in the government, too jumped into the fray threatening to pull out from the coalition if the land transfer order was not revoked. Never mind that both the Forest Minister and Law Minister and without whose approval the land transfer could not have taken place were from the PDP.

And all this while Jammu too was gearing up for the big game. The BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar with an eye on the forth­coming assembly elections began mobilising its supporters for their own counter agitations. Shiv Sena, RSS, VHP and other right wing groups in Jammu geared up and launched protests threatening government not to cancel the land transfer order. Their activists began disrupting traffic on the Jammu-Srinagar Highway, the only surface link between the Valley and rest of the India.

By the time the tenure of the controversial governor S K Sinha ended and he was replaced by N N Vohra, the battle lines had been drawn and the state was polarised into Muslim Kashmir and a Hindu Jammu.

As Kashmir was rocked by unprecedented agitations all over, PDP pulled out from the coalition saying it would 'side with the people' reducing Ghulam Nabi Azad led government to a minority.

The new Governor, N N Vohra, now chairman of the SASB attempted an honourable way out. He said if the state government would ensure that the Yatris would be given all facilities including the creation of infrastructure, the SASB would no longer need the disputed land.

Two days later the land transfer order was cancelled. This calmed down the Valley but put Jammu on fire. In the meantime Azad resigned and state came under Governor's rule. 

Now it was the turn of the Jammu politicians. While initially the BJP and other, rightwing led the agitations par­ties they then took a cue form the Kashmiri separatists who had floated an apolitical 'Action Committee' and launched Shree Amarnath Sangharash Samiti to spearhead the efforts to get the land re-allotted to the SASB.


Agitation in Jammu


Amidst the massive agitations organised under its aegis, the Samiti showed its hand when its convenor, a formerly little known Jammu lawyer, Leela Karan Sharma, said, "The Samiti may be forced to go in for economic blockade of Kashmir and also demand a separate Jammu State."

"If Government didn't change its attitude towards the people of Jammu region who have faced the constant neglect from the successive State Governments since 1947, the Sangarsh Samiti will be left with no alternative but to give a call for separate Jammu State," he added.

BJP's central leadership missed no opportunity to jump into the bandwagon and party's president rushed to Jammu to tell the people that his party would revoke the fresh order if it were given a chance to form the Government in the State. The BJP even called a Bharat Bandh on July 3 to take the issue to its electorate outside Jammu and Kashmir.

 Bharti, a religious head hailing from Uttar Pradesh while addressing public gatherings demanded that Muslims of the twin border districts of Rajouri and Poonch vacate the area and move towards Muzaffarabad. He addressed three gatherings at Sunderbani, Rajal and Nowshera where he asked his religious followers to be ready for a 'big war' and told asked Muslims to vacate the region. The police eventually stopped him as he was heading towards Rajouri and was sent back to Jammu.

The Samiti claimed that the agitations in Jammu were spontaneous and that the Samiti is not linked with any political organisation. However a close look at its main leaders says oth­erwise. Leela Karan Sharma himself has had a long associa­tion with the RSS. Another vocal voice is VHP member Dinesh Bharti, who is a mahant of Jammu's Radha Krishna temple. The Shiv Sena's state chief, Ashok Gupta, is also a member of the Samiti. A former state chief of the VHP and Kranti Dal leader Anan Sharma too is a member.

The composition of the Samiti is reflected in the nature that the protests in Jammu have taken.

The communal twist that the Amarnath controversy has taken is evident in the overtly religious slogans and symbols that dominate the demonstrations in Kashmir. In Jammu too the demonstrators carry trishuls and other Hindutva symbols.

However, what has gone largely unreported is that both the Kashmiri separatists and Jammu rightwing parties are battling for the Doda, Rajouri and Poonch districts of the Jammu region.

While these regions are Muslim dominated, they are ethnically different from Kashmir. The Muslims from these areas are mainly Gujjar, Bakerwals and some are Pahadi Rajputs. The predominant language in the mountains of Poonch and Rajouri is not Kashmiri but Pahadi.

In Doda the Muslim population is 55 percent and is mainly in the Banihal, Kishtwar and Balesa subdivisions. Doda town is approximately 90 percent Muslim. Rajouri is 65 percent Muslim and Poonch has an 85 percent Muslim population.

No wonder then, that politicians from both sides turned their focus on this region.

Soon incidents of violence against Jammu Muslims were being reported from Khour, Jourian and Samba areas of Jammu. Dozens of Muslim Gujjar homes were torched by mobs.

On August 5, Baba Dinesh Bharti, a religious head hailing from Uttar Pradesh while addressing public gatherings demanded that Muslims of the twin border districts of Rajouri and Poonch vacate the area and move towards Muzaffarabad. He addressed three gatherings at Sunderbani, Rajal and Nowshera where he asked his religious followers to be ready for a 'big war' and told asked Muslims to vacate the region. The police eventually stopped him as he was heading towards Rajouri and was sent back to Jammu.




Mirwaiz Umer Farooq: "lf the Dogras of Jammu's two-and-a-half districts want to secede from rest of the state to satisfy their separate statehood urge we won't oppose it.


Valley Leaders Join the game


The first Kashmiri political leader to talk about the division of the State was Peoples Conference chairman, Sajjad Ghani Lone, the otherwise secular and moderate face of separatist camp.

  When reports of Hindus in Jammu harassing Muslims started pouring in, Lone issued a statement saying that the refusal of 'brave people' of Doda, Kishtwar, Baderwah, Poonch, Rajouri, Udhampur, Bani, Gol-Gulabgud, Arnass and Basoli to identify with the ongoing 'communal hooliganism in Jammu' has endorsed and restored the demographic definition of Kashmiri nation. All the areas Lone mentioned are Muslim dominated and he didn't mention Hindu dominated Jamnu, Kathua and Udhampur and Poonch districts of the Jammu region.

He then said, "The day is not far when coercive demography nurtured in an environment of force as opposed to nature, is replaced by the evolution of natural demography defined by history and ethnicity" This is nothing other than a political way of saying that the Muslim dominated regions of Jammu are actually a part of what is known as greater Kashmir. This was followed by a statement that if Jammu does not want to be a part of the state they should be allowed to separate.

When asked what prompted him to make such a statement, Lone told Current: "When I say, let them go, I say it so because I am convinced that Amaranth land row is an excuse. The real desire is to seek separation from Kashmiris." He said, "Forget one division, if division means saving lives, let there be multiple divisions as long as we uphold the principle that human life is sacred and should not be lost to ethnic incompatibility."

 Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, the chairman of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference, too has hinted that he was not averse to J&K's division.

While addressing a press con­ference, a few days back in Srinagar, Mirwaiz said that he would not oppose if Jammu wants to secede from rest of the state. While stressing that his faction of Hurriyat Conference valued the geographical unity of Jammu and Kashmir, Mirwaiz said: "But if the Dogras of Jammu's two-and-a-half dis­tricts want to secede from rest of the state to satisfy their separate statehood urge we won't oppose it either".

That the consequences of the fallout of the Amarnath agitation and the effort to communally polarise Jammu will be very dangerous not just for the state but for the entire country seem to be obvious to all but to those fanning the flames. Whatever the outcome of the divisive politics, the seeds of mistrust have been sown in Jammu and in the Valley.    


Source: Current, Friday, August 15, 2008