By Praveen Swami
The deep communal chasms between Hindus and Muslims must be bridged — but it is unclear if J&K’s politicians have the will or imagination needed to do so.
“Sacrilege,” screamed the headlines in one Jammu-based newspaper. Over a week ago, the panchayat of the small mountain hamlet of Kot Dhara mediated a feud between the owner of a horse and a local hirer. After hearing both sides, it ordered that compensation be paid to the owner for ill-use of his horse — and that the animal be put out of its misery.
Later, Bajrang Dal activists in the communally-fraught Rajouri town learned that the horse’s broken corpse was buried a few hundred metres from the hamlet’s temple. For most of the week, it seemed that killing of human beings would follow the killing of the horse, as surely as night follows day, until some firm police intervention put down the brewing riot.
Kot Dhara is perhaps the most inappropriate stage conceivable for an acting-out of the ugly communal war that enveloped
The Kot Dhara-type incidents show that the communal fires set off by the shrine board riots are still burning across J&K. Early in July, charges of wilful sacrilege provoked violence north of the Pir Panjal too. Mobs attacked the police in
Why is it that even the fall of the Congress-People’s Democratic Party government has failed to douse the flames?
When the Congress central leadership arm-twisted former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad into revoking the grant of land to the shrine board, few anticipated that the communal backlash in
In the build-up to the 2002 elections, the BJP found itself discredited by its failure to contain terrorism. Much of the Hindutva movement’s cadre turned to a new grouping, the Jammu State Morcha. JSM leaders wanted a new,
New generation of Hindutva leaders
A new generation of Hindutva leaders now took control of Hindu neoconservative politics in
Soon after the Congress-PDP government came to power, the new Hindutva leadership unleashed its first mass mobilisations. The leaders of the Bajrang Dal, the Shiv Sena and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad claimed that the former PDP Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s calls for demilitarisation and self-rule were existential threats. Pointing to the expulsion of Pandits from Kashmir at the outset of the jihad, the Hindutva leaders said Mr. Sayeed was preparing the ground for the expulsion of Hindus — and Hinduism — from
From 2003, the Hindutva groups sought to forge these anxieties into a concrete political mobilisation around the issue of cattle slaughter. Their cadre would often interdict trucks carrying cattle, and use their capture to stage protests. It wasn’t as if the anti-cow slaughter movement had stumbled on a great secret. For decades, cow-owning farmers — in the main Hindus themselves — had sold old livestock, which no longer earned them an income, to traders from
In turn, the traders sold their herds to cattle traffickers on
Violence followed. In December 2007, for example, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal cadre organised large-scale protests against the reported sacrificial slaughter of cows at Bali Charna village in the Satwari area of
It is possible that the Farooq Abdullah government was not wholly unhappy with this sharpening of group boundaries. At that time, the State government was working on a report calling for creation of new provinces whose boundaries were to be drawn along J&K’s ethnic-religious faultlines — a demand endorsed with some variants by both
Perhaps the most worrying prospect now is the possibility of the success of the shrine board protests leading non-Hindutva political groups to adopt the Hindu communalism which propelled it — a process which, in Kashmir, has led to the legitimisation of Islamist claims and causes among a far wider audience than the religious right-wing.
It has passed almost unnoticed that the shrine board protests in
Baramulla offers an interesting illustration of the politics of the protests. Islamists set off the conflagration. A 600-strong June 27 peasant gathering at Watergam was led by the Jamaat-e-Islami activist, Nisar Ahmad Ganai. Elsewhere in Baramulla, though, pro-India parties drove the protests. A 5,000-strong gathering at Sheeri-Baramulla on June 30 was led by the local National Conference activist, Abdul Qayoom, and PDP dissident Ghulam Mohideen.
In Anantnag, similarly, both the APHC and Geelani’s Tehreek-i-Hurriyat played an important role in organising protests. Tehreek leader Hafizullah Mir organised an 800-strong rally at Anantnag’s Lal Chowk on June 25, while the APHC-linked Fayyaz Ahmad Sodagar and Zahid Hakim led a similar crowd at the same venue the next day. However, the Congress helped the protests move beyond the Islamists’ urban bases. Local Congress leaders burned effigies of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed at Wandi-Valgam on June 30, while NC activists were the principal leaders of protests in Paibugh.
Secessionists were, in fact, often peripheral to protests now held out as examples of their influence. On June 27, they were reported as having led a 2,000-strong protest which hoisted a Pakistani flag on the clock tower in
Significantly, Kulgam district saw a grand total of just seven protest gatherings. While the Jamaat-e-Islami organised the 8,000-strong rally at Qaimoh on June 30 and an earlier gathering at a historic shrine in Kulgam town, there was no violence at all. Answers lie in the configuration of the district’s politics. The main political force, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is the sole party in the region which had not made an alliance of convenience with the Islamists. Its principal rival, the PDP, had no interest in fuelling the anti-shrine board protests, once it itself came under assault on the issue. Local NC leaders simply did not have the on-ground muscle to influence the course of events.
Will the political opportunism that underpinned the crisis in
Addressing the deep communal divisions in J&K will take a good deal more than just a miracle — but it is far from clear whether the State’s politicians have the will or imagination to write the new script that is needed.
Source: The Hindu, New Delhi