By Praveen Swami
Liquor baron Vijay Mallya’s plans to restart hops cultivation give a fresh lease of life to
Resplendent in his ceremonial turban, the member of the
Mr. Khajuria’s use of the goddess’ name infuriated a group of National Conference legislators from the Kashmir Valley — among them Rural Development Minister Ali Mohammad Sagar and his senior party colleagues Mohammad Akbar Lone, Sai fullah Mir and Mubarak Gul.
In the event, Mr. Khajuria — who heads the State unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party — backed down and took his oath in the name of the parmatma, or supreme being. “It is OK now,” he wryly asked Mr. Sagar, “or do you still have a problem?”
Last summer, the grant of land-use rights to Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) unleashed a wave of violence that claimed almost a hundred lives. Now, flamboyant industrialist Vijay Mallya’s announcement of plans to resume the cultivation of hops — used to manufacture beer — has opened up fresh opportunities for the religious right-wing.
“My father Vittal Mallya, who was Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s friend, started cultivating hops in
Egged on by inaccurate — or malicious — media accounts which claimed that Mr. Mallya planned to open a brewery, Opposition politicians moved in for the kill. People’s Democratic Party vice-president Iftikhar Ansari claimed that the National Conference patron and former Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, wished to usher in “wine production in
Islamist politicians soon joined in. Tehreek-e-Hurriyat chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s principal lieutenant, Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, cast Mr. Mallya’s proposals as an Indian conspiracy. “It is to defunct [sic.] and destabilise the intellectual acumen of our young generation,” he said, “and make them forget their cause of achieving the right to self-determination.” Dukhtaran-e-Millat chairperson Asiya Andrabi, similarly, described Mr. Mallya’s plans as an “attempt to make
Mr. Sagar’s assault on Mr. Khajuria was an effort to salvage the National Conference’s religious credentials: other legislators had, it bears noting, sworn their oaths in the goddesses’ name without arousing his ire. Experience suggests, though, that competitive communalism will be of little use in damming up the chauvinist tide.
Faith and hatred were the pillars on which Islamists’ communal campaign this summer were built. Both pillars were erected on foundations built years earlier — a process of construction which, like the ongoing campaign in J&K, was little noticed at the time.
Questions of piety
Ever since the onset of the long jihad, questions of piety — the use of alcohol, for example, or women’s’ chastity — have occupied political centre stage. Years before the shrine war, Islamists in
Later that year, the Islamists leveraged the uncovering of a prostitution racket in
The J&K government sought to secure its own religious credentials by allowing the Islamist campaign to forge ahead. The Islamists protesting the scandal were allowed to gather at the home of the alleged prostitution-ring madam Sabina Bulla and raze it to the ground. Mobs also attacked the homes of politicians charged with having used her services. In the past, attacks on couples celebrating Valentine’s Day, or young women dressed in trousers, were similarly tolerated. Put simply, the Islamists were allowed to emerge as the sole, legitimate custodians of cultural and religious identity.
By the summer of 2007, the Islamists were able to use this status to further their agenda. They claimed that the rape and murder of a teenager was part of a project to undermine
Even though a police investigation later gave the lie to these claims — two local men and two migrant workers were charged with killing the youngster — the campaign of hate did not end. Mr. Geelani’s political ally, Hilal Ahmad War, asked non-Kashmiri workers to leave the region, warning that they would otherwise be “forcibly evicted.” Mr. War claimed that the migrants were threatening “our economy, our daughters and our future generations.” He even alleged that migrant workers were spreading “various diseases, including AIDS.”
Mr. Geelani later used these ideas to give life to the shrine land crisis. In a June 12, 2008 speech, he asserted that the land-use rights granted to the SASB were part of a covert enterprise code-named Operation Yatra, which was “devised on the lines of
Now, the storm clouds are gathering again. Last week, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, sought to cash in on the resurgent hatred, charging
Since then tensions have been brewing. On January 18, for example, the police were compelled to use teargas to quell protests in Srinagar’s Idgah area, which broke out after a group of young people claimed to have found Central Reserve Police Force personnel playing cards in the historic Ali Masjid area.
Elsewhere in the State, too, signs of trouble are evident. Last month, clerics passed a fatwa declaring the operation of a pig farm by Sikh residents of Batuhuni-Muradpur village in the communally-fragile district of Rajouri a crime against Islam. Mufti Nazir Ahmed Qasmi, who heads the Bandipora-based Dar-ul-Uloom Rahimia, pronounced the operation of the pig farm as “an intolerable act for Muslims.” “If the government fails to close it,” he said, “the ulema [religious scholars] will decide our further course of action.”
Srinagar-based newspaper Rising Kashmir reported local residents’ claims that the “pigs were pushed into the houses of Muslims to hurt their sentiments.” One villager, Safia Begum, said the “pigs are wandering near water tanks and our homes. They are making us impure.” “We are ready to sacrifice our lives,” schoolteacher Abdul Gani added, “but will not live among pigs.”
Like the Congress-PDP government which preceded it, the National Conference-Congress government has responded to the brewing crisis by appeasing chauvinists, not confronting them. In an effort to ward off the Mirwaiz’s allegations, for example, Union Water Resources Minister and State Congress Chief Saifuddin Soz has written to the Governor seeking further Kashmiri Muslim representation on the Shrine Board.
Doing the same thing again and again but expecting different results, goes an old saying, is a form of insanity. It is a maxim the new Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, might do well to consider.