Kashmir: the siege within

Kashmir: the siege within
By Kuldip Nayar, Dawn, August 15, 2008

WHEN religion is mixed with politics, the result is what is happening in Srinagar and Jammu. Several people have been killed, property worth millions has been burnt and life in both the regions has practically come to a standstill.

Leaders-turned-mobsters pushed for the allotment of 100 acres of land to the Amarnath shrine management board and subsequently its cancellation to such an extent that they have polarised the entire state to the last person. The Valley is separated from Jammu by the Pir Panjal mountains but now a wall of religious and regional jingoism has also come up.

Even liberal politicians in the Valley are wearing religion on their sleeves. They have buried Kashmiriyat, akin to Sufism, deep.

The Kashmir Valley was one area in the subcontinent where no communal incident had taken place after Partition. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah was at the helm of affairs in Srinagar. Many Hindus and Sikhs had taken shelter there after travelling from Pakistan. Some among them felt insecure. The Sheikh arranged their transport by tongas to Jammu.

However, it is a matter of shame that when the refugees reached the Jammu side safely, the Muslim tonga drivers were butchered.

This partly explains why the all-party delegation which went from Delhi to Jammu and Srinagar to find a solution had to come back empty-handed. Positions have hardened beyond redemption. The two regions can continue to be yoked together. But they have been cut asunder emotionally, socially and otherwise.

Yet it would be an oversimplification if one were to conclude that the allotment of land or its cancellation was responsible for the agitation. The wounds that the two regions have inflicted on each other over the years have deepened. The land incident only provided the spark to the haystack of alienation which was there to burn.

The two regions have been moving apart from each other for a long time. Separatists and politicians in the Valley and Jammu have been widening the gulf to see if they can become separate states. Some straws have been floating in the wind in the shape of the demand for autonomy for Jammu. Some Kashmiri Pandits who wanted to return to their homes in the Valley have realised that there’s no going back.

What is disconcerting is to see well-read young Muslims participating in the agitation. Some of them have worked in India in important positions in the private sector. This is a message far beyond the allotment of land. It reflects anger and desperation. It is clear that the normality seen in Srinagar is far from real. Once the chips are down, practically everyone is on the streets. That religion has played a key role in consolidating the Kashmir community is something which should make the intelligentsia in the country realise that the status quo in the state cannot last indefinitely.

The agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is to bring about the separation of Jammu and Kashmir. A few liberal Kashmiris who have contacted me suspect such a design because of the ferocity of the Jammu agitation. The BJP has already created a situation where it is difficult to imagine that the two regions can ever be united.

Remarks made by leaders of political parties in the Valley reflect a particular thinking. The Amarnath pilgrims’ huts were compared to the Jewish settlements in Palestine. Some said the land allotment was meant to change the demography, to turn the Muslim majority state into a Hindu one. This allegation is not true because New Delhi, even under the BJP-led government, has never tried to put Hindus from other states in Kashmir. The law prohibits non-Kashmiris from purchasing the land in the state. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, was categorical in his pronouncement that no outsider would be allowed to settle down in the state.

I can understand the BJP exploiting the situation for its Hindutva ends because it has no faith in India’s ethos of secularism. But I have been greatly disappointed to find the Hurriyat leaders and the People’s Democratic Party trying to outdo the fundamentalists. It is well known that Mehbooba Mufti talks irresponsibly for the sake of effect. But this time she has beaten all records. Her observations on a TV channel reminded me of a jihadi who did not mind setting Kashmir on fire so long as she got applause from the fanatics of the community.

When religious frenzy takes over, people do not think straight. India’s politics is going to get more vitiated because of the coming elections. The central government is on its last legs and probably a long-term solution of Kashmir is not possible. But some exercise should begin. The Valley, Jammu and Ladakh should become a federation so that each unit feels that it has an identity of its own. The overall solution of the Kashmir problem should follow.

The idea of blocking the Jammu-Srinagar road, the only land link between the two regions, was that of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s mentor. Thousands of karsevaks were brought from different states to sustain the road blockade. It is another matter that the army was able to pierce the blockade and sustain the supply of essential goods to the Valley. For some reasons, the inept government in Srinagar and still more inept in Delhi did not think of measures to keep the road open from day one.

The threat of the Kashmir fruit growers to cross the Muzaffarabad border to take their produce to Pakistan should have made the RSS realise the repercussions of bandhs and blockades. The government once again woke up late to the threat. Police action began when the people took to the streets. The protest was bound to spread to other places because after a long time, people had a chance to ventilate age-old grievances. The bigger question of Kashmir has unfortunately been reopened along religious lines.

The whole situation is a lesson for New Delhi. India has a point that Hindu-majority Jammu and Muslim-majority Kashmir cannot be separated because it will tell upon India’s secular polity. However, after the recent happenings in the Valley and Jammu, the whole thing becomes a question mark.

The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi.

Also See:
Tens of thousands march in Indian Kashmir protest - AFP
Kashmir Independence Day Clashes - BBC

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