August 08, 2008

Jammu and Kashmir on the edge of a communal abyss

The Hindu
August 08, 2008


Unholy alliance

Jammu and Kashmir is teetering on the edge of a communal abyss. For the past fortnight, violent mobs have disrupted civic life in Jammu, staged assaults on policemen, and blockaded supplies headed north on the highway to Srinagar. Muslims have been attacked, and their properties torched. The Amarnath Yatra Sangarsh Samiti, a coalition of Hindu religious and communal organisations, is on the war path. Its aim is to compel the government to restore 40 hectares of land earlie r granted to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board — a grant that was revoked following a similar, communally charged agitation in Kashmir. Hindutva leaders in Jammu claim that the revocation of the land transfer is an affront to Hindu ‘religious rights’ — a claim as bizarre as that of Islamists who claimed the transfer was part of a conspiracy to alter Kashmir’s Muslim-majority character. The reality is that all land granted to the Shrine Board remains available to pilgrims, just as it was long before the Shrine Board came into existence. However, appeals to reason and national interest have cut no ice with leaders of the sangh parivar. Kashmir’s marginalised Islamists, and the Hindu communal bloc in Jammu, which had its nose rubbed in the dirt in the last Assembly elections, are clearly locked in an unholy alliance to maximise trouble.

It is a reflection on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s cynical political agenda that it refused to call for calm or endorse Governor N.N. Vohra’s appeals for dialogue. BJP leaders must reflect on the grave implications of the course they have taken in India’s most troubled and vulnerable State. From the time of the Ayub Khan dictatorship, Pakistan has backed what is called the Chenab Plan, a proposal to divide the State along the river that marks its communal frontiers. Over the years, variants of this partition plan have been endorsed by both Hindu and Muslim communalists. The Lashkar-e-Taiba tried to implement the plan by massacring Hindus along the Pir Panjal mountains, in the hope of provoking their southward migration and the expulsion of Muslims through retaliatory riots in Jammu. Where its guns and bombs failed, the Shrine Board riots seem to be succeeding. It isn’t just the BJP that needs to reflect on its role in this dangerous affair. So too must the People’s Democratic Party, which first assented to the land transfer decision and changed course to capitalise on Islamist resentment. The Congress must also take its share of the blame for precipitating the current J&K crisis in the first place. The all-party meeting, a worthwhile if belated firefighting effort by the central government, failed to produce anything other than a general endorsement of the desirability of creating a congenial environment to resolve the crisis through dialogue. Unless all the major players cooperate with Governor Vohra in his efforts to find a modus vivendi along uncompromisingly secular lines, there will be a horrific price to pay.