August 08, 2008

Jammu: Stop the communal fire from spreading

(The Telegraph, August 8, 2008)


The apparent frivolity of Jammu’s protesters, wading in the waters of the Tawi to defy a curfew, may take some of the gravity away from the all-parties meet held on the same day to quell the disquiet in Jammu and Kashmir. But it powerfully conveys the image of what the nation is up against. The protest in Jammu against the revocation of the land transfer to the Amarnath Shrine Board is distinctly popular, distinctly communal. And it is showing the same promise of moulding the reactions of political parties as that other protest in Kashmir against the land grant that had brought the state government down. In response to carefully instigated popular passions that saw the lease of forest land to the management of a Hindu pilgrimage as a betrayal of Kashmiriyat, the People’s Democratic Party had not only gone back on its word on the land grant, but also pulled the plug on the PDP-Congress administration a little over a month ago. Now, a similar intransigence in Jammu is heightening the political pitch among both Hindutva and non-Hindutva parties. No political formation, least of all the Bharatiya Janata Party whose stakes in the state have doubled after the snub in the trust vote, can be seen to be conceding to measures that are anything less than a full-fledged transfer of the land to the shrine. Certainly not when the assembly elections are scheduled a month away, and the general elections are just around the corner. So despite first-hand knowledge (as in Ayodhya) of where such passions can lead to, the leader of the Opposition can only agree with the prime minister on the dangers of a communal conflagration but cannot compromise on an irreconcilable stand.

The fanaticism that is taking India’s northern-most state to the brink cannot work in a vacuum. There are deep misunderstandings and mistrust between the communities that owe as much to history as to recent politics. The communal rift in Jammu and Kashmir has been widened by the shameless greed of politicians and by a supine administration at the Centre that has refused to see the problem in the eye. The groundwork for the two phases of violence in the state — one which precipitated the governor’s rule and the other which has led to the siege of the valley — has been systematically laid over the years, both by radical Islamists and a rejuvenated Hindutva brigade who have played on the people’s sense of victimhood. It will take more than conciliatory meetings and speeches to end the impasse and stop the fire from spreading.