August 08, 2008

A Sangh parivar brainchild, the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti

The Telegraph
August 8, 2008

Motley group flies Amarnath flag

Lawyer, priest & soldier at helm

by Muzaffar Raina

Protesters demonstrate against governor NN Vohra in Jammu on Thursday. (PTI)

Srinagar, Aug. 7: A lawyer leads them. A young priest lends his voice to fire the masses. A former brigadier has set himself the goal of winning back what he says was snatched away from them. And a top government advocate, who quit his job, is determined to end Jammu’s “discrimination” by “Kashmiri rulers”.

Meet the mixed band leading the Amarnath campaign since the state government went back on its promise to give forest land to the trust that runs the cave shrine.

They aren’t the only ones. There’s a politician who goes from one locality to another, mobilising the masses against what he calls the “hegemony” of Kashmiri leaders. And a man who has taken it upon himself to wrest basic privileges refugees from Pakistan have been denied for 60 years.

A Sangh parivar brainchild, the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti (SASS) has drawn people from different walks of life. But Leela Karan Sharma, an obscure name before June 30, the day the Samiti was born, will be the most sought after when a central team visits Jammu to find a way out of the standoff that has crippled the state.

“Among the first few names that were proposed to lead the Samiti was that of Dinesh Bharti, but it was turned down as we thought its president should be apolitical,” says Annan Sharma, chief of the Kranti Dal, one of the dozens of groups now part of the Samiti.

Although Leela Karan has a long association with the RSS, he is a lawyer by profession. “He was an obvious choice,” says Sharma, the Kranti Dal boss.

Dinesh Bharti, a mahant of Jammu’s Radha Krishna temple, is the Samiti’s firebrand face from the VHP who mobilises masses with patriotic songs like Mera Rang De Basanti Chola.

In his early thirties, Bharti’s favourite theme is “Kashmir blockade”.

Brigadier (retired) Suchet Singh is often seen at RSS meetings but has apparent disdain for politics. “I have never been into politics and would never join it,” he says.

Singh, who served the army for 32 years, says he joined the Samiti because the decision to revoke “land allotment to the shrine board hurt Hindu sentiments”.

“Kashmir leaders misled Kashmiris by telling them that the government was settling Hindus on that land. Is it possible to settle people there (in such adverse weather conditions)?”

One of the few non-parivar faces in the Samiti top brass is B.S. Salathia, the head of Jammu’s bar association.

The Congress sympathiser quit his job as additional advocate general before joining the Samiti. One of his main grievances is the alleged discrimination meted out to the people of Jammu by “Kashmiri rulers”.

Discrimination is also the pet slogan of Shiv Sena state leader Ashok Gupta, who criticises the “hegemony” of Kashmiri leaders.

Several other groups campaigning for rights of particular sections of Jammu’s society have also put their weight behind the Samiti.

While Narain Singh’s Rajput Sabha is fighting for Rajput rights, Annan Sharma’s Kranti Dal wants more privileges for West Pakistan refugees. Sharma, a former VHP state chief, says his only goal now is to get “the land back”.