The chaos in Jammu

The grave situation in Jammu has the potential of escalating into dangerous polarization

By K.N. Pandita

No relent is in sight in the six-day old bandh and curfew in Jammu city and some of the towns in the region, which have brought life to thorough stand still. This is reminiscent of historic Praja Parishad agitation, the first mass movement in Jammu against discrimination by the populist regime.

Protest rallies were initially brought out in various parts of Jammu region against the government, which succumbed timidly to communal pressures and withdrew  Sshri Amarnath Shrine Board land allocation deal. But the ongoing bandh and curfew are a sequel to NC chairman, Omar Abdullah’s trust vote speech in the parliament on 22 July. Jammu protesters have labeled it a speech laced with communal and regional undertones. Surprisingly, the Prime Minister and the Congress Chief both were shown on live Lok Sabha channel clapping their hands in appreciation of Omar’s contentious statement.

The roots of current widespread unrest in Jammu region lie far deeper than just the statement of the NC chief. All that it did, was to show a matchstick to the haystack.

Political situation in the state took perilously wrong turn when the 3-year term of PDP-led coalition government came to the end of its term, and the Congress jumped into the driver’s seat.  Reluctant to play the second fiddle, and presumably with a different agenda up the sleeves, PDP patron and chairperson, both began indulging in bizarre diatribes that brazenly served communal and separatist interests. Complementing the mission of Mir Waiz of the Hurriyat, the PDP father-daughter duo manipulated Pakistan political leadership with the result that the PPP stalwart reneged from his earlier statement of leaving Kashmir issue to backburner.

During his three – year tenure as Chief Minister, the Mufti flirted with many dubious ideas about the solution of Kashmir issue, all to the taste of the separatists and their trans-border lobbies. Nursing the idea of division of Jammu region along communal lines, he, at the same time, subtly advocated exclusivist Muslim majority identity in the Valley in his self-determination chemistry. This was a marked deviation from the demand of NC for greater autonomy. Unlike NC, the PDP leadership betrayed scant interest in Kashmir nationalistic propensity.

Curiously, the Mufti, on whose behest, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had constituted Working Committees on Kashmir, used a controversial conduit to put forth his self-determination theory. It was a senior Indian Muslim bureaucrat who, enjoying the largesse of Congress echelons had been re-employed as Information Commissioner by the Central government. Earlier, he had, as a research scholar in the US with American fellowship, proposed a solution of Kashmir issue along communal lines.  In essence, his formula was based on the propositions of Owen Dixon and Kathwari Plan, and later on, also known as General Musharraf plan. The crux of his plan is division of Jammu region along communal lines and creation of “Greater Muslim Kashmir”.

Harsh Dev Singh, the MLA and former minister from Panthers Party objected to the presence of this bureaucrat in a formal session of the Committee saying that he was not at all a member and had no right to be there. Interestingly, Mr. N.N. Vohra, the present Governor of J&K, had supported this bureaucrat’s Kashmir solution plan. The grapevine has it that the bureaucrat was being groomed in New Delhi and also at PDP level to be the next Governor of J&K. However, The proposal was dropped when it met with severe opposition from BJP.

Governor N.N. Vohra, once close to BJP, had meandered his way into Congress alleys when NDA lost in the previous parliamentary elections. As Congress–led government’s interlocutor, he had no qualms of conscience in paying visits to known fundamentalist-separatist Kashmiri leader Mr. Ali Shah Geelani at his residence in Srinagar. This is a peculiar culture of some Indian politicians and administrators to curry favour with Kashmir separatists and then sell it to Kashmir policy managers in New Delhi in order to fortify their own position.

Present crisis in the State and imposition of curfew in Jammu have to be attributed to major mainstream political parities of the State, the Congress, NC and PDP plus the newly appointed Governor. All have contributed to the mess with each trying to have his pound of flesh. The Congress-led coalition made a hurried and half-hearted decision of allocating the Baltal forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board only to cater to the Hindu constituency in Jammu and in the rest of the country. There was no sense in taking this step when assembly election was round the corner, and the case had been kept pending for more than three years at administrative lelvel. Political implications of a sensitive matter should not have been overlooked. PDP and NC found  a windfall of an opportunity in which they could  exploit religious and parochial sentiments of the majority population in the Valley in order to endear themselves to the alienated masses and the rank and file of the separatists at large.

Bogged with a really embarrassing situation, former Chief Minister Azad announced calling an all party meeting to discuss the land deal and arrive at a consensual decision. By this time, Jammu Hindu belt had come out with sharp reaction to the anti-deal protests in the valley, and the statements of mainstream leadership in this behalf had only served as fuel to flames. Nevertheless, the BJP was prepared for such a dialogue, which, however, never was to be, thanks to the intransigence of the new Governor.

Ignoring chief minister’s proposal, and not inclined to take expert and unbiased advice from his Advisors — who were yet to be appointed — the new Governor went by the persuasions of the Pradesh Congress chief Prof. Soz, NC Chief Omar Abdullah and former Deputy Chief Minister Mr. Muzaffar Baig. In a fit of bravado, he not only rescinded the land allocation deal but also stripped the Amarnath Shrine Board of its authority of arranging annual yatra to the holy cave. In a mischievous and sadist statement in Jammu, the ousted chief minister Azad told the people that they should distribute sweets because the Governor had wrested the control of annual pilgrimage to the holy cave from Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. He found it the right way of giving vent to his ire against the controversial Governor.

But the saddest and most sordid part of this entire happening is the brutality and repression unleashed by the Jammu police on protesting masses. It was not a protest demonstration by the BJP or RSS or any other rightist party: the masses of people of Jammu region, the Jammu civil society as such, rose in protest. Some MLAs of N.C and PDP of Jammu region deserted their parties. A  Congress MLA’s house was ransacked.

The crowning act of police repression was the handling of the dead body of one Kuldip Kumar Dogra, a Sangharsh Samiti activist who had joined the groups that sat on fast unto death dharna against the communal and provocative statement of Omar Abdullah. The statement of the wife of the deceased and his relatives how the police authorities desecrated the dead body, snatched it by force from its genuine custodians, took it to Bishnah his home town, placed the town under curfew and, against the Hindu rites, tried to cremate the body during night. The police besmeared the pyre with wine and worn out combustible matter to hasten inflammability before protestors gathered together. The police manhandled the camera men and snatched their cameras. But the brave people of Bishnah came out in crowds on finding what was going on, clashed with the police with several of them receiving wounded in police brutality but disallowed cremation until the day break. The dead body was cremated by the local people of Bishnah according to proper rites.

This is an unprecedented story of administration under Governor’s rule functioning in a totalitarian fashion. It is reported that the overnight replaced SHO of the area — on the behest of a Congress MLA. —- had consented to be the conductor of this perfidy. Although NC and PDP both condemned the desecration of the dead body of the victim by the police, the police chief said he was not going to let down his subordinates. Even a known anti-yatra local English daily editorially wrote a highly critical piece against the police handling of the situation.

The failure of the administration to handle a sensitive case is clearly attributable to the fact that those at the helm of affairs like the Divisional Commission and IGP, both being outsiders, are not at all familiar with local conditions and situations. To crown their administrative deficiency, the newly appointed Governor caters more to the agenda of the separatists than of the nationalist. He tries to play safe in this scrimmage.

The Sangharsh Samiti, spearheading the protest movement has declined the Governor’s offer for a dialogue contending that when the Governor says there was “no land deal and there was no question of withdrawing it”, what then is there for them to talk to the Governor. Why does he call them for a dialogue? The Governor’s office is silent and paralyzed. All that it has done is to rub salt into the wounds of the protestors by announcing a magisterial enquiry rather than handing over the enquiry to a High Court judge. The Samiti has put forth three demands for withdrawing the agitation. These are (1) Governor N.N. Vohra be recalled immediately because his credentials are not above board (2) Amarnath Shrine Board’s ecclesiastical jurisdiction and authority be restored, and (3) Allocation of land at Baltal to the SASBV be restored.

A complicated situation has been created by state political parties, administration and the Governor in tandem. This situation has the potential of escalating into polarization. At a time when the State is passing through a critical period of escalated terrorism with external abetment, sordid mismanagement of affairs within will only help our enemies to carry forward their nefarious agenda. Restraint on all sides is advised. If New Delhi wants to defuse the situation and forestall further damage to the trust of the people, it must call back the Governor forthwith, and in his place, send a person of high caliber and moral stature who does not compromise as a cheap and discredited political demagogue in a bureaucrat’s garb. Kashmir issue is too sensitive to be left to the discretion of self-styled experts.

(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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