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Why Jammu burns after Kashmir burnt

By Balraj Puri,

Soon after taking over his assignment as the Governor of J&K state NN Vohra, made first overture to ease the situation in the valley by offering to surrender the land the state government allotted to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board of which he is the ex-officio head. It immediately caused a backlash in Jammu region when the BJP and other Hindu organizations called for a Bandh and led protest marches.

When the State Government formally decided to revoke the land deal and took upon itself the task of providing all facilities to the pilgrimage excepting the religious rituals; bandh in Jammu was extended for 72 hours .Meanwhile the BJP National President gave a call for All India Bandh on 3rd July though BJP’s Prime Ministerial designate LK Advani maintained a meaningful silence. The local leaders have threatened to extend the agitation till the state government takes its decision back.

The situation in valley is back to normal but in Jammu mass scale spontaneous protests are going on which led the government to impose indefinite Curfew. The moot question remains that why Jammu is burning after Kashmir burnt for ten days. Is it purely a religious issue or there is more to it. Apparently turmoil in both the regions is over a trivial issue. As long as the pilgrims are assured of all facilities, it should not have mattered much how the task is shared by the Board and the Government department.

There is a need to understand the political dynamics about the manner the events have unfolded in both Jammu and valley. The significant fact in this context is that the trouble in Kashmir started at a time when there was confusion and demoralization in the separatist camp. And new Pakistan government is very conciliatory towards India. The obvious conclusion from this fact is that alienation in Kashmir valley is not entirely an imported phenomenon; the indigenous causes need to be studied and remedied.

Likewise Jammu’s discontent which is mainly political is long standing. It just needed a flash point to explode. The foremost problem in the state is to evolve a constitutional system which can reconcile diverse interests and aspirations of the three regions in the state. Otherwise tensions between regions will continue to feed extremist sentiments in all the regions. In Kashmir , they seek secessionist and anti-India outlet. In Jammu, reactions take communal or integrationist (abrogation of Article 370) form. The divergent reactions form a vicious circle reinforcing each other.

In 2002 assembly elections, Congress projected Ghulam Nabi Azad, a Muslim belonging to Jammu region as its Chief Ministerial candidate. The Congress swept the poll in the region and the BJP was marginalized and its strength in the assembly was reduced to one. But change of guards at the helm proved to be temporary palliative. Not only disillusionment soon started in Jammu region, complaints of discrimination were raised in Kashmir also. Occasionally echoes of regional tensions were heard in the cabinet which was divided on regional lines on many issues.

The People Democratic Party leader and Finance minister in the state government, for instance, publicly raised the issue of discrimination against Kashmiri Muslims in the recruitment by Service Selection Board and by the State Vigilance Organizations. It is in this context the PDP which was party to the land deal decision of the cabinet joined the popular agitation for revocation of that decision. J&K state which is the most diverse state of India, has ironically most centralized system. Not to speak of regional autonomy that was promised by Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah in July 1952 , which was never implemented , the state does not have even institutions of democratic decentralization i.e. Panchayati Raj which is in vogue in the rest of the country.

The Chief Minister spends a lot of time in receiving complaints over problems in a village and in redressing them which should be legitimate domain of Panchyats . Like wise there is no regional board no district board and no block board which can provide institutional arrangements to attend to the grievances of the people at the respective level.

Development is the main plank of the Congress government. But it is no substitute for urge for empowerment and identity. There is a need for secular institutional forum of the people at various levels for this. The unrealistic approach of the Congress has led to its gradual isolation firstly in Kashmir valley and then in Jammu. It has lessons for the party as it has to reshape its J&K policy by understanding the grass-roots realities of the state. Otherwise its future is doomed in the border state.

Coming to the current turmoil in Jammu it is regrettable that leaders of Congress took four days to visit Jammu since turmoil started there. The situation was left to be handled by bureaucrats to assuage popular sentiments who are ill equipped for the task. Even the agitators in the larger interests of Jammu must try to prevent religious polarization. Secular traditions and secular identity of Jammu have been its greatest strength since post-Independence era despite many provocations. By raising religious slogans and making the land deal a Hindu problem they are damaging the cause of Jammu. Muslims of Jammu are as much politically and socially alienated in the centralized political setup as their Hindu counterparts of Jammu.

Already communal clashes have reported to have taken place in Bhaderwah, Rajouri, Banihal and Samba areas of Jammu. If a communal tension spreads it may lead to division of the state and Jammu region which is neither in the interest of Jammu nor of Kashmir nor of India. In this sense even Muslim extremists were more tactful. They repeatedly assured that they were neither against the Yatra nor the Hindus but only against the government.

Jammu is a vital geopolitical bridge between the people of Kashmir and the rest of the country. While they have a right to express their ire against leaders of the agitation in Kashmir and the state government, as good patriots they should draw a distinction between them and common Kashmiris and not take the onus of weakening their role as a bridge. Lastly Jammu must realize the potentiality of disciplined and peaceful methods of struggle which can sustain it much longer and are much more effective with far less damage to society, if at all, than violent demonstrations can do.

( Balraj Puri is author of 35 Books mostly on Jammu and Kashmir)