Monday, August 25, 2008
Exiles in ghettos keep fire blazing
Muthi (Jammu), Aug. 24: They live eight, often ten or twelve, to a room. To call them rooms is a stretch; hovels is more appropriate — barely six by eight, the asbestos ceilings knocked low over them, a vast and suffocating narrow-laned warren. They do with temporary power pulled on illicit lines, they have little access to water, they share unsanitary community bathrooms. They live marooned in the putrid discharge oozing from them, amid foraging pigs and pie-dogs.
These are Kashmiri Pandits uprooted from their Valley moorings two decades ago, and Muthi, on the forsaken outskirts of Jammu, is their home — a blistered tinderbox of frustration and rage, spewing communal pus. In Muthi, and other similar “migrant camps” littered around Jammu, could lie some of the clues to why this crisis has caught fires that refuse to die.
It’s so angry, it doesn’t even want to talk. “Go away, just go away,” protests P.N. Dhar, a former government employee and community leader. “What have you come here now for? To use us to douse the fires those (expletive deleted) Kashmiri Muslims are lighting up? Too late, now it’s our turn to light the fires, to get some notice from this country.”
Men from the ghetto have gathered around Dhar and it is instantly evident they have unspent payloads of fury and hatred accumulated over the years; they are now letting it off.
“This country has only been bothered about (expletive deleted) who carry Pakistani flags and spit on patriots,” says Sahabji Chrungoo, originally from Baramulla. “Nobody came when we were thrown out, nobody bothered when we were killed, nobody listened when we warned secession had gripped Kashmir. But how long could you have ignored it? This had to happen. If we have to light fires now to get attention, so be it. But this time, we will have it our way.”
As an unprecedented regional-communal conflict consumes the state, the Valley’s ousted Kashmiri Pandits have become Jammu’s sword-arm in battle. It’s a sword smelted in decades of unassuaged grievance and of rancour and prejudice. It’s a sword that has verily stabbed the celebrated and inclusive notion of “Kashmiriyat” to death and invoked in its place a ghoulish spectre of intolerance that threatens to extend the current rift.
Agnishekhar, convener of Panun Kashmir, the umbrella body of ousted Pandits, isn’t even remorseful or apologetic about pronouncing “Kashmiriyat” dead.
“What about it?” he asks combatively. “Where is composite culture when all Hindus have been driven out of the Valley, out of their homes and farmlands? They killed Kashmiriyat, not us. Don’t expect secularism of us when you are pandering to all shades of Islam and anti-nationalism in the Valley. Who is secular in the Valley that Jammu is being called communal in contrast? Those who are unleashing cries of Nizam-e-Mustafa (Islamic rule)?”
The Panun Kashmir leader won’t openly admit it, but the strident “Bam-Bam Bole” movement across Jammu is an hour of vindication that he is loath to let go of.
“We have been waiting for this for long,” he says. “Jammu didn’t exactly welcome us when we were driven out of the Valley in 1989-90, we haven’t had it easy here. But now Jammu seems to have understood what the problem with Kashmiri Muslims is, it has risen and we are with Jammu. This is not about land in Amarnath, this is about a deeper malaise of which Amarnath is only a symptom. Kashmir has held India to ransom for too long, now it is our turn. Half the Kashmiri leadership deserves to be put behind bars for sedition, we deserve to be reinstated to our homes.”
Does he realistically believe, though, that he and his fellow Pandits can make their way back to the Valley laden with such loathing? That they can even, in this surcharge, visualise the “yatra” to Amarnath proceeding next year?
“That is for the government to ensure,” Agnishekhar says. “Why does the law of the land not run in Kashmir, can Indians not go there? The government and secularists of this country have nothing to say of the anti-national Islamists of Kashmir, all they can do is blame us. What for? For agitating with the national flag?”
As his Muthi compatriots gather, a little clutch that has mushroomed in minutes, Agnishekhar, also a Hindi writer of fair renown, crossly throws off the burden of bigotry from his doorstep.
“I was once known as a progressive writer, until they threw me out for protesting the ouster of Pandits and began calling me a religious zealot. But should I not even protest my circumstances? Won’t you if you were thrown out of home? Hum aah bhi karen to ho jaate hain badnaam, woh katl bhi karen to charcha nahin hota (I get defamed if I so much as complain, they commit murder and yet get no blame).”
Agnishekhar claims no allegiance to the BJP or the Hindu rightwing, he’s been a Congressman all his life, paid obeisance to Nehru. He does concede, though, that today his worldview is closer to the Hindu rightwing.
“Where are Nehru’s children, where is the Congress, feeding the Muslim communalists of the Valley?” he asks. “It’s the BJP that helped us in crisis, if anybody did, we have to be grateful. And now we have to fight its battle to the very end.”
The assemblage behind him, virulently anti-Muslim and sporting saffron bandannas, is ominously nodding approval.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Congress, BJP slam Arundhati Roy’s remark
Tuesday, 19 August , 2008, 22:08
New Delhi: Arundhati Roy came under attack from the Congress as also the BJP over her controversial statement on Kashmir with the ruling party dubbing her a "loose cannon" and the main Opposition saying her remarks were "nothing short of sedition."
Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said the author and activist was a "loose cannon who has abused liberal traditions of India to the fullest."
"I think it is a great tribute to the tolerance of India's ethos that a person who openly calls for cessation of India is not being locked up and the keys are not being thrown away."
Echoing similar sentiments, BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar said Arundhati's statement was "outrageous."
"This is outrageous. This is against national spirit and nationalism. She is attacking the integrity of the country. This is nothing short of sedition," he said, adding that the country did not approve her stand.
Much has been said about the Kashmir issue since protests started to rock Jammu and the Kashmir valley. Many commentators have offered ways to resolve the crisis and not all agree with the official line on Jammu and Kashmir. Such a wealth of diverse opinion is welcome and we may thank our democracy for it. However, we ought to remember that Kashmir is a complex problem that dates back to 1947 and no one has yet found a readymade solution. Yes, the temptation to get over, at any cost, a dispute that has consumed so much in time, money and lives is high in the country. But overly simple attempts to settle the Kashmir issue could create new problems without resolving old ones. Issues have gone beyond the Amarnath land controversy.
What are the proposals suggested to resolve the Kashmir issue? One, Kashmiris are alienated from the Indian state and want to join Pakistan. So let them go. Two, Kashmiris are a pampered lot and the mass protests in the Valley are a threat to the territorial integrity of . The protests should be crushed and Article 370, which provides special status to Jammu and Kashmir, withdrawn to integrate the state with the rest of India. Third, we must recognise the Kashmiri sentiment of alienation and negotiate with all groups, including separatist ones, on a platform of autonomy to the state.
To examine the first proposal, the UN resolution calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir to decide its accession to India or Pakistan in effect rules out the option of an independent Kashmir. A plebiscite is possible only if India and Pakistan both withdraw their armies from the region. That's unlikely to happen at this point. True, separatists in Kashmir demanding freedom are supported by Pakistan. But Islamabad's vision of 'azadi' for Kashmir doesn't include an independent Kashmiri nation but mere integration of the region with the Pakistani state that is called Azad Kashmir. Various surveys, such as the one carried by Outlook magazine in 1995, suggest that a merger with Pakistan is not a preferred option in the Valley. Moreover, at the core of the pro-Pakistan argument is the view of India as a Hindu state.
It rejects the notion of a secular India and argues that religion ought to be the foundation for a nation. According to this view, Pakistan is the destined home for the subcontinent's Muslims. The Kashmir valley has a Muslim majority; ergo, give it to Pakistan. However, another partition on the basis of religion might sharpen the communal divide in this country. India is home to more than 150 million Muslims and less than five million of them live in Kashmir. The rest are not asking for a separate nation; by and large, they are as contented in India, warts and all, as the other communities of this nation are. But any further territorial realignment on the basis of religion might open old wounds.
The main target of the integrationist politics of right-wing politicians is Article 370. They want the article to be withdrawn. This is impractical. Article 370 is an article of faith born out of the terms under which Jammu and Kashmir joined the Indian Union. It is more than a legal clause that determines relations between Srinagar and New Delhi. The controversial provision is loaded with symbolism and tampering with it will only strengthen the separatist argument that Hindu India wants to dilute the unique character of Kashmir. Clearly, the Han Chinese model of national integration practised by Beijing in Tibet is not an option that can be supported, for moral as well as practical considerations, by those who want a genuine resolution of the dispute.
That leaves us with the autonomy option. This seems to be the only feasible solution at the moment. Article 370 can be the foundation to restructure autonomy for Kashmir.
Sections of the separatist leadership in Kashmir have hinted that they are willing to explore this option. New Delhi should be bold to explore innovative suggestions, including a negotiated return to something like the pre-1953 status of the Jammu and Kashmir state. The present international line of control should stay, but more transit points and trade routes could be opened along the border. Any proposal for autonomy has to be discussed in Parliament and a national consensus has to be obtained on it.
Political parties must rise above immediate electoral interests and see the long-term gains for the country if this tortuous issue is to be resolved amicably. At stake in Kashmir is not merely the might of the Indian state, but also its ability to be flexible and accommodative within a liberal and democratic framework. The world is watching us.
Bold and imaginative leadership on the part of New Delhi as well as Kashmiri leaders is necessary. The challenge is to negotiate a common ground. Alienation is as much an issue of perception as it is of ground realities. The Kashmiri's sense of fear or anger is fuelled by propaganda unleashed by Pakistan as much as it is a result of mismanagement of the problem by successive governments in Srinagar and New Delhi. A spot of skillful statesmanship is urgently required from all sides.
Usman Agarbattiwala, who was arrested in Baroda, gave initial hints of the operation to the Gujarat police. A confidant of Kapadia, Usman was doing a diploma in human rights at Baroda University. The SIMI leadership (or Indian Mujahideen leadership) wants its cadres to penetrate the legal field, media and human rights outfits all over India.
Friday, August 22, 2008
PoK refugees in Jammu and Kashmir are housed in camps scattered across the Jammu, Kathua, Rajouri, Poonch and Udhampur districts. These camps consist of cramped, one-room units that offer their inhabitants very little protection and security. Sanitation and drainage is poor. Residents also lack access to basic healthcare services.
Mishro Devi, a resident of Gadigarh camp, Jammu, migrated from Mirpur to India in 1947. Her children were born and raised at the camp. Trapped in debt and with no prospect of employment, two of her sons committed suicide. Charan Kaur lives in a one-room hut in Bhour camp. Her family fled to India in 1965. “I don’t have any source of income and there is no family member to support me,” says Kaur. “Back home, my father owned several orchards. I never thought I would be forced to live on charity,” she adds.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up five working groups to broaden the scope of the dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir. The groups were set up to deal with confidence-building measures within the state, improve relations across the Line of Control (LoC), monitor good governance, further economic development, and iron out wrinkles in Centre-state relations. Surprisingly, the status, return and rehabilitation of PoK refugees were not on the working groups’ agenda. Nor were representatives of PoK refugee organisations invited to be part of the working groups.
In April 2007, RUF galvanised members of the refugee committee in Jammu to march towards the international border. The rally was scheduled to cross the border and enter PoK as a gesture of protest. The third round-table conference on Kashmir was being held in New Delhi at the time. Though the state police stopped protestors from crossing the border, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad met representatives of the community and assured them that measures would be taken to chalk out an official relief policy. He ordered an all-party committee set up to look into the demands of the refugees.
The committee, which comprised members of prominent political parties in the state including the Congress, National Conference and PDP, was asked to look into two issues -- the comprehensive settlement of PoK refugees and the question of delimitation. Though members of all political parties agreed on the humanitarian issue of refugee rehabilitation, they differed on the issue of delimitation. The committee was disbanded as members could not see eye-to-eye on delimitation due to political differences.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
August 21, 2008
Is it an orchestrated coincidence or random chance that on August 17, two leading national dailies prominently carried commentaries advocating independence for the Kashmir Valley? With surprising ease and lack of angst, each author has argued in favour of secession by part of an integrally constituted state of the Union of India.
Tremendous efforts by all the state and non-state personae in Jammu & Kashmir and the rest of India over the last six decades have seen sharp ups and downs, almost see-saw phases in the feelings of alienation followed by assimilation, poverty followed by growing prosperity among the people of this state.
The last few years have brought in the most sustained period of political stability, free and fair elections, economic recovery and strengthening integration, achieved through painstaking efforts and sagacity by all players. Heading into the November 2008 state assembly elections in Jammu & Kashmir, the separatist groups found themselves on the sidelines, threatened with further irrelevance and declining support should these elections be held as smoothly and with equally wide participation as those in 2002.
The Amarnath Yatra [Images] land issue that surfaced in June has been extremely poorly handled by the state and central governments at every stage. The nation needs answers and accountability about why in less than two months the marginalised separatist groups are once again being allowed to set the political agenda in the Valley. Why have no efforts been made to explain the reality of the proposed temporary land allocation scheme (for the Amarnath Yatra) to the agitating people in the Kashmir Valley? Why have the strong feelings of every community in Jammu over the cancellation of the allocation been so deliberately ignored and under-estimated? Why is it that even the most elementary efforts were not undertaken to disabuse the people of Kashmir Valley about a so-called economic blockade? If there was at any point the possibility of a shortage of essential supplies for the people of the Kashmir Valley this should have been overcome by arranging sufficient airlifts and/or trucking in such supplies through the alternative Manali-Leh route.
At the same time, no matter how serious these lapses, the answer cannot be to suggest that the Kashmir Valley be allowed to secede from India. The sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is as much a composite whole as the human body is. If there is an ailing part of the body, you diagnose the problem and take remedial measures, not carelessly, almost casually, suggest an excision and discarding of the offending section.
For those who advocate a referendum in Jammu and Kashmir [Images], there are some questions. Do they feel that Jammu and Kashmir legally and constitutionally cannot be considered a part of India? On what basis can there be a referendum in the Kashmir Valley, or separate referenda in Jammu, Ladakh and the Valley? On what basis can "independence" be considered as the so-called third option? Should the proposed referendum be based on the UN resolutions of August 1948 and January 1949? Or are such sentiments the manifestation of a simultaneous bout of exasperation and giving in to the separatists who have been quite unnecessarily allowed to mount pressures in a sudden reversal of the peaceful situation that existed in the state prior to June?
The UN resolutions of 1948/49 (adopted by the UN Commission for India and Pakistan) are unequivocal and specific in making the proposed plebiscite in all the five regions of Jammu and Kashmir conditional upon (i) withdrawal of Pakistani troops from all the areas of the state of Jammu and Kashmir that it has occupied (this includes PoK, the Northern Territories and the Shaksgam valley that has been ceded by Pakistan to China); and (ii) the withdrawal by Pakistan, from these occupied areas of Jammu and Kashmir, of their tribesmen and nationals not ordinarily resident in these areas. The UN Commission in an aide-memoire issued on January 14, 1949, stated that in the event of Pakistan not implementing these pre-conditions, India's acceptance of the UN resolutions would no longer be binding on them.
As recently as March 2001 former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, speaking in Islamabad [Images], accepted the legal and practical difficulties in implementing the UN resolutions and hence their irrelevance. It is evident that the UN resolutions no longer provide any basis for holding referenda either in the Kashmir Valley or in Jammu and Ladakh.
Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India, and will remain so. The Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir itself recognises this. Any move to hold a referendum in any part of Jammu and Kashmir would contradict the fundamental statement in Section 3 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir that 'the State of Jammu and Kashmir is and shall be an integral part of the Union of India'. Section 147 prohibits any amendment of Section 3 by the state legislature. In any case, India has stringent laws that forbid secessionist activity.
It is time that the people of India and all national political parties come out unequivocally against anyone who advocates secessionism. In this context, the print and electronic media too should be more responsible about giving prominence to such views.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
From Pioneer, 19 Aug 2008
At various stages, other States encountered the Indian Mujahideen terror network. Political compulsions or a weak will forced them to back away. Gujarat pressed on. That is why the Modi Government's mechanism to fight terror is the only one working
In February 2008, a terror suspect in Bangalore was interrogated and subjected to narco-analysis. His revelations were both chilling and fascinating. It was apparent that he was part of an all-India jihadi network and blurted out plans to launch terror strikes at various locations in the country. There were early clues, for instance, that Gujarat too would be a target, as indeed it turned out to be on July 26.
The confession was considered simply too combustible. The administration led by the State Governor -- Karnataka was then under President's rule -- sat on the narco-analysis report and did not share it with other State Governments.
As early as 2006, SIMI cadre held a 'commando training camp' in Kerala's Ernakulam district. It was a rehearsal for a terrorist attack and the police made arrests. However, the would-be terrorists were soon released. As the Kerala Home Minister told mediapersons this past week, "Terrorists are operating in Kerala but their main activities are outside the State. When we took police action against some of them, there was a hue and cry from human rights activists saying that minorities were being targeted."
After a spate of attacks, the Uttar Pradesh Police began investigating sleeper-cells and terrorist operatives within its territory. All was going well till the leads started to point to a madarsa and a maulvii who seemed to hold the key. Worried about a possible community revolt, the State Government retreated.
the Ahmedabad and Surat bombings case and laid bare the structure of Indian Mujahideen, the SIMI offshoot that has emerged as India's home-grown Al Qaeda. It is now clear that The information cited above has all come to light after the Gujarat Police crackedother States and their police forces had, at various stages, encountered the same terror matrix but had baulked at tough action.
If the Gujarat Police succeeded, first and foremost it was because it faced no political pressure, was not told to be over-sensitive to religio-political concerns and was promised support against tendentious and sometimes treacherous criticism from the army of civil rights activists who are, inadvertently or otherwise, crippling India's war against jihad.
By just allowing a professional police force to do its job, the Gujarat Government accomplished three things. First, it identified the perpetrators of not just the Ahmedabad bomb blasts but also of many other recent terror strikes -- Jaipur, Bangalore and Hyderabad, for instance.
Second, it has debunked the idea -- always specious -- that mysterious men from 'across the border' came to India, triggered terrorist attacks and then, with astonishing speed, 'fled' to Bangladesh, Pakistan or elsewhere. India can no longer pretend it is immune to global radical Islamism.
If one considers the demographic composition of the Indian Mujahideen members and resource persons who have been named or arrested, an interesting mix emerges. There are white collar professionals -- ranging from doctors to IT specialists -- religious preachers and small-time fixers from the underworld who have seamlessly made the switch from organised crime in the 1990s to terrorism today.
What unites these disparate elements is a common interpretation of religious duty, one that is inspired perhaps by jihad icons like Osama bin Laden. Their cause is pan-Islamic; it has nothing to do with Kashmir, poverty or any perceived oppression in India. A mastermind of the Gujarat conspiracy was an engineer who worked for a Wipro Technologies affiliate in Mumbai. He resigned in 1998, allegedly saying he wanted to devote himself to "religious work".
That is why to claim that the Gujarat bombings may have been vengeance for the post-Godhra violence, which took place in 2002, is laughable. The seeds of Indian jihad were sown in the 1990s, as they were in the rest of the world.
Despite the recent arrests, the battle against terrorism is far from over. It would be worth studying what the Gujarat Government is doing to take on the enemy. It is one thing to give the police operational autonomy; there is also a capacity-building process underway, one that other States could learn from.
The Gujarat Government has announced the setting up of two new institutions. A Forensic Sciences University will offer post-graduate and doctoral courses in the use of new techniques and technologies to study crime -- be it cyber-crime, detonating sophisticated explosives, narco-terrorism, money-laundering.
That aside, a Suraksha (Security) University will offer graduate-level training to those who want to join the intelligence, police or military services or set up their own security agencies, and want to intellectually equip themselves for their future careers. This represents a dramatic shift from a mindset that sees policing or the providing of security as a non-cerebral task that only requires muscles and batons.
The Gujarat template cannot work if it is limited to one State. It has to be scaled up and institutionalised nationally if India is serious about fighting its war on terror. The combination of determined detection, political resolve and anticipatory thinking that the Gujarat Government and its police have shown is waiting to be adopted across the country.
Of course, there is the inevitable political consequence. The arrest of Mufti Abu Bashir and his accomplices has put terrorism back on the electoral agenda. The BJP can claim that it is better equipped to meet the challenge than a confused Congress, dragged down further by compromised regional allies.
The real benefit will, however, accrue to Chief Minister Narendra Modi. He now has the trademark on combating terrorism, having established himself as the one political administrator most alive to and capable of thwarting India's domestic jihad. He is the last man standing.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
None should say Omar is not allowed in Jammu. Let him come, listen and speak. Like any other Indian should feel free to visit Kashmir or any other part of the nation. He is welcome to visit my home even if he denies me a piece of land in Kashmir. Why should a few words uttered by him make me change my Indian-ness? If he spoke in Parliament as a Muslim, asserting his Islamic identity, let denial of land to Hindus be his Islam and my Hinduness must keep my nation as a free democracy where difference of opinion is a natural phenomenon unlike Islamic countries.
I had listened to Omar Abdullah when he was in Vajpayee's cabinet and felt he had great potential to be an influential Indian leader. He spoke for India and brilliantly too. Now, if he has chosen to be just a regional one, it's his choice.
But he must stop to think why he can own a bungalow in Delhi or Bangalore and at the same time deny that privilege to a fellow Indian in Kashmir?
Kashmiri Muslim leaders would like to enjoy the fruits and liberties of a Hindu majority democracy but vehemently deny that to Hindus in their area of influence. Why?
When they are in a minority they crave and get special privileges. But once a majority, every single right to be at par is refused to other minorities.
It's the same phenomenon all over the globe. A direct consequence of turning Wahabi. Wahabi intolerance and separatism is poisoning Muslim brotherhood too. A brilliant report in TOI elaborating how Wahabi elements are gaining ground in the small towns of Gujarat and the softer, humane version of Islam, the Bareilevi school, which is resisting their aggressive expansionism makes an interesting reading and gives a frightening picture of the inter-communal strife within Muslim society.
Kashmir is predominantly Sunni and Wahabi. Hence the intolerance that denies even the basic features of Kashmiriyat.
And see what the de-Indianised intellectuals wrote on the front pages in Delhi's newspapers: "All over a piece of land!" Really?
Then why are the Indian soldiers defending a barren piece of dead snow in Siachen? Or what's that piece of cloth known as the Tricolor? Is it worth dying for?
Jammu is witnessing a mass patriotic uprising, unprecedented till now. It's a Second Ayodhya enveloped in the Tricolour outshining the 1952 Praja Parishad movement, which demanded one flag, one constitution and one head of the state. Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee was martyred for this cause in the jail of Sheikh Abdullah, grandfather of Omar. The situation hasn't changed in the last 56 years. It has in fact worsened.
Such a mass movement goes beyond the controls of any party or organisation. For the last 20 days, the roads are empty and markets closed. The sudden eruption of protests has seen grandfathers and grandsons and mothers and grandmothers ringing bells against Muslim separatism and shouting at the top of their voice: "Har har Mahadev". Such a protest by every single member of families who had never come out for a public demonstration can't be engineered. It's an uprising, a spontaneous expression of anger accumulated in the last five decades of misrule by people of suspect loyalties. The Doctor’s Association, Bar Association and Govt. Employees Association, Sikhs, Gujjar-Bakkarwal Muslims and Congress MLAs defying their party, the Hotel Association and every single sect of Hindu society have joined and supported the movement.
One young man, Kuldeep Kumar Dogra, took his life in utter disgust after reciting a patriotic poem before the hunger strikers in Jammu. Policemen in plainclothes forcibly took his body away and tried to burn it in his village in the dead of night without even informing his family. A monk saw them burning the pyre with country-made liquor and used car tyres and managed to alert the villagers. The policemen ran away seeing the protesters swelling in number. And none of the human rightists raised a voice of dissent. Did the policemen belong to India or an enemy country?
In fact the whole movement is a revolt of Tricolour people against unpatriotic politics on Kashmir. It's an effort to reclaim India in a region where the central leaders and regional parties have abandoned the idea of pan-Indian nationalism and geographical integration. India has been reducing every day in the valley and the seculars keep on counting their votes and encouraging separatists at the cost of an Indian identity.
After all, the Amarnath Shrine Board was created on the recommendation of the Nitish Sengupta Committee formed by the state government in 1996 when more than 250 Amarnath pilgrims died in a snowstorm. That made the state government realize that facilities are inadequate and hence a committee was formed under the chairmanship of retired senior IAS officer Sengupta. The government accepted the recommendations of the committee a year later and decided to create a separate board on the pattern of the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board through an act passed by the Farooq Abdullah goverment in 2000. The Secretary, Tourism Depaetment, was appointed CEO of the board.
Initially, toilets and other facilities were added but they proved inadequate as neither the office of the shrine board was set up nor any staff worth its name was appointed. It was only when Gen. SK Sinha took over as Governor in 2003 and hence became Chairman of the Shrine Board that the office was established with Arun Kumar, IAS, as its full-time CEO. Kumar changed the entire gamut and pilgrims were provided with livable camping facilities.
Earlier, mahants and local interest groups were taking home all the offerings of the shrine. Now the shrine board regulated the income, spending it on providing more facilities to pilgrims and regularizing the fare structure regarding pony hiring, collies, camping sites, toilets and emergency medical help. The chief mahant was given huge compensation and other Muslim helpers were employed in the board. Kumar also introduced bacterial toilets using the latest Japanese technology which was environment-friendly and turned night soil into usable fertilizer for local farmers. Prior to this, concrete toilets had proved a colossal waste as they would get choked and the entire structure needed to be demolished. But this had proved profitable for the local contractors; hence, when the new green technology was introduced the contractors’ lobby protested and the then Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayed, halted the work in 2005. As a result of it, the Shrine Board approached the High Court which gave a stay order and the work continued.
It's noteworthy that during the while that the Secretary, Tourism was acting as the CEO of the Shrine Board, all the toilets and camping facilities were constructed on government land and nobody objected. It was only when the bribe channels were stopped for the politicians’ protégés that they objected to government land being used for pilgrims. Hence, after the stay was obtained from the High Court, the Shrine Board asked the state government in 2005 to regularise use of government land by formally transferring a few plots of land to the board en route to the Amarnath shrine. It took three years to take a decision and finally on May 26 this year, the state cabinet passed a proposal diverting (not selling or leasing) 38 hectares of land near Baltal to the Shrine Board on a temporary basis at a cost of Rs 2.5 crore. The Minister of Forest, under whose jurisdiction the land was diverted for the Shrine Board's use, was a member of the PDP headed by Mufti.
After the order was signed, word spread that a huge amount of land had been given to Hindus and now they would come and outnumber Muslims. It's a plot against Kashmiri Muslims, it was argued. An anarchical agitation began with Mufti, the Hurriyat and Omar Abdullah uniting to deprive Hindu pilgrims a camping facility.
They needed to support their false presumptions and Arun Kumar's press briefing was used for this purpose by communalising his innocuous statement regarding environment and Hindu-Muslim solidarity. Kumar’s entire press briefing is audio recorded and though he has been suspended and an inquiry instituted, nothing can be proved against him. In fact he is being punished for providing pilgrims better facilities.
This is the genesis of the whole issue.
The same government has given hundreds of acres of land to Baba Gulam Shah Badshah University in Rajouri and to the Islamic University in Pampore. None objected. The all-encompassing nature of Hindus is taken for granted as is their timidity.
You can tell the facts to those who would like to consider them and not to those who play petty communal politics. Governor Vohra acted on the advice of North Block and not only took back the letter for land allotment on behalf of the Shrine Board without taking board members into confidence, but also gave the charge of providing facilities to the pilgrims back to the state tourism department, which means the same murky business flowering again. With the Shrine Board having no CEO at present, since Kumar's suspension hasn't been revoked, yatra arrangements are in limbo. The Governor's secretary, who has a hundred other tasks, has been asked to take care of the yatra.
Hindus have never been treated so contemptuously as is being done under the UPA dispensation. Kashmir is the land of Shiva, the greatest place of the Shaivite school of Hindu dharma. At every mile there was a Shiva temple, but most Hindu temples have been razed in the valley during the Islamic Jihad. More than 70 lakh pilgrims visit Vaishno Devi and Amarnath every year and contribute enormously to the economy of the state. Yet, Hindus have always been looked down upon and driven out of their homes and hearth. This is the Kashmiriyat of the valley's politicians and patriotism of their protectors in Delhi. The Kashmiri leaders, so possessive about a hundred acres, never raise their voice to take back 78,114 sq km of Jammu and Kashmir under the illegal possession of Pakistan. Thousands of square km of land to Pakistan can be tolerated, but "not an inch" to Hindus.
It was the political expediency of the communally "secular" leaders that created the land row, but now the agitation has gone beyond the land issue becoming a symbol of the struggle to ensure India's return to the valley. The un-Indian elements have to be defeated so that the honour of the Triclour can be protected in our land. The only fear is that the politicians of Delhi may compromise, betraying the cause of the people anytime.
This is the time when a complete abolition of all those acts which segregate the valley from rest of the country are being demanded, including the obnoxious Article 370, and a grand plan to have patriots shifted from various parts of the country to Kashmir valley is implemented, with priority given to soldiers who have served in the area.
Jammu's agitation to reclaim India in J&K has to be supported by every patriotic Indian. It's a pain of Indian nationhood and not just of the Jammu region. Failing this movement will fail India.
The author is the Director, Dr Syamaprasad Mookerjee Research Foundation.