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Behind the communal flare-up in Jammu and Kashmir

By the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation

August 18, 2008 -- The communally and politically motivated May 26 decision of the Congress Party-People's Democratic Party (PDP) government of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir to transfer forest land [in Muslim-majority Kashmir] to the Hindu Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) [for use as a pilgrimage site near a sacred Hindu cave] is having costly repercussions, with the added danger that it may emerge as a communal [flashpoint] nationally.

The land transfer, taken in the context of irresponsible official remarks recommending changes in the demography and “culture” of the region as a “solution” to the Kashmir “problem”, was like a spark to the tinderbox of pent-up resentment in the Kashmir Valley. Lives were lost when police opened fire on protesters; the PDP tried to distance itself from its ministers’ decision in favour of the land transfer by pulling out of the government; and the government on July 1 was belatedly forced to roll back the land transfer decision.

[The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir amalgamates the Hindu-majority Jammu region with the Indian-controlled section of the majority-Muslim Kashmir Valley. Kashmir is divided by the India-Pakistan border. There is a strong desire among Kashmiris for reunification, with some nationalist demanding independence for Kashmir while other forces call for unification with Pakistan.]

The Bharatiya Janata Partry (BJP) and Sangh Parivar's declaration to mobilise Hindus “nationally” against the revocation of the land transfer stoked the resentment in Jammu: resentment that stemmed from accumulated anger against the systematic neglect of the region's aspirations but has been given a communal colouration by the Hindu chauvinist, far-right RSS-BJP. [The Sangh Parivar is the ``movement'' of reactionary Hindu organisations allied to and organised by the Hindu-chauvinist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).]

The Congress government also contributed to communalisation of the issue, with statements that the protests against the land transfer had been funded by Islamic countries. The resulting flare-up has continued for weeks; Jammu has witnessed communal violence against its Muslim residents; curfews have been imposed in four of the eight districts of Jammu; Srinagar has been under siege; the Kashmir Valley has been blockaded, requiring army deployment to ensure the supply of essential commodities.

With fruit growers hit by the blockade, protests escalated again in the valley, and were met again with police fire on August 11-13 which claimed six lives, including that of Abdul Aziz, a senior leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of pro-independence and pro-Pakistan parties. The unrest in the Kashmir Valley escalated; further firing by police and paramilitary on Aziz’s angry supporters claimed 12 more lives all over the valley; and an indefinite curfew has been imposed throughout the valley for the first time since 1990.        

The BJP’s top leadership is continuing to fan the communal flames over the episode, projecting the revocation of the land transfer as an injustice to the Amarnath Yatra pilgrims. The facts fly in the face of such propaganda. The use of the aforesaid land for hospitality for the yatris was never opposed in Kashmir; in fact Muslim local residents had unfailingly provided all sorts of services and assistance to them year after year. The High Court order of 2005 directing the state government to erect temporary structures to provide for the yatris during the two-month pilgrimage period was never opposed by anyone; only the move to transfer the land from the aegis of the government to that of the Shrine Board, implying that the Shrine Board could then erect permanent structures on the land and prevent local residents from using the land when the pilgrimage was not on.

Further cause for concern was that the huge unregulated inflow of tens of thousands of pilgrims was endangering the fragile local ecosystem; while there is a limit set to the number of pilgrims to Gangotri or Gomukh, there is none for Amarnath.

Another crucial factor was that the pilgrimage itself had been projected by the Indian and state governments as a ``patriotic'' enterprise -– this officially sponsored identification of a Hindu pilgrimage with ``patriotism'' was fraught with communal overtones and set the stage for deep suspicions of any handover of resources to the Shrine Board.

The deep-seated sense of neglect in Jammu and alienation in Kashmir have not been addressed by successive governments and political forces. Instead communal polarisation is being sharpened by political forces who are trying to project the alienation of the Jammu residents as having a Hindu and therefore ``nationalist'' character (protests being organised with the tricolor in hand) while the alienation of the people of Kashmir is being portrayed as ``Muslim'', ``anti-national'' and specifically, ``Pakistani''. The BJP’s all-out communal build-up has received fodder from the opportunism of the Congress Party and the PDP.

The Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, despite Omar Abdullah’s brave declarations of secularism in parliament, has done its share to promote the BJP’s communal agenda in the state. All in all, the political forces in the state seem set to push the situation dangerously towards the trifurcation of the state on communal lines -– an agenda openly avowed by the BJP in the past and proposed by various think tanks of the United States of America like the Kashmir Study Group.

The spate of indiscriminate shootings by police and paramilitary forces on protesters in Kashmir smacks of the Indian state's habitual repressive and callous chauvinism. The solution to the present impasse could be sought in upholding the High Court Order of 2005 which had stipulated that “The land to be allotted by the Board would be only for the purposes of user and would remain limited for the duration of yatra. The Board shall also identify the sites to be allotted for the purpose of langar, erection of detachable/prefabricated huts and toilets, etc, that would not be permanent in nature and are liable to be removed after the period of yatra is over.”

But politically motivated forces are eager to block such a solution, seeking to reap a communal harvest from the situation towards the next elections. Even if such a solution is eventually reached, the sores left by the entire episode on the polity in Jammu and Kashmir are not likely to heal easily. The Congress-led Jammu and Kashmir state government and the United Progressive Alliance coalition government at the centre are squarely to blame for having handed the BJP a communally potent agenda on a platter, in the process doing far-reaching harm to the sensitive region of Jammu and Kashmir.

From ML Update, CPI (ML) Weekly News Magazine, vol. 11 no. 33, August 12-18, 2008.

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