Why Kashmir is up in flames ?

29 08 2008

Source: Rediff.com

Colonel Dr Anil A Athale (retd)
August 29, 2008

As someone who has been active in resolving the Kashmir issue since 1990, recent events did not come as too much of a surprise. Many observers have commented that the situation is back to the days of 1989-1990. They are only partially right, on the surface it does appear so, but there are major differences. How the situation is similar and yet different is an important issue since the Indian response has to be based on sound analysis lest we repeat our past mistakes. Public memory is short but it is the job of analysts to remember the past and bring it to public notice.

Rollercoaster public opinion in the Kashmir valley

The first thing to understand about the people of the Kashmir valley is that their views are fickle and can see radical changes.

In 1947, in the wake of the tribal invasion led and masterminded by Pakistan, the valley welcomed the Indian Army [Images] with open arms. One of INPAD’s members, retired Lieutenant General Eric Vas remembers that the soldiers were showered with rose petals. It was thanks to Sheikh Abdullah’s secular leadership as well as the Sufi tradition that Kashmiris rejected the poisonous Muslim League propaganda. In 1965, when Pakistan repeated the 1947 feat and sent in infiltrators, there were very few takers for the idea of merger with Pakistan and the infiltration failed to achieve the goal of engendering an insurrection.

In 1975-1976, when Sheikh Abdullah was the chief minister, there was a widespread movement in Pakistan occupied Kashmir to march to Indian Kashmir — an exact opposite of the present Kashmiri slogan of ‘Chalo Muzaffarabad’.

On April 1, 1979, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged by military dictator Zia-ul Haq. His hanging sparked off large-scale violence in the Kashmir valley. Those owing allegiance to the Jamaat-i-Islami, led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, were the main target of attack. Their houses were destroyed by firebombs. The provocation: The Jamaat had distributed sweets to celebrate Bhutto’s hanging. It was the Indian Army that rescued Geelani and his people.

On April 4, 1979, Kashmiris held a massive congregation in Hazratbal to thank Allah that they were a part of India and paraded a donkey with a placard that read ‘I am Zia-ul Haq’.

The flip side

Post-1947 support for India vanished in a few years. In the late 1950s when Nehru sent Haribhau Pataskar to gauge public opinion in the valley (in order to hold the referendum he had promised), Pataskar told him that the valley was all for joining Pakistan.

Sheikh Abdullah, who was elevated to the status of ‘Pir’ (holy man) by Kashmiris, fared no better. He died in 1982. Within seven years, his birth and death anniversary became occasions to burn his effigy. A police guard was placed to protect his grave from vandalism. He now became the ‘great betrayer’ from his erstwhile position of ‘Lion of Kashmir’.

Zia-ul Haq, the Pakistani dictator, saw a total reversal of fortunes. His bemedalled photographs began to adorn the homes of Kashmiris.

The late Hamid Dalwai, a Muslim reformist from Maharashtra, recounted his encounters in Kashmir that aptly sums up the reasons for Kashmiri flip-flop. He asked several people as to why they were unhappy in India. The answer given to him by one shikara owner was that they had everything going for them in India, “but after all, must we not care for the flag of Islam?”

Understanding the present crisis

The year 2008 till July was extraordinarily peaceful by Kashmir’s standards. Pakistan was so embroiled in its internal crisis that it had no time to devote to Kashmir.

The present crisis in Kashmir erupted when an innocuous transfer of land to build temporary facilities for Amarnath pilgrims was made an issue by politicians like Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah. The usual Srinagar [Images] protests by unemployed youth and crowds on hire so rattled the government that it revoked the land transfer. At that stage, a little firmness and explanation that the land was being given to a statutory body established by the state legislature and that too for temporary structures should have doused the fires in the valley. But with an eye on upcoming elections, the People’s Democratic Party and the National Conference jumped into the fray and made allegations about attempts being made to change Kashmir’s demography!

When the land order was revoked, the government thought that like countless other surrenders earlier, it will get away with this one too. In any case the prime minister was busy sewing up the nuclear deal with the US and the supreme leader of the ruling combine was enjoying the Beijing [Images] Olympics [Images] in the company of her family! Nobody had much time to devote such trifling matter as a major crisis in Jammu and Kashmir [Images].

The reaction in Jammu came as a surprise to one and all (including the ineffectual Bharatiya Janata Party which later tried to jump on the bandwagon). Frankly, the protests in Jammu had very little to do with the Amarnath land transfer issue. It was a spontaneous outburst of pent-up anger at the last 60 years of mollycoddling of the valley and discrimination towards the region. Other hilly states like Himachal Pradesh [Images] or Uttarakhand [Images] are marching ahead of J&K.

It is the obduracy of the valley — that sees demons in any and every attempt at economic development as ‘Indian imperialism’ — that has got the people of Jammu agitated.

The measure by former governor retired Lieutenant General S K Sinha to extend the Amarnath Yatra [Images] saw a bonanza in the shape of over 500,000 pilgrims making the arduous trek. Even at an average spending of Rs 2,000 per pilgrim, it meant over Rs 100 crore was pumped into the state’s economy, directly benefiting the common man. That this was opposed surely takes the cake, as the world over religious tourism is being encouraged.

To be continued…

Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd) is the Chhatrapati Shivaji Fellow at the United Services Institution, Delhi [Images], and coordinator of the Pune-based Institute for Peace and Disarmament

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Agitation in Jammu and Kashmir: A study in contrast

21 08 2008

Source: TOI
JAMMU: The peaceful demonstrations in this otherwise bustling city, in stark contrast to the high decibel protests in Srinagar, said it all.

If the idea was to play on the contrast with Srinagar in communicating that they have been differentiated against, Jammu’s agitationists succeeded in sending across the message quite clearly. In prominence are community langars in every locality where daily wagers and the poor are being fed by households that can cook their meals even as the more than month-long bandh continues. The picture is one of bonhomie among citizens, irrespective of denomination.

And clearly, any attempt to suggest that a single political party has taken over the movement that the Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti has sustained for 53 days is clearly a non-starter. There is a rare unity to be seen in Jammu for a cause that seems to have built up over years of what the people here see as institutionalised neglect.

Also, there is a careful attempt to ensure that it does not take a communal turn. This was clear when a local BJP leader confided that a proposal by Baba Ramdev to join the movement by marching up to the Amarnath shrine with a contingent of sadhus had to be stalled, so that it did not create communal trouble and spoil the “legitimate demand” to allow the shrine board to use the adjacent land for pilgrims’ facilities.

Even BJP, which has taken up the Amarnath issue to build up a national level campaign against the ruling Congress for “offending the sentiments of Hindu pilgrims”, has had to redraw plans to participate in a rally organised by the Sangharsh Samiti.

In fact, BJP has called it “communication gap” between the two organisations. Going on the backfoot after being snubbed by Sangharsh Samiti chief Leela Karan Sharma, who denied there were any plans for a rally, leave aside any invitation to BJP leaders L K Advani and Rajnath Singh to participate, the party’s state president Ashok Khajuria told TOI , “The Sangharsh Samiti is the last word on this movement and BJP is only one among its 42 member units and hence will follow what the Samiti says.”

Interestingly, a good number of field level National Conference and PDP workers in Jammu have joined the Samiti. Surinder Singh Shinghari of NC, a corporator from the city’s Bakshinagar area, has resigned from his party and post and joined the movement. He is not the only one.

It is not easy for a city that thrives essentially on trading and business activities to sustain complete closure of shops and business establishments for 53 days without having any idea as to how much longer they will have to take it. Leela Karan Sharma said, “We are ready to talk as equals to all – the Centre, Kashmiri leaders – but only if our core issue of allowing the High Court order on the land is reverted back to.”