Acres of land in the Kashmir valley are given to install mobile phone towers. No one screams.
Acres and acres of land in the Kashmir valley are allotted to lay sewage and drinking water pipes. No one objects.
But when 40 hectares of uninhabitable land is handed over to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board to provide better facilities to the Amarnath Yatra pilgrims, all hell breaks loose.
Why? Because the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board caters to Hindu pilgrims who want to visit the Amarnath shrine in the valley of Kashmir. It is as simple as that.
Politically correct politicians, policy-makers and administrators might try to tell you that it is not about religion, but the fact of the matter is that it is all about religion. It is a design by communal forces within the valley to completely Islamicise the valley by removing every symbol of Hinduism and other faiths from the valley.
Today, these communal forces are preventing the setting up of facilities for the yatra, tomorrow they will even go to the extent of banning the yatra altogether.
The land transfer fiasco has already consumed the Ghulam Nabi Azad-led Congress government and is on its way to now adversely damage the state's economy. The fear psychosis has already resulted in a sharp decline of tourists to the valley. Counter-strikes and bandhs announced by the pro-land-transfer parties within the Jammu province have paralysed the life in that part of the state as well.
So far it has been a win-lose situation in favour of communal forces in the valley.
Let us take a hard look at the arguments presented by the locals who opposed the transfer of land:
1. The allotment would have adversely affected the environment around the area. One wonders where these tree-hugging environmentalists were when the same government allowed the felling of 10,000 forest trees to build the 89 km-long Mughal road.
40 hectares of land that was going to be used to provide temporary shelters and night-time facilities to pilgrims was in fact going to help in proper maintenance of the current day waste that actually pollutes the environment. But who can argue with senseless politicians who instigate people to come out on the streets?
2. The allotment is the government's ploy to settle Hindus from outside the state to change the demographics of the valley. Look, who is talking! One has to only go back 18 years in the history and check who changed the demographics of the valley.
Islamic terrorists changed the demographics of the valley by ethnically cleansing Kashmiri Hindus from the valley. I wonder where these we-do-not-want-to-change-demographics-folks were when Kashmiri Hindus were slaughtered and the valley's demographics were altered.
One would like to ask a few questions: a. Is 40 hectares of land enough to settle so many Hindus that it would change the demographics of the valley?b. By putting this argument of demographic change, are the valley's Muslims implying that Hindus are not welcome in the valley anymore? And I do not mean the Hindus from outside Kashmir. I mean the Hindus from the state of Jammu & Kashmir itself.
What if the Hindus, who hold the state subject certificate of J&K state and are legally allowed to purchase land in any part of the state want to purchase land in the area around the Holy Amarnath? Are the valley's Muslims saying that those Hindus cannot buy the land there and settle down? Is that what they are implying? Are they trying to protect the environment by preventing the Hindus from settling in the valley?
Another argument Kashmiri Muslims present is that the land cannot be allotted to the Shrine Board because Article 370 does not allow anyone outside of J&K to own land. Their argument is that since the J&K governor is the chairman of the board and he is an outsider, this transfer of land is illegal.
How dumb does one have to be to understand that the land is transferred to the Shrine Board which is an institution based in the state of J&K and created by the J&K government. The land is not transferred to the chairman or the CEO of the board per se.
Having touched upon the outlandish arguments of those who oppose the allotment of land, let us look at some facts and the real story:
It was during the first three years of the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed-Ghulam Nabi Azad coalition government that the original proposal of land transfer was initiated and cleared. It was under Mufti Sayeed's leadership that his forest minister Qazi Mohammad Afzal and law minister Muzzafar Hussain Baig originally cleared the proposal. It just so happened that due to red tape, the proposal was finally approved by the cabinet when Azad had taken over as chief minister during the second three-year part of the six-year term.
The same PDP led by Mufti Sayeed was originally okay with this proposal. But as soon as the PDP smelt that terrorist outfits like the Hizbul Mujahideen were not in favour of the allotment of land and realised that it could become a polarising issue to whip up sentiments to garner votes in the upcoming assembly election, it backtracked.
Since it is an election year, the National Conference and other smaller political parties would not let the PDP cash in on this opportunity alone. They jumped into the fray and whipped up sentiments by fooling the local Kashmiri Muslims. And that leaves the Congress. How could the Congress not try to cash in on this polarising issue in an election year?
Azad did not waste any time and revoked his cabinet's decision to appease the Kashmiri Muslim vote bank. He did not just stop there. In addition to revoking his own order, he also effectively disbanded the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. Now that is some level of appeasement! That is the real story behind the story.
It is an issue created by Mufti Sayeed to polarise the vote banks. It is his design of playing politics with the religious sentiments of lakhs of Hindus from all over the country.
Now that we know the real story behind the story, how about the Hindu pilgrims who want to visit the shrine and what about their fundamental rights to practice their religion with complete security, dignity and honour?
Isn't it a shame that Hindus living in India, where 80 per cent of population is Hindu, cannot freely visit the shrine and expect better facilities? It is only in India that the majority community has to make all the sacrifices in favour of minorities because our politicians believe in appeasing Muslims at the cost of Hindus.
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah on a television debate on this issue asked why there is a need for land and new facilities when the pilgrimage has been going on for many years.
Does Omar Abdullah mean to say that there is no need to improve the facilities provided during the treacherous pilgrimage? Is he implying that if the yatris were okay for so many hundred years, then why change and improve the facilities?
I have never heard him say such things with regards to the Haj pilgrimage. Every year Muslims from Kashmir and the rest of the country want better facilities and subsidies for Haj pilgrims. But when it comes to providing better facilities to Shri Amarnath pilgrims, it becomes a sore point for Kashmiri Muslims and their leaders.
Heavy rains, snowstorms, landslides and hostile environment took away 256 lives during the yatra in 1996. And Omar Abdullah has the audacity to promote the status quo!
Some of you might argue that it was not the valley's Muslims, but the political parties and terrorists who opposed the land transfer order and forced people to come out on the streets.
I can buy that argument, but that does not absolve the valley's people from their responsibility? They cannot always support these fundamentalist forces and then at the same time claim innocence.
They did the same in 1989 and in the early 1990s when they either stood as mute spectators or as vocal supporters while Kashmiri Hindus were ethnically cleansed. As a good citizen, it is incumbent upon them to raise their voice against these dreaded forces and stop this madness.
If they sincerely believe in peace, then they need to stand up and reject these terrorist outfits and their masters. Conversely, if they don't, then they are as much party to the madness as the principals and thus need to be held accountable.
Appeasement policies are never good for a nation, particularly for a nation like India that is so diverse in ethnicity and culture. Whether it is amending the Constitution during the Shah Bano case, releasing terrorists during the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping case, freeing dreaded terrorists during the IC-814 hijacking or continuing the temporary Constitutional provision of Article 370, all such policies will one day result in the nation's doom.
It is incumbent upon the leaders of the nation as well as the citizenry to be on guard and not allow such appeasement policies to take effect in a nation that is based on the concept of secularism, democracy and fairness to one and all.
Lalit Koul is the President, Indo-American Kashmir Forum, a US-based advocacy group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org