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Jammu is not for burning

By B S Raghavan
August 07, 2008 16:17 IST
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It is typical of the political procrastination in the face of national crises that the violent disturbances in Jammu and Kashmir were allowed to rage for more than a month before the all-party meeting under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, was called to hammer out a consensus for tackling the situation.

However, the meeting attended by 39 parties was a welcome development in itself. It was made all the more heartening by the unanimous agreement, as per the media briefing by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, at the end of the four-hour-long meeting that 'an environment must be created where the agitation could be suspended and the issues resolved through the process of dialogue.'

According to Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who was present at the briefing, the talks with the Shri Amarnathji Yatra Sangarsh Samiti and others concerned were to start 'immediately'.

The high-level Bharatiya Janata Party participation in the meeting raises the hope of a solution emerging sooner rather than later. It is the common impression that that party is the main source of support and encouragement for the agitation, although it is claimed to be spontaneous, embracing all sections of the Hindu population of Jammu, and cutting across political affiliations.

The BJP, in any event, has a much greater stake than any other party, in not letting the kind of venom spouted by the spokespersons of the Samiti while appearing on national television news channels sticking to it as well. The BJP must realise that it is sure to antagonise all the right-thinking people by the readiness and the aggressive tone with which its votaries have been justifying the agitation.

The revoltingly rabid rantings by the Samiti members, to the extent of demanding that the Muslims of the Valley better migrate to Pakistan and stay there, has all the potential, if allowed to continue unchecked, of putting the Amarnath yatris at grave risk, if not setting India ablaze in a communal conflagration. The yatris need to be urgently saved from their friends.

Jammu's Hindu uprising

Compared to the incendiary declamations by the so-called protagonists of Amarnath yatris, the representatives of the Muslim outfits of J&K, whether main or fringe, have shown commendable moderation, recalling how for more than a 100 years Kashmiris have treated the yatris with amity and respect, and given them protection and all the needed facilities, and how even now they are willing to extend the same hospitality.

It is understandable for a public statement summarising the discussion in the all-party meeting on such a sensitive and emotive subject to be couched in broad generalities. Views must have undoubtedly been exchanged in camera on specific suggestions made by the invitees and the purpose of the talks to be held in the next few days should precisely be to explore the ways and means of implementing them.

The most immediate issue to be taken up with the Samiti and those of their ilk is the acute hardship caused to the people of the valley by the scarcity of essential commodities, items of daily consumption, and even milk powder for babies and life-saving medicines caused by the so-called 'economic blockade'. If there had been any such call for a blockade, it is nothing short of economic terrorism deserving of the most stringent steps against the perpetrators.

The Samiti people, however, vociferously deny there being any such blockade or their having given a call for it, but blockade or not, trucks carrying goods are held up in their hundreds on the only highway from the valley to the outside world. The visuals are there for all to see, and there is no reason why television news channels and media reports should indulge in misrepresentation.

Where Azad and the Congress failed in J&K

Since the Samiti people are quick to deny any part in it, they should not come in the way of any action by the government to facilitate free movement of trucks both ways in the shortest time possible.

The most contentious issue to crop up will be about restoring to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board the land earlier allotted by the J&K government for providing facilities to the yatris during the two months of the yatra. Actually, the whole genesis for all the ugly incidents witnessed so far was the subtle pressuring of the state government by the previous governor Lieutenant General S K Sinha (retd), not only to create such a board by law and but also include in it a provision making the governor the chairman.

Even though General Sinha stoutly dismisses any suggestion of forcing the government to have the 100 acres of forest land allotted for the SASB's use, the very fact of his having favoured the creation of the board and his acceptance of its active chairmanship would certainly have made the cabinet feel a sense of obligation to comply with the SASB's request for land.

It is always advisable for a governor to be detached from any arrangement involving executive responsibility of any kind, leave alone getting interested in matters having to do with religious susceptibilities. He should be content to be a benign presence, giving his advice when sought and generally conducting himself in a manner that will inspire trust and confidence in his dispassionate approach to affairs of state.

Rightly or wrongly, General Sinha's obvious enthusiasm in catering to the well-being of the Amarnath yatris made him a marked figure. His exit was the signal for disturbances by extremist Muslim groups, as also political parties such as People's Democratic Party and the National Conference, that ultimately resulted in the revocation of the decision to transfer land to SASB, even though the PDP Ministers had earlier approved the allotment.

It is unrealistic as well as unreasonable for the Samiti to insist on a second volte face by the government. It should be gracious enough to accept the government's guarantee of protection for the yatris and provision of whatever facilities are required for their comfort. Now that the members of the SASB have handed in their resignations and the governor also is prepared to step down, it will be possible to reconstitute the board with members noted for their eminence for serving as a channel of assistance and communication between the government and the yatris.

The whole concatenation of depressing events, unfolding like a Greek tragedy for all of six weeks, inflicting such human suffering and leading to loss of precious lives, and draining away the energy of the people and governments along wasteful and destructive channels could have easily been avoided if only both the state and central governments at the highest levels had had the leadership, imagination and sensitivity to gauge the delicate nature of the crisis at hand and taken effective measures to address it at the first sign of trouble.

It is puzzling that the Congress-led UPA government should have forgotten the shining examples set by Mahatma Gandhi who never hesitated to meet a problem head on whether it was Noakhali, or Kolkata or Delhi, or by Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shatri and Indira Gandhi who were prompt to visit any disturbed part of the country personally and apply the healing touch by their consoling presence.

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B S Raghavan