2008 redux: Faultlines in the aftermath of Lethpora

With reports of harassment and intimidation of Kashmiris pouring in from Jammu, the much touted pluralistic ethos of Jammu and Kashmir is again under threat. The hate-mongers are whipping up communal passions and mob frenzy, this time over the suicide bombing in south Kashmir’s Lethpora area which killed over 40 CRPF men in the deadliest attack of its kind in the history of the three-decade-old armed conflict.

In a grim reminder of the 2008 Amarnath land row, which pitted Hindu majority Jammu against Muslim Kashmir, the recent developments have revealed the faultlines between the two regions.

At the outset, it is important to realise that a bunch of troublemakers should not blind us into believing that the entire population espouses violence against Kashmiris. As we see images of mobs on rampage, it is important to understand that these vested interests, which use nationalism and religion as an alibi to threaten and harm Kashmiris, are in miniscule minority. Majority of Indians don’t endorse violence no matter how much they are misled by warmongers on social media and mainstream media.

The situation in Jammu is reminiscent of the violence during the Amarnath land transfer row and the communal violence in Kishtwar ahead of 2014 elections.

In the summer of 2008, the campaign in Kashmir against the land transfer order in favour of Amarnath shrine board provided a convenient handle to vested interests in Jammu to divide the state on religious lines. Ever since, the sinister agenda of communal elements has been quietly taking shape in the state and has assumed monstrous proportion.

After the August 2014 Kishtwar clashes, some news reports even suggested that intelligence agencies had informed Government of India that a particular outfit was involved in stoking communal violence. The outfit’s main argument apparently was that Hindus are in danger in Muslim-majority areas of Jammu division. The problem could have been isolated and solved in Kishtwar, but communal elements were quick to fan the fire and spread the flames to other parts of the region.

Indian politicians often praise J&K for its secular character, but its demography also makes the state vulnerable for the communal politics. The vested interests sniffed this weakness in 2008. After the Amarnath land transfer order was revoked owing to unprecedented protests in Kashmir valley, they mobilised the public in Hindu-majority belts of Jammu by provocative speeches leading to regional and communal polarisation of the state.

‘The Indian Express’ carried a news report on August 10, 2008 with the headline “Dangerous divide: Jammu officials put it in black and white”. According to the report, the Jammu administration gave data to the visiting all-party delegation to underline the communal dimension of the agitation in Jammu.

While Kashmir has been in focus because of militancy, the dangerous communal undercurrents in Jammu have gone unnoticed. The open threats issued by some groups to Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees in the recent past should have also served as an eye opener in this respect.

The issue of ‘identity certificates’ to West Pakistan refugees also threatened to divide the state on regional and religious lines. While protests erupted in the Valley, with separatists and the mainstream opposition accusing the PDP-BJP coalition government of trying to dilute state subject laws by giving the certificates to the refugees, political parties in Jammu raised the settlement of Rohingya Muslims in the region in return, terming it as an attempt to change its demography.

Unfortunately, even the trade bodies have been drawn into the fray as communal politics takes centrestage in Jammu. Instead of helping in allying the public anger in India, the mainstream media seems to be fuelling the outrage. It seems as if the TRP-hungry channels are competing to outdo each other in jingoism amid calls for all-out war.

Following the Lethpora attack, a dominant section of Indian media engaged in whipping up war hysteria. While the government is exploring other options, some channels have blown the war bugle already. The tickers flashed on the screen are in sync with the war frenzy. The anchors go overboard with emotive language. Instead of providing facts and proper perspective, they choose to push the country to the brink of war. It has been a regular feature in Indian media for quite some time now. The social media has become another dangerous catalyst for war-mongering.

In this backdrop, the administration and the civil society cannot remain oblivious to the communal tinder box in J&K. While we can assure ourselves that majority of people will not fall prey to the divisive politics, it would be imprudent to take the threat posed by the hate-mongers lightly. In the charged atmosphere, it can be difficult for even sensible people to see through the dangerous communal politics brazenly played out in the open.


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