Jammu and Kashmir is again on edge, but this time for a different reason. The clashes on the day of Eid (August 9) have engulfed almost the entire Jammu province, thus refreshing the sour memories of 2008, when polarization touched its peak in the wake of Amarnath land row. With many versions around, a spark in Kishtwar town proved strong enough to affect many sensitive areas in Jammu with government seeking the assistance of Army and clamping curfew in seven out of 10 districts in the province.
Three deaths and injuries to scores of people may not be a big number compared with the violence that has cast a shadow over Jammu and Kashmir during past 22 years, but it has created a huge gulf between Muslims and Hindus in the state. Fortunately, Kashmir valley has responded with maturity and the reaction so far is limited to a two-day shutdown and the usual statements from various political groups. But the way the political parties have upped the ante to make the situation suit their political agenda, it surely threatens the overall social fabric of the state.
Notwithstanding the fact that Kishtwar situation demands attention and corrective measures have become inevitable, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) has again chosen to stoke the fire by staking ownership of one community. The situation needs to be seen in a perspective and only a fair and transparent probe could bring the facts out. But the way BJP, a party aspiring to return to power in Delhi, has resorted to such tactics to garner votes it would increase the distance between the two.
Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley’s insistence that he would visit Kishtwar smacked of this “sinister design” to further the tension that had already engulfed a vast area. He did not show any urgency in reaching out to the population in Ramban where four people were killed in firing by Border Security Force (BSF) and to Markundal where two innocents were killed in July or for that matter the families of those soldiers who were recently killed either in militant attacks or in the firing on Line of Control. But in case of Kishtwar, the motive is more than clear. Elections to Lok Sabha and assembly are scheduled to be held in 2014 and in the run up to those elections BJP is keen to consolidate its vote bank on a divisive agenda. This became clear when the party almost stalled the parliament on Monday to draw the attention that a particular community was under attack and so called “ethnic cleansing” was the plan that some forces, best known to BJP, were working on. For the record the Muslim-Hindu population in Kishtwar is 52:48 percent and out of 3287 Village Defence Committee (VDC) members 3174 are Hindus. Village Defence Committees were armed by the government in wake of spurt in militancy in mid 90’s. Same is the case with neighbouring Bhaderwah and Doda towns. Besides this a large number of Army, paramilitary forces and policemen are deployed in the area, so where from does the threat of ethnic cleansing arise? It is something which only BJP must be aware of. To cover up the role of VDC’s is something very dangerous. Recent actions of VDC’s have proven that this state patronized force has not done any good to bring normalcy in the region. In fact what is grossly ignored is the incident of alleged rape of a Muslim girl by the members of VDC in Kuntwara village in Kishtwar that has fuelled the tension. Two accused have already been arrested after the locals protested and said that the VDCs even stopped them (at the gun point) from approaching police. With the VDC’s enjoying “powers and perks” from the state, the voice to disband them is growing louder.
The incident in Kishtwar did not take place only because some people where holding green flags or raising pro-freedom slogans. Despite the fact that Kishtwar was the only other place after Kashmir in 1947 which did not witness a single communal riot, it has of late turned very sensitive. With Kashmir as a base for pro-freedom sentiments, areas in Chenab valley and Pir Panjal regions also have been under this influence and this is nothing new. While there is more than one version about what exactly happened on Eid day, the fact is that the trouble was simmering for quite some time and even the intelligence inputs had pointed to a bigger problem in the area. What is relied upon is the fact that an altercation between two bikers from rival communities put the town on fire and as thousands of Muslims were out to offer Eid prayers, the confrontation became too serious with Hindus also coming out to score their own point.
It is irrelevant on which side property suffered more damage, but the fact is that both sides turned very furious and with less number of forces, it turned ugly. Minister of State for Home Sajjad Kichloo who eventually resigned under pressure from BJP and the ante that was upped by the national media, too could not have done much as he himself had to scale the wall of Dak Bungalow after a strong mob surrounded it.
With Omar Abdullah himself identifying dead as two Muslims and one Hindu, Kichloo’s resignation further pushed Muslims of Jammu to wall as many would see it as victory of those forces who are out to polarize the political landscape. Kichloo is no doubt a scapegoat and by asking him to resign the government has virtually surrendered before BJP, thus giving the Muslims of the province a sense of dispossession. Their psyche must have been deeply hurt and it could burst out in any other form, which may not be controllable. Because the experiences have shown that by pushing the people to wall with such a humiliation it leads to opening of other windows, which could be more dangerous than the communal riot itself. With Sajjad’s exit from the ministry, Omar has provided a space to BJP in the state and made the communal forces strong enough to take on Muslims, who are already feeling the heat. Saner voices among Hindus in Jammu too get marginalised when the situation is polluted with divisive mindset.
Nothing of this sort has been done in the past in Jammu and Kashmir; even as more than 170 people were killed in political unrest in 2009, 2010 and in the individual incidents at the hands of Army, BSF and Police. The message is clear that the blood of people who have stood against divisive politics is surely cheaper in the Indian market.
Ironically Congress which is part of the coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir tried to play safe by putting Omar Abdullah in front. But that ultimately does not help to douse the fire, nor would it bail out the party for the wrong doings, which have been on for a long time now. In any case of polarisation it is the Congress which will be big loser in the electoral politics in the region.
It is important to highlight that it was the incompetence of the state government that the situation went out of hand. Lack of accountability in the civil and police administration and the weak leadership at the top has contributed a lot in the situation unfolding this ugly way. Government has always responded with a knee jerk reaction. By shifting the Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police and replacing them with two new officers, it has only proved its inefficiency. Now that a retired judge of the High Court would investigate the incident, one would expect speedy implementation of the report. Fixing responsibilities is must to avoid such a flare up in the future.