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Kishtwar: Surrender before divisive forces

Kishtwar: Surrender   before divisive forces
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Jammu and Kashmir is again on edge. But this time for a different reason. The communal riots those broke out on the day of Eid (August 9) have...

Notwithstanding the fact that Kishtwar situation demands attention and that corrective measures have become inevitable, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has again chosen to stoke the fires by staking ownership of one community.

Shujaat Bukhari

Jammu and Kashmir is again on edge. But this time for a different reason. The communal riots those broke out on the day of Eid (August 9) have engulfed almost the entire Jammu province, thus reviving 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 to be potent to affect many sensitive areas in Jammu with the government seeking the assistance of the 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, the Kashmir valley has responded positively and the reaction, so far, has been limited to a two-day shutdown and the usual statements from warring 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 that corrective measures have become inevitable, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has again chosen to stoke the fires by staking ownership of one community. There is no denying the fact that both communities must be wrong as far as the kick start of this trouble is considered but that does not mean that a party that is aspiring to return to power in Delhi should resort to such tactics to garner votes and put entire India on a dangerous path.

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 got killed in firing by Border Security Force (BSF) in July. Nor, for that matter, did he visit the homes of soldiers who were recently killed either in militant attacks or in the firing on the Line of Control. But in the case of Kishtwar, the motive is clearer.
Elections to the Lok Sabha and the Assembly are scheduled to be held in 2014 and in the run-up to them the BJP is keen to consolidate its vote bank, that too unfortunately on the basis of dividing the people.

This became clear when the party almost stalled the Parliament on Monday to draw attention that a particular community was under attack and so-called “ethnic cleansing” was the plan that some forces, best known to the BJP, were working on. For record, the Muslim-Hindu population in Kishtwar is 52:48 percent and out of nearly 3000 Village Defence Committees armed by the government in the wake of spurt in militancy in mid-1990’s, more than 95 percent are Hindus. The same is the case with neighbouring Bhaderwah and Doda towns.

Besides this, a large number of Army, paramilitary forces and the Police are deployed in the area. So wherefrom does the threat of ethnic cleansing comes is something which only the BJP must be aware of.

To cover up the role of VDCs is something very dangerous. Recent actions of VDCs have proven that this State-patronised force has not done any good to bring normalcy to the region. In fact, what is grossly ignored is the incident of alleged rape of a girl by members of the 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 gunpoint) from approaching the police. With the VDCs enjoying “powers and perks” from the State, the demand for disbanding them is growing loud.

The incident in Kishtwar that unfortunately has unfolded into a tragedy is not an isolated one; nor is it purely because some people were holding green flags or raising pro- freedom slogans. Kishtwar, despite the fact that it was the only place after Kashmir in 1947, which did not witness a single communal riot, 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 has been simmering for quite some time and even intelligence inputs had pointed towards 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 to say property on which side suffered more damage, but the fact is that both sides turned very furious and with fewer forces, the situation turned ugly. Minister of State for Home Sajjad Kitchloo, who eventually resigned under pressure from the 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 the dead as two Muslims and one Hindu, Kitchloo’s resignation further pushed the Muslims of Jammu to the wall as many would see it as a victory of those forces that are out to polarize the polity.

Ironically, the Congress which is a 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 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 the big loser in the electoral politics in the region.

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 weak leadership at the top has contributed a lot to the unfolding situation. The Government’s has always been 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 responsibility is must to avoid such a flare-up in the future. By forcing his junior minister to quit, Omar Abdullah has again shown how weak he is, and the way he made his minister surrender before the BJP will have a long-term effect on the psyche of Muslims of the region. 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 cheap.

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