A dangerous crisis is brewing in Jammu and Kashmir. The Amarnath yatra land controversy is slowly turning out to be a conflict between Hindus and Muslims in a state supposed to be the showpiece of Indian secularism.
While politicians failed to arrive at a solution to the crisis - an all-party meeting called Prime Minister did not work - politicking continued. Eight Amarnath shrine board members resigned and Governor NN Vohra offered to step down to calm down the protestors.
CNN-IBN debated on Face the Nation if secularism has failed in the battle between Jammu and Kashmir. To debate the issue were filmmaker and Kashmiri pandit, Ashok Pandit; Chairman J-K People’s Conference, Sajjad Lone; and content editor, Mail Today, Manoj Joshi and former J-K CM Farooq Abdullah.
Abdullah began the debate by defending the PM and said it was a free discussion where everyone agreed that peace had to be restored. “The delegation of leaders would go to both Jammu and Srinagar to resolve this issue amicably,” he said.
Another feature of these protests has been the sharp divide between the Jammu and the Kashmir region. Not just cultural, the economic ties between the two regions could also cleave if the protests continue. Abdullah acknowledged the situation and said the divide was not just between Jammu and Kashmir, the communal polarisation was evident in Jammu itself.
“Muslims have done nothing to vitiate the atmosphere. Neither have the good Hindus done anything bad. It’s unfortunate that some parties are raking it up due to elections,” he said, adding the Amarnath Shrine should be given powers to allow facilities for people who want to undertake the Amarnath Yatra peacefully.
Ashok Pandit joined the debate on a strong note. He said secularism in J-K was a farce. “Secularism was murdered when four-and-a-half lakh pandits were thrown out of Kashmir and Sikhs were murdered,” he thundered, adding it’s been started by politicians in Kashmir, not in Jammu.
But while all the rhetoric, opinions and debate continues in the corridors of power, the reality on the ground remains grim. Trucks carrying essential supplies to the state are stranded on highways, traders are running out of stocks and the economic blockade is threatening to dent the state economy hard. Many say all this is because a Hindu group protesting over a piece of land. But Pandit denied it was a blockade. “It was a bandh that was called by Hurriyat and other political parties in Kashmir for 20 days. Why wasn’t it called a blockade then? This (bandh) is a reply to Omar Abduallah’s statement in Parliament that hum jaan de denge par zameen nahi denge (We will lay down our lives but won’t part with the land).”
Sajjad Lone did not agree with Pandit and said it was unfortunate that such impression was being sent out to the rest of India. “People like Mr Pandit are in minority. There are thousands of yatris who are Hindus and from all parts of India. You should ask them about the level of hospitality extended to them by Kashmiris. We’ve been doing it for generations and will continue to do so. They are our revered guests,” he said. However, he said it was essential to get the basics right about the ongoing protest. “Why are Hindus in Jammu offended while the Hindus in rest of India aren’t?” he asked.
Pandit retorted and said this mindset was troubling. “The Sajjad Lones, Omar Abdullahs and Farooq Abdullahs are talking about politics. When a majority demands it, the issue becomes communal but when they demand it, nothing happens. They talk whatever suits them,” he said.
The debate became heated with Lone refusing to take Pandit’s allegations lying down. A visibly upset Lone said Pandit was provoking “rowdy elements”. “He is secure. He does not have to come here (Jammu and Kashmir) and so he is lecturing from some corner in India. It’s we who are looking after the yatris,” he said.
Lone also said the likes of Pandits had first call for an economic blockade and then “have the audacity” to not admit to it. “You are blocking baby powder and medicines to the state, for Godsake. Have you lost all sense of shame? Are you going to starve us? If we don’t go to Muzaffarabad, where else do we go?” he thundered.
To this, Pandit made a controversial statement and said if Lone wanted to move to Muzaffrabad, he might as well move to Pakistan “with his people”.
“The land is mine and I will achieve it,” he said.
Manoj Joshi joined in the debate as the neutral voice on the panel. Asked if Jammu and Kashmir could live together despite the polarity, he said the problem was age-old. “Many people who were part of Jammu Mukti Morcha in 2002 and now, the Sangharsh Samiti want to separate Jammu from Kashmir. They, in the process, will also create a religious polarization,” he said.
While Joshi agreed with Pandit and said secularism broke down in Kashmir long time ago, he also warned that the Sangh Parivar and the likes were creating a situation conducive for the separation of Jammu and Kashmir.
When the land was transferred to Amarnath Shrine Board, it was alleged Kashmiri parties whipped up the mob, Muslims went on rampage on streets and created a situation for a counter reaction in Jammu. But Lone said there was no communal reaction. “Kashmir is a disputed place. And how many Hindus were killed, tell me? There were thousands of yatris in the state that time. Not a single non-Muslim person was hurt or killed. Nine Kashmiri Muslims die,” he said.
Lone went on to say perhaps it was time for Hindus and Muslims in the state to part as friends and suggested trifurcation was an option. “Let people decide,” he said.
When asked for his opinion, Pandit said Jammu and Kashmir was a part of India and there was no question of division. “Anybody who wants to divide the state is welcome to leave the country,” he said.
Manoj Joshi said if Jammu and Kashmir was divided, it would not only reflect on secularism failing in a state, it would also reflect it failing India as a whole. “Secularism is one of the basic principles of India. Secularism and democracy are two values that keep India together,” he said, adding the time was ripe for a crackdown by the Central Government, even if it meant Army taking charge. “Army should impose curfew and prevent damage to public property,” he concluded.
Results of SMS/Web poll:
Jammu vs Kashmir: Has secularism failed?
Yes: 86 per cent
No: 14 per cent.