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Listen to protesters

Listen to protesters

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: August 8, 2008

Centre must keep an open mind

The Sri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti, which is spearheading the ongoing protest in Jammu, cannot be faulted for dismissing Wednesday's all-party meeting as "meaningless". In retrospect, it would appear that the meeting, called by the Prime Minister, was meant to provide a platform to Muslim leaders of Kashmir Valley to criticise the protesters and reiterate their communal views under the garb of 'secular' concern. Hence, National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah was heard wondering whether his family had done the right thing by deciding to stay back in India after partition while PDP chairperson Mehbooba Mufti was at her shrieking best, hurling invectives at Jammu's Hindu protesters and shedding ersatz tears over the 'plight' of Kashmir's Muslims. Others, not to be outdone by either Mr Farooq Abdullah or Ms Mehbooba Mufti, waxed eloquent on how the protest has turned 'communal' in 'secular' Jammu & Kashmir and similar gobbledygook. Had it not been for the interventions by BJP president Rajnath Singh and his colleague Arun Jaitley, the all-party meeting would have become a conclave for unrestrained Hindu-bashing; since the Prime Minister chose not to set the record straight, we can only assume that this is what he and the Congress had hoped for. Indeed, Mr Jaitley has pithily summed up the crisis that continues to snowball with each passing day: If Muslim-majority Kashmir has a 'psyche' of which we should be mindful, so does Hindu-majority Jammu have a 'psyche', which has been trampled upon in the most grotesque manner by those who insist Jammu & Kashmir is only about pandering to the Valley's Muslims. Governor NN Vohra's astonishing decision to snub Hindu aspirations and ignore Hindu sensitivities, obviously to either please his patrons in Delhi or carry out their instruction, by asking the State Government to cancel the order allotting 97 acres of land to the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board, as well as divesting the board of its responsibilities, is only the latest instance of Jammu's Hindus being given the short shrift in order to appease Kashmir's Muslims. In a sense, the Amarnath shrine land dispute has proved to be the tipping point. Jammu's Hindus, smarting under Srinagar's high-handedness for decades and tired of brazenly biased Governors deaf to their appeals for justice, have decided that enough is enough: Latent, simmering anger has boiled over into uncontrollable rage.

However, it is instructive to note that the protest in Jammu remains anchored in nationalism; this is in sharp contrast to violence in Kashmir which is firmly rooted in separatism. Faced with an economic blockade, whose merits are no doubt debatable, the Valley's Muslims are looking towards Muzaffarabad and not New Delhi for succour, and threatening to use the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway to transport their orchard produce -- this is sheer blackmail and must be met without any leniency being shown to them. Seen against this backdrop and in the context of the Congress's partisan politics, it is doubtful whether the proposed all-party delegation, led by Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee, will be able to break the deadlock that prevails in Jammu. The protesters have made it abundantly clear that they will settle for nothing less than the land being restored to the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board and Mr Vohra being recalled. This is not a maximalist position. If the Government is genuinely interested in an honourable and fair settlement, it should be willing to consider these demands with an open mind.

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