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Jammu wants regime change

Jammu wants regime change

Author: Ashok Malik
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: August 8, 2008

It is tempting to compare the Hindu protests in Jammu to the Ayodhya movement. Certainly, anybody who saw the television images of impassioned activists jumping into the Tawi river in an attempt to enter Jammu town, cordoned off by the Army, would have recalled the inspirational kar seva of 1990. Determined foot-soldiers of Ram made their way to Ayodhya, even though the Mulayam Singh Yadav Government had converted the city into a garrison.

On the face of it, little has changed. The mood at the all-party meeting called by the Prime Minister was still broadly adversarial to Hindu agitation. A variety of regional parties, most of whom don't have a ghost of a presence in Jammu & Kashmir, made familiar noises. The undercurrent was clear: Jammu is the villain, Kashmir the victim.

The media is still as uninformed and instinctually hostile as it was at the height of the Ayodhya unrest. The Jammu violence is a reaction to hardline Muslim elements in Kashmir refusing to allow even temporary shelters for Hindu pilgrims travelling to the Amarnath shrine. Yet, the media saw that phenomenon as "Kashmiri mass sentiment". The Jammu agitation is, on the other hand, "religious" and "communal".

Despite this backdrop, there are substantial differences in the evolution of the Ayodhya and Jammu movements, and in the political response to them. For a start, there is this manufactured belief that the uprising in Jammu has been masterminded by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, an entity to which almost mythical powers are now ascribed. The liberal intelligentsia is refusing to acknowledge that strong Hindu emotions can exist even outside organised politics.

In truth, Jammu represents a genuine people's movement. The throng led the way and the BJP and representatives of the Congress and other local parties simply got pulled in. The intensity of the anger over the denial of what were seen as fundamental religious and social rights at Amarnath was too powerful to have been generated by politicians.

The Ram Janmabhoomi movement offered a contrast. The VHP and the BJP -- depending on where you stand -- educated and informed or instigated and urged Hindus towards the "ocular insult", to use Mr LK Advani's phrase. In Jammu, the people became the vanguard.

Second, in assessing the political fallout of Jammu, both national parties -- the Congress and the BJP -- are haunted by the Ayodhya experience. The Congress was relatively subdued at the all-party meeting. Secular grandstanding of the Arjun Singh variety was studiously avoided even though, ironically, it has been standard party protocol for most of the UPA's term.

The Congress was singed by the Ayodhya movement, dramatically losing support among the Hindu middles classes. It has no desire to relive that nightmare. Further, it is selling the nuclear deal with America as an investment for India's strategic and economic future. This is, essentially, an appeal to mainstream/Hindu India. Already defensive on terrorism, the party cannot afford to be seen as insensitive to Jammu.

While such a strategy is true for sections of the Congress, it does not, admittedly, define the entire party. In that sense, the BJP is unambiguous. Its unqualified sympathy lies with the Jammu cause. As Mr Arun Jaitley put it, the "Jammu psyche" will now require equal attention. It can no more be pushed aside by the permanently-aggrieved "Kashmir psyche".

Yet, the BJP itself is uncertain about the possible implications of the Jammu mood. It realises the all-India potential. The denial of shelter to Hindu pilgrims trekking to a cave that, at an altitude of 13,500 feet, is close to half the way up to Everest, has touched a raw nerve. When married to the disquiet over a confused policy on terrorism and on combating the sources of jihad, economic worries and general disarray in governance, it can become a potent electoral weapon.

So why isn't the BJP jumping into the fray? There are two reasons. One, it has to identify the appropriate, credible messenger, the mass leader whose interventions or public statements on Jammu and Amarnath and ability to link these to the larger context carry resonance. Two, it has to fine-tune the message. The BJP can only make Jammu a national campaign if it outlines a specific, practicable set of political goals.

The confusion and cleavage that followed December 6, 1992, cannot be repeated. The BJP dropped the temple issue, arguing it had made its point about Hindu impatience. The VHP saw the construction of the Ram Mandir as the non-negotiable and immediate objective. The misgivings that resulted still divide the Sangh family.

In Jammu, what is the ultimate objective of the consortium of 35 organisations that has taken on the guns and bayonets? The BJP needs to appreciate and nuance the emotionalism and convert it into an achievable manifesto.

While the wish list cannot be over-ambitious, neither can it be limited to just allowing pilgrims right to rest in pre-fab shelters en route to the Amarnath shrine, or even guaranteeing autonomy to Hindu temples in Kashmir. The social contract between Jammu and the establishment in Srinagar has to be redrawn.

For too long have the timeservers and opportunists who pass off for political leaders in the Valley pretended that the Kashmiri prejudice is free of religion. The Abdullah family is, of course, a classic example, but the PDP is not far behind. It is no surprise that Mr Omar Abdullah's theatrical sermon in Parliament on July 22 impressed nobody other than gushing television interviewers.

Consider the plight of Jammu. Assembly seats are frozen in the State as the census and delimitation processes have not been concluded. The accretion in Jammu's population -- not least because of the close to half-a-million Hindu refugees from the Valley -- is not being allowed to register as electoral leverage.

Jammu's residents are children of a lesser god. Sikhs have been prominent among the recent protesters. They are largely descendants of the 30,000 Partition refugees who fled Pakistan and settled in Jammu. Today, the community is 100,000 strong. It can vote in parliamentary elections but has no State domicile rights -- it cannot access higher education quotas, cannot buy property, cannot elect an MLA..

Contrast this with the integration of Muslim refugees from Xinjiang and Tibet who arrived in Srinagar in the 1950s, after the annexation of their homelands by Communist China. The discrepancy is there for all to see. It needs to be rectified, and Jammu's liberty institutionalised. This calls for more than just pro forma steps on Amarnath.

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