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Jammu burns with pent-up anger

Jammu burns with pent-up anger

Author: Sankarshan Thakur
Publication: The Telegraph
Date: August 10, 2008
URL: http://telegraphindia.com/1080810/jsp/frontpage/story_9672216.jsp

This might sound like an exaggeration, but that's perhaps because you've been tuned too finely to pervasive political correctness. The trouble in Jammu isn't merely over 80-odd acres of land around a faraway mountain shrine, it is over reordering the entire political landscape of a state that doesn't care being polite about its bitter and visceral faultlines any more - Valley versus the rest, Kashmir versus Jammu, Hindu versus Muslim, if it comes down to that.

And, in the ringing words of Lila Karan Sharma, convener of the storm called the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti, it is even "Tricolour-carrying patriots of Jammu versus Pakistani flag-bearers of Kashmir".

History is often a cause-and-effect lesson. The immediate cause of what's unfolding today probably goes back to 1990 and the exodus of Pandits from the Valley under the sweep of the "azadi" movement. The accumulated causes go even further back the decades. Amarnath is probably merely the latest flashpoint.

Jammu, were you to get a sense of reigning sentiment in this shuttered, khaki and concertina-ridden city, is feeding sackfuls of its old and perceived grudges to these fires.

"We've put up with this for 60 years, 60 long years," says Rati Razdan, a politically unaffiliated schoolteacher who has been at the barricades in Gandhinagar each morning, "all in the name of national unity. Those who blackmail the nation with threats of separation have been pampered, those who have been loyal have been ignored. What am I to do to be heard, pick up a green flag and shout anti-India slogans? Why can we not have land in Kashmir, why must Kashmiris have their way all the time in this country?"

Why does the Valley have more seats in the state Assembly even though Jammu is greater both in population and land area? Why must they have three MPs and we only two? Why must they have all chief ministers and we none? Why do they get 80 per cent of government jobs? Why must they have 60 per cent of power? Why must they have reservation in colleges and technical institutions even though our boys and girls do better? Why is it that we can be thrown out of our homes in the Valley and nothing happens? Why is there such a crisis if we want to set up facilities in the Valley for two months each year? Why do their leaders get to build private mansions in the forests of Jammu's vaunted Bhatindi outskirts whereas we can't even be granted land in the name of a shrine? Why are they part of an all-party delegation? They are the creators of this problem, why should they now become judges? And why should we go to them?

Why? Why? Why? Us and Them. Us and Them. Us and Them. Jammu is an angry trigger-burst of questions wherever you go. And they are well aware who they are firing them at. The casting out of all Valley leaders - Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Saifuddin Soz - from the all-party delegation before the Samiti agreed even to come to the Raj Bhavan this afternoon was a stark demonstration of where and how Jammu is marking the divide.

"This is a disturbing flashpoint in the state's history," says professor Dipankar Sengupta who teaches economics at the University of Jammu, "this is the first time Jammu has shaken up the country and the Valley, and that is because of the accumulated history of grievances. The Valley has got too much national attention too consistently, it is Jammu's turn now and it believes it has reasons to scream. It wants corrections."

Sengupta, like many others you'd call liberal or middle-of-the-road, is not unaware that a virulent brand of Hindu nationalism is the flaming head of this extended tumult. It isn't as if the consequences of things getting out of hand don't alarm them. But, equally, they aren't prepared to damn Jammu's uproar as cynical rightwing opportunism alone.

"It is true the Sangh is the spearhead," says Sengupta, "but that is because of the nature of when and how these frustrations have come to be vented. There are more people behind this than just the BJP, although the BJP is very happily behind it. Don't forget the local Congress is straining to get on board as well, something must be pushing them."A retired Kashmiri bureaucrat who is settled in Jammu and has no time for the Hindu rightwing, concedes there is more to this than just the row over land around the Amarnath cave. "It is true that the Sangh and its front organisations are in the forefront, it is also possible that the BJP will draw electoral mileage from this not only in Jammu but elsewhere too.

"But remember two important factors: this is still a city ruled by the Congress, the BJP won but a single seat in the last election. But more important, this is essentially a mercantile city. Businessmen and shopkeepers don't tolerate such long closures if they don't feel deeply about issues. Jammu has been closed 40 days and there is still no sign things will open up. There's a sign for you."

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