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Villains of the Valley

Villains of the Valley

Author: Prabhu Chawla
Publication: India Today
Date: September 1, 2008
URL: http://indiatoday.digitaltoday.in/index.php?option=com_content&Itemid=1&task=view&id=13574&sectionid=30&issueid=68&latn=2

Introduction: It is a war within and the culprits are a Government whose abiding philosophy is minority appeasement, a political class with no sense of the nation and secessionists who continue to be tolerated by a soft state

Let there be no dispute over this simple fact: India is being banished from the Valley of Kashmir. Separatism is the mildest of words one can use to describe the soaring hate, which continues to be further accentuated by the flags of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan fluttering over erupting streets.

How certain countries colonise without firing a single shot! Or more aptly perhaps, how certain countries allow emotional secession with such stoic detachment! Shocking? Not to anyone in South Block. Not yet.

You may say this is the moment for all honourable men to come together for the sake of the Nation Endangered. To the shame of us all, in India of the moment, honour and nation are incompatible. It is not politically viable to be honourable.

And the nation is negotiable when immediate political dividends are higher. Nothing illustrates this truism better than Jammu and Kashmir, where India has vanished from the minds of those politicians who swear by Kashmiriyat and other such sonorous abstractions.

A divided Kashmir shows how far we have come in disowning the nation. If in the Valley it has exposed the communal instincts of the so-called mainstream politicians and provided an easy cause to professional separatists, in Delhi it has brought to the fore the UPA Government's art of selective secularism-an art that has to be perfected on the eve of elections.

It is as if the entire political class needs the prism of religion to see a Kashmir they can comprehend. They have set the stage for those for whom India is only a second thought to play out their secessionist agenda.

And don't blame it on God. Blame it on men who misread, mislead and misrepresent. A brief history of the Amarnath land dispute will tell us that much. The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) comes into existence in 2001, when Farooq Abdullah is the chief minister.

In 2005, the then governor S.K. Sinha, as chairman of the board, writes to chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed asking for land to accommodate the rising number of pilgrims. The forest minister passes an order allotting 40 hectares of land to SASB for temporary use.

While the government awaits clearance from various agencies, someone moves the high court for speedy allotment of land to the board. The court asks the state Government to permit the SASB to develop the forest land for the Amarnath pilgrims. Following an appeal by the state, a division bench of the court amends the earlier order stating that the use of the land "would remain limited for the duration of the yatra".

Nothing much happens for the next three years. In June this year, the Ghulam Nabi Azad cabinet approves unanimously "the diversion of forest land measuring 39.88 hectares for raising prefabricated structures only for camping purposes of pilgrims without going in for construction of permanent structures".

The order also makes it clear that "the proprietary status of the land shall remain unchanged" and it will be "returned to the Forest Department when it is no longer required by the SASB". A deceptive calm follows, and it lasts just two days.

Then begins the campaign, quite incendiary in nature, and it goes like this: the Hindus are coming, it's cultural invasion, it's demographic sabotage, the land will be used for permanent settlement…The state Government, on its part, fails to convince the Valley that there is no transfer of ownership- a fatal communication gap.

The separatists-or secessionists?-have been waiting for a provocation. They get one and nobody bothers to read the fine print. Such anti-India veterans and wholesale merchants of hate as Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq hit the streets and declare war on the country which still indulges them.

National Conference President Omar Abdullah and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, driven by the fear of losing their political space in the Valley to the Hurriyat, join the anti-national movement and demand the revocation of the order.

Mehbooba threatens withdrawal of support to the Government if the order is not revoked by June 30. Azad succumbs. Sinha has been replaced by N.N. Vohra, a former home secretary and a favourite of the prime minister. The Congress high command-read 10 Janpath-decides to repeat what it is traditionally good at: minority appeasement.

And it has a trust vote to win in Parliament and every vote counts, including Mehbooba's and Omar's. Governor Vohra becomes a servile instrument of his political employer and the order is revoked.

Nothing more has been required for the emotional as well as cultural Balkanisation of the state. The economic blockade initiated by the protagonists of the Amarnath cause has only helped the mobilisation of anti-India-which means pro-Pakistan- sentiment in the Valley.

No nationalist- not to speak of the Government-has come forward to the rescue of India. The most visible flag in Srinagar has the Islamic crescent on it. Suddenly, Mirwaiz, Geelani, Yasin Malik and Omar are united in their cause.

When they mention "New Delhi", it sounds like an imperial foreign capital. It's the cry of azadi all over again. The secessionists, whom "New Delhi" lets flourish in the Valley, now demand the release of all political prisoners and demilitarisation of the state.

Kashmir is falling apart, and it seems the Centre cannot hold. Or short-term political expediency has triumphed over longterm national interest. The tragedy of the Valley cannot be reduced to the size of that anodyne comedy called Shivraj Patil.

Then he also happens to be the home minister of India, and going by what he says-which is as revealing as Bushisms-and does, we still don't know what his idea of internal security is. He should be doing something more tolerable. And for the National Security Adviser, Kashmir is not a favourite destination.

Even the nationalism of the nationalists has a political subtext. BJP leader L.K. Advani may be right when he says that "the problem in Jammu and Kashmir today is not Hindu versus Muslim; nor is it even Jammu region versus the Valley. It is essentially nationalists versus the separatists."

The Saffronites, by championing the cause of the shrine board, have turned the crisis into a real estate dispute between the aggrieved Hindu and the appeased Muslim.

The reality is much more frightening: the real estate at stake is bigger than those 40 hectares. The territorial ambition of the secessionists- what else does azadi mean?- has made Kashmir a disputed land, at least for a section of its inhabitants.

A Government that governs by communal appeasement and a political class that betrays the nation for the expansion of the votebank have only added to the force of hate. It's a war within, and those who have the mandate to keep the unity of India intact are supplying the ammunition. The villains of the Valley are the enemies of the Republic as well.

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