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Jammu burning

Jammu burning

Author: Arun Sharma
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: August 2, 2008
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/story/343523.html

Introduction: Regional polarisation has never been so evident in this terror-torn state

Jammu has been burning for over a month now. As the bandh in the city entered its ninth day on Friday, hundreds of protesters laid siege to the airport here, leaving NC patron Farooq Abdullah and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti stranded.

It's clear that the agitation has the support of all sections of society. The traders, for instance, are supporting the bandh, despite having suffered losses to the tune of Rs 3,500 crore in one month. Chamber of Commerce president Ram Sahai alleged that the state Government collects 70 per cent of its revenue from Jammu, but looks towards Kashmir when it comes to developmental work.

The police, on the other hand, are finding it difficult to control the situation. Though SSP, Jammu, S D Singh Jamwal, said they were trying their best to curb the agitation, another senior officer, on condition of anonymity, said "the more we try to check it, the more it gets intensified". "What can the police do when such a large number of people are involved," he added .

With government offices non-functional due to absent staff, commuter services off the roads, banks and educational institutions closed, normal life has been thrown out of gear. However, despite facing numerous hardships like scarcity of essential commodities, the agitators seem to be in no mood to stop without arriving at a solution to the Amarnath land row. Many claim this is the only way to give vent to their ire at being discriminated against by those who ruled from the Valley over the past 60 years.

"It is a fight to end the discrimination being faced by us at the hands of Kashmir-centric rulers. This discrimination is faced in every sphere - be it sharing political power or recruitments in government offices. The Amarnath land row has united people to fight against this discrimination," said president of Jammu Bar Association B S Salathia, one of the leaders of the agitation.

"Land was given to the Board for raising temporary structures when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was heading the coalition government. As the Government cancelled its order, the Board approached the high court who directed the Government to hand over land to the latter," said Shakeel Ahmed, an advocate who is supporting the agitation. The state Government appealed to the high court, and a Division Bench allowed the Board to use land for raising temporary structures during the yatra. On May 26, the Government issued an order allotting 800 kanals of land to the Board for raising pre-fabricated temporary structures for pilgrims. Following widespread unrest in the Valley over the allotment of land, CM Ghulam Nabi Azad cancelled the order on July 1, sparking off protests in Jammu.

While the unrest in Jammu continues, the Congress and the NC- which had a mass base in the region - appear to have become increasingly irrelevant. Most people in Jammu have nursed a grudge against the PDP. It's viewed as a Kashmir-centric party; all its 16 MLAs were elected from the Valley during the 2002 polls. But people were distressed when the Congress and the NC followed the PDP over the Amarnath land issue.

During the 2002 Assembly polls, the Congress had emerged as the single largest party in the region with 15 seats and had promised to give people a CM from Jammu. The National Conference got nine seats in the region and became the second largest party. However, when it came to the issue of allotment of land to the Board, both ignored Jammu and sided with the PDP to get the order cancelled.

During the last budget session of both the Houses of the state Legislature, there were unruly scenes in both the treasury and opposition benches over the issue of lower wages being paid to daily workers of the Public Health Engineering Department working in Jammu, as compared to those in the Valley. Similarly, during the recent shortlisting of candidates for the posts of clerks by the state's Subordinate Services Recruitment Board, there were less than half-a-dozen candidates selected from Jammu, as against 250 from the Valley.

"These instances are the tip of the iceberg of the discrimination faced by Jammu," said Dr Ajay Charngoo, chairman of Panun Kashmir, a frontline organisation of Kashmiri Pandits. "To maintain hegemony of one community over state politics, the Government deferred delimitation of Assembly constituencies, due to be held this year, following opposition from the PDP and NC at an all-party meeting convened by Azad last year. The previous government of Farooq Abdullah had enacted a legislation against increasing the present number of Assembly seats till 2026, as fresh delimitation would have increased the number of Assembly seats in Jammu region in view of the increase in its population following migration by three lakh Kashmiri Pandits and thousands of Muslims from the Valley during the two decade-long turmoil," he added.

While Mufti described the agitation as a "rhetoric of hatred", the chairman of Jammu and Kashmir People's Conference, Sajad Gani Lone, termed the agitation as "an expression of venom against the Kashmiris".

Omar Abdullah's recent speech in Parliament also raked up passions when he said that the land belongs to them (Kashmiris). The suicide by a local resident, Kuldeep Dogra the next day in protest against Omar's statement turned the agitation into an uprising against Kashmiri politicians.

"If the Kashmiri politicians are not prepared to allow temporary usage of 800 kanals of land to provide facilities to pilgrims, how will they tolerate Pandits permanently returning to their native places in the Valley," asked a Kashmiri Pandit.

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