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Vohra must be recalled

Vohra must be recalled

Author: KN Pandit
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: August 6, 2008

His words and deeds have set Jammu ablaze

The relentless protest in Jammu is reminiscent of the historic Praja Parishad agitation, the first mass movement against discrimination by rulers in Srinagar. The protest began after the Congress-led Government in Jammu & Kashmir succumbed to communal pressure and cancelled the allocation of land to the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board. But the roots of the disquiet sweeping through Jammu go deeper than just the Amarnath shrine land dispute.

The political situation in the State took a perilous turn when the three-year term of the PDP-led coalition Government came to an end and the Congress took over from its partner. Reluctant to play second fiddle and with their own agenda, PDP patron Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and chairperson Mehbooba Mufti began indulging in diatribes that brazenly served communal and separatist interests.

During his three years as Chief Minister, the Mufti flirted with many dubious 'solutions' to the Jammu & Kashmir issue, all to the taste of the separatists and their trans-border lobbies. Nursing the idea of division of Jammu region along communal lines, he, at the same time, subtly advocated an exclusivist Muslim majority identity of the Valley. This was a marked deviation from the demand of the National Conference for greater autonomy.

Curiously, the Mufti, at whose behest Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had constituted Working Committees on Jammu & Kashmir, used a controversial conduit to put forth his self-determination theory. It was Mr Wajahat Habibullah, a senior bureaucrat who is now Chief Information Commissioner. Earlier, during a stint with a US think tank, he had proposed a 'solution' to the Jammu & Kashmir issue along communal lines. In essence, his formula was based on the propositions of Owen Dixon and the Kathwari Plan -- later, this was also the core of Gen Pervez Musharraf's plan. The crux of the plan is division of Jammu region along communal lines and the creation of 'Greater Muslim Kashmir'.

Mr Harsh Dev Singh, MLA and former Minister from Panthers Party, objected to the presence of Mr Habibullah in a formal session of a working committee, saying that he was not a member and thus had no right to be there. Interestingly, Mr NN Vohra, the present Governor, had supported Mr Habibullah's plan.

Mr Vohra, as the Congress-led UPA Government's interlocutor, has had no qualms about visiting fundamentalist-separatist Kashmiri leader Ali Shah Geelani's residence in Srinagar. This is a peculiar culture of some Indian politicians and administrators: They curry favour with Kashmiri separatists and then sell it to Kashmir policy makers in New Delhi in order to fortify their own position.

The present crisis in Jammu has to be attributed to the shenanigans of the Congress, the NC and the PDP, plus Mr Vohra. The Congress-led coalition made a hurried and half-hearted decision of allocating Baltal forestland to the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board to cater to the party's Hindu constituency in Jammu. The PDP and the NC found an opportunity to exploit religious and parochial sentiments of the majority population in the Valley in order to endear themselves to the separatists at large.

Ignoring then Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad's proposal, Mr Vohra went by the persuasions of the Pradesh Congress chief Mr Saifuddin Soz, NC chief Omar Abdullah and former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Baig. He had the land allocation order rescinded and stripped the SASB of its authority of arranging the annual yatra to the shrine.

But the saddest and most sordid part of the entire episode is the brutality and repression unleashed by the police on the protesting masses in Jammu. At least five persons have been shot dead; the victims of police firing on Monday were shot in the head.

This is an unprecedented story of administration under Governor's rule functioning in a totalitarian fashion. The failure of the administration is clearly attributable to the fact that those at the helm of affairs, like the Divisional Commission and the Inspector-General of Police, both being outsiders, are not familiar with local conditions. Adding fuel to the fire, Mr Vohra continues to cater to the agenda of the separatists than of the nationalists.

The Sangharsh Samiti, spearheading the protest movement, has declined the Governor's offer for a 'dialogue', contending that he has nothing to offer. The Sangharsh Samiti has put forth three demands for withdrawing the agitation: Mr Vohra should be recalled immediately; the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board's ecclesiastical jurisdiction and authority should be restored; and, the land order should be rescinded.

If the Union Government wants to defuse the situation and prevent further erosion of the people's faith in the State administration, it must immediately recall the Governor and appoint someone of high calibre and moral stature who will not compromise the interests of Jammu to appease Kashmir's Muslims.

- The writer is former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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