Wednesday, August 6, 2008

BACKLASH: JAMMU TODAY, INDIA TOMMORROW

The surprise is not that Jammu is burning but that this part of the state took so long to react.

Ever since the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir became part of India in 1948, the only part of the state that has called all the shots both within the state and at the national and international levels is the Kashmir Valley. This small but extremely beautiful piece of real estate, about 100 km long and 30 km wide, is home to Kashmiris, the ones we keep hearing about daily. This is the real Muslim dominated part of the state. Beyond this stretch of land live people belonging to various communities, all of whom are as different from ethnic Kashmiris as chalk is from the proverbial cheese. Before reading further, readers may like to read the post Communal commies and Kashmiri Muslims: India needs to be firm.

Yet, India has gone about handling the many complex problems and issues pertaining to the whole state by focussing solely on ‘managing’ ethnic Kashmiri Muslims while almost totally ignoring all others spread over the rest of this large state. The ‘Kashmir Problem’ is nothing else but a Kashmiri Muslim problem rooted in the partition of India on a communal basis. A small incident in the Valley hogs disproportionate media space and government attention, and the world is made to wrongly believe that it is representative of the whole state. Nothing that happens in Hindu majority Jammu and Buddhist majority Ladakh is even looked at. That is exactly what Pakistan wants. That is exactly what India has been willingly doing for it.

The people of Jammu have always been quietly resentful of the suffocating domination of ethnic Kashmiri Muslims who patronisingly include them and others in the rest of the state while vocalising the problem that Pakistan believes is the unfinished agenda of Partition. They have been watching with resigned helplessness as successive Indian governments have mollycoddled ethnic Kashmiri Muslims as the sole stakeholders in the state. This resentment and anger has been building up, unseen by the Indian state and media obsessed with only the Valley.

In the late eighties and nineties, when the Valley was ‘cleansed’ of the few ethnic Kashmiri still practicing Hinduism by fellow Kashmiri Muslims, the people of Jammu accepted them without fuss and helped them restart their devastated lives in their part of the state. Then, as terrorism crossed the Pir Panjal range and got into Jammu division and Hindus in far flung areas started getting massacred with increasing frequency, the anger began to build. But again, nobody saw it or wanted to; they were, and are, focussed only on the Yasin Maliks and Mehbooba Muftis of the Valley.

When a bomb is ready, all it takes for it go off is the lighting of a small fuse. Which event is going to prove to be that deadly fuse cannot be predicted. It may sometimes be something unbelievably insignificant that under normal circumstances will not even be noticed. But when the explosive is all packed and ready, a small spark can be disastrous. The bomb has been ready, unnoticed, for ignition in Jammu for a long time, waiting for the right fuse and a match.

The fuse, which looked like a harmless little cord to most, has now been lit. What is this fuse? An innocuous order of the state government transferring 100 acres of forest land in Kashmir Valley to the Hindu Amarnath Shrine Board for constructing prefabricated structures and other facilities for Hindu pilgrims who come on pilgrimage to the Amarnath shrine in the Valley for exactly two months during the year. This order, approved by the state cabinet, led to widespread riots in the Valley. This transfer of ‘Muslim’ forest land to Hindus was just not acceptable to the Kashmiris who, despite having driven out all Kashmiri Hindus from the Valley, projected this transfer as an attempt to change the demographic pattern of the state.

NN Vohra, former Home Secretary, who had just been appointed Governor of the state, revoked the order within five days of his assuming office. His immediate capitulation quickly doused the visible fire in the Valley. But it stoked a far more dangerous fire with very grave long term effects. Vohra was least bothered about the exceptionally disastrous message that this loud defeat of the Indian state had sent to not just separatists but also mainstream Kashmiri politicians.

The message was that the Valley was now Sovereign Muslim Land; Hindus were outsiders who would be allowed to come in only temporarily as tourists and pilgrims for practical economic reasons. The unstated part of the message is that Kashmir is not India which allows Bangladeshis in their millions to easily find land and space to settle down in the country, and enough political support to prevent them from being deported to their own country, carved out of India on a communal basis .

It may be recalled that NN Vohra was India’s Defence and Home Secretary when Pakistan promoted Islamic terrorism erupted and went out of control in Kashmir Valley. He was later the Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Gujral and possibly the real author of that almost childish and out-of-touch-with-reality Gujral Doctrine. At that time, he was another faceless bureaucrat who did not have to face any flak for his failures. This time, he is in an unfamiliar hot seat as the functioning head of India’s most troubled state. This time, his “pushing the file away from his table” bureaucratic strategy has created the most explosive and dangerous situation ever in the state. This time, he cannot take the shelter of anonymity behind a leader. India, it seems, has paid and is paying the price for the systemic weaknesses that have facilitated his moving up the bureaucratic hierarchy and beyond, manifestly due to his skilful “politician management” rather than any real professional competence.

The agitation in Jammu is only getting stronger with each passing day with almost the entire civil society cutting across party lines joining in. In fact, the protests and their leaders have gone totally out of control of politicians. An economic blockade has been imposed by the people on the Kashmir Valley, with no vehicles being allowed to take goods to or bring goods from there. Yesterday, for the first time ever, ethnic Kashmir Muslims were also asked to leave the region and go back to the Valley. The polarisation on communal cum ethnic lines is almost complete. The situation is getting out of hand. The Vohra fuse has caused a huge explosion which has brought to surface with great force the long papered over and callously ignored injustices that the people of Jammu have stoically suffered for decades.

What is happening in Jammu today is just a tiny glimpse of what is going to happen in the rest of India tomorrow if our politicians still refuse to learn the right lesson. I have been warning for long that if Islamic terrorism and fundamentalism is not tackled firmly and if India’s political parties continues to play the politics of vote over the dead bodies of innocent civilians, India will face a communal bloodbath of unprecedented proportions. Just because everybody shows great ‘resilience’ and gets on with the business of life immediately after a terrorist strike does not mean that India’s silent citizens continue to remain the same as they were before. A lot of high explosive is getting filled in their hearts and minds almost every day, silently, unseen, unfelt.

Our media and politicians never tire of talking about the Mumbai and Gujarat riots and the Muslim reaction to them, to casually explain away the real and growing threat of Islamic terrorism. Like in the case of Jammu, they all want to comfortably make believe that issues like growing Islamic fundamentalism, Pakistan sponsored terrorism, Bangladeshi settlers and terrorists, Indian Muslims actively and passively involved in making terror work really well, SIMI and Ghaznavi etc do not impact real, ordinary Indians. Facing up to reality will require them to show the necessary will that is required to take the steps that are urgently needed to ensure that terror is taken head on and defeated decisively. That is an unpleasant task which no one who matters seems to be ready to take on.

I have written earlier in detail that the only real way to tackle terror is to take out the nation state of Pakistan. As long as Pakistan exists in its present form, this cancer will not go away, whether in India or Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world. To do that you need unquestioned military superiority or the will to employ other means. But you have just about enough military strength to deter Pakistan from starting an open war. You do not have the strength to make Pakistan believe that it can be summarily converted into a brief chapter in history books. You do not have the will to create and use other instruments. All this, despite the fact that that is precisely what that country has been consistently trying to do to you for decades.

The vast majority of India’s Muslims are no doubt as Indian and as patriotic as any one of us is. Kashmiri leader Omar Abdullah’s recent speech in Parliament was stirring stuff. But the face of terror is such that beyond a point, it blurs distinctions between the good and the bad, and the friend and the foe. That is the dangerously explosive point towards which we are headed in a straight line at good speed. If we don’t wake up, we all might have to pay a prohibitive price for the dangerous, incendiary and divisive vote that seems to have become the sole determinator of developing a national response to the very serious problem that India has been avoiding facing for a long time.

Jammu has given us a timely glimpse of where we are headed. Perhaps it is a stroke of great luck that this warning sign has come from a corner of the country where the clashing Hindus and Muslims are well separated by distance and the Himalayas. Imagine what would have happened by now if that daunting physical separation was not there to keep these warring communities apart. Imagine how fast the fires would have spread. Imagine how the limited police forces would have been either run over by the wave, or joined it. Imagine how the Army would have too been thinly stretched and too late to stop the bloodbaths.

Horrifying isn’t it? So, if India is really serious about stopping its rapid descent into a communal bloodbath more violent and destructive than what it saw in 1947, it has to learn the right lessons from Jammu. And virtually re-write its rules of engagement with Pakistan as well as its response to Islamic terrorism within the country. That will require some will and a leadership and a bureaucratic, military and intelligence apparatus which makes a complete break from the colonial one that has totally failed to deliver.

Let us get one thing straight. No political leader can afford to overlook competent professional advice and inputs for long, even if he wants to. Unless we set the country’s ‘frame’ right, politicians will continue to take dysfunctional and myopic decisions based on such inputs that have been and are being fed by ossified and failed government structures and hierarchies.

The question is whether that will happen before many and worse ‘Jammus’ set the country on fire, or after. As things stand now, there is only one answer. And that is not the one you would want to hear.
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Readers may also like to read: Rushdie and Jinnah: whither Indian Muslims?