Aug 14, 2008

Columnists - Sitaram Yechury

Petty Politics

As we prepare to celebrate independent India’s entry into its sixth decade, incendiary flames engulf Jammu and Kashmir, grievously threatening the unity and integrity of our country.

What is unfolding is like a Greek tragedy, where apart from those who work for its success, all other protagonists, fully conscious of the impending tragedy, are unable to prevent it. For the sake of India, this script has to be rewritten urgently.

The lethal combination of communalism and separatism has already claimed lives, disrupted normalcy and is now threatening to spin out of control. Inflammable passions continue to be roused with communalism and separatism feeding on each other. It is, indeed, a matter of shame that the situation has been allowed to come to such a pass. Worse, no tangible steps appear to have been initiated even after an all-party delegation held discussions with a cross section of public opinion makers both in Jammu and Kashmir.

The dispute centres round a widely circulated belief that land allocated to the Amarnath Shrine Board was withdrawn under pressure from the extremists in the valley. The facts, however, are to the contrary. Ownership of forest land cannot be transferred under law.

However, the government can permit a change in the pattern of land use. Earlier, the state government had allocated some land to the Board to provide facilities to the pilgrims. Since this had become a controversy, the new Governor withdrew his predecessor’s decision seeking an assurance from the state government that it would undertake the responsibility for providing all required facilities.

These are, indeed, being provided now and the yatra continues. In fact, in 2005, a similar situation occurred when the allocated land for the Board, whose ex-officio chairman is the Governor (if he is a Hindu), was rescinded. At that time, the issue never became a controversy.

Today it has led to a raging agitation, first in Jammu and now in the valley, shows that this has been mounted keeping in view the forthcoming assembly elections in October and the general elections in 2009. Communal passions are being sharply aroused. Rumours are spreading like wildfire; Hindus are prevented from undertaking the yatra while the Haj is subsidised.

Likewise, extremist elements in the valley are whipping up passions, invoking parallel visions of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands: a prelude for altering the demographic composition of the valley.

In June, a Parliamentary Committee headed by me had visited the state. In our report to the Parliament, we spoke with a deep sense of satisfaction of the return to normalcy and surge in tourism. Alas, we had grossly underestimated the fragility of such a peace. Clearly, there are forces that continue to stoke divisive fires to advance their agendas that are intrinsically opposed to secularism.

Standing at the Parimahal, built by the tragic Mughal Prince Dara Sikoh to study celestial bodies — but intended for higher theological discourses on the commonalties between Vedanta and Islamic Sufism— one could not help but reflect on the precariousness of such lofty visions. Such syncretic civilisational ethos that India is capable of scaling has unfortunately been grounded, yet again, by fundamentalist elements who seek to destroy this potential.

Such a conflagration , which has a very dangerous potential for undermining the unity and integrity of India, is being created in order to reap electoral and political benefits. This has serious implications threatening the very security of our country and creating a fertile ground for cross-border terrorism to raise its ugly head. The RSS/BJP, who are spearheading the agitation in Jammu, have called a three-day all-India bandh. The brazen provocative assertions of L.K. Advani at the BJP’s yuva rally the other day, declared unambiguously the sharpening of communal passions to further consolidate its ‘Hindu votebank’.

This, in turn, feeds the extremist response in the valley. They, thus, strengthen each other. Recollect, on the eve of 1999 general elections in India, the information secretary of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba said: “The BJP suits us. Within a year they have made us into a nuclear and missile power.

Lashkar-e-Tayyeba is getting a good response because of the BJP’s statements. It is much better than before. We pray to God that they come to power again. Then we will emerge even stronger” (Hindustan Times, July 19, 1999).

Rewrite the script of this tragedy to douse these incendiary flames. Immediately reconstitute the Shrine Board in a manner that is acceptable to all. The land under question, while remaining under State ownership, must be used for creating temporary facilities for the yatra in accordance with the J&K High Court judgement.

However, if the dispute is only a mask for a larger agenda for both the RSS and the Kashmiri extremists, who invoke pent up feelings of injustice and ‘perceived’ injustice, then these must be met squarely. India’s unity and integrity are non-negotiable. With this as the basis, the UPA government must invite, first separately, then, together both the sides to hammer out an acceptable solution.

Both sides must suspend the agitation to allow this process to succeed. Failing this, the UPA, fearless of electoral consequences, must unhesitatingly uphold the Constitution and the law of the land.

(Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and a Rajya Sabha MP. He was a member of the all-party delegation to J&K)

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