For over a month, the Jammu region has been almost continuously on the boil. Initially led by the BJP, the protest against the state government’s intention to revoke the transfer of 800 kanals of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board has gradually intensified. It has been joined by 35 other organisations, under the banner of Amarnath Shrine Sangharsh Samiti, that have two main demands: that of recalling Governor NN Vohra and the restoration of land to the Shrine Board.
Meanwhile, the Muslim leaders of Jammu have lent support to the agitation, a move appreciated by BJP President Rajnath Singh, who along with Arun Jaitley had visited Jammu. Samiti leaders had also suspended the nine-day bandh and replaced it by dharna and hunger strike.
I have met leaders of the agitation in Jammu. I have also been to Srinagar where I met a cross-section of political leaders. I got the feeling that bridging the gap between the two positions is not impossible. But no official initiative is known to have been taken during this period to work out a commonly acceptable solution.
The situation in Jammu suddenly deteriorated after Kuldeep Raj committed suicide on July 23 and his body was mishandled and dishonoured by the police. By now, a number of leaders of the Congress and many local parties and associations have joined the popular protests. Incidentally, the stand of these organisations and that of the Congress leaders is not the same. The demands raised in Jammu agitation range from the return of land to the Shrine Board, end of 60 years of perceived discrimination against Jammu and even a separate Jammu state.
The state BJP President, on his part, has declared that their aim is an equitable share for Jammu in the state’s political power. The agitators have also blocked all supplies and export of goods from Kashmir. Now that a majority of the population have joined the movement, it is difficult to identify a coherent leadership and a concrete demand.
On the other hand the administrative measures on the whole proved ineffective and in some cases counter-productive. It is already clear that imposition of Section 144 followed by curfews and deployment of the Rapid Action Force and the Army cannot contain the protests. Crackdown on the media and a ban on SMS services were constitutionally invalid and could not prevent the flow of rumours and misinformation through either alternative forms of media or just hearsay.
Despite offers of support of local Muslims to the basic demands of the Sangharsh Samiti and the declarations of the latter to maintain communal harmony, anti-social elements who took no time in joining the agitation, have attacked Muslims at many places and communal clashes have taken place in Muslim-majority areas. Jammu has ten districts of which five have Hindu majority population and five Muslim majority. The attacks on Kashmir Valley-bound passengers and carriers of essential goods would damage Jammu’s role as a vital geo-political bridge between the people of the Valley and the rest of India.
Whatever grievances people in Jammu may have with the leaders of Kashmir, common Kashmiris cannot be penalised for that. Moreover, the violent nature of the agitation should be replaced by peaceful methods which in the long term are far more effective. The people of Jammu need to introspect in their own interest along these lines.
Already, the Valley has reacted sharply to the Jammu agitation. At a time when the separatist movement and militancy are at its lowest ebb, continuous regional and communal tensions would help to revive them. However, this in no way implies that the Jammu problem can be dismissed. Nor can there be any solution to the Kashmir problem without resolving regional tensions. Even if the current agitation and all its demands are met, these tensions could burst out whenever they get any outlet in either of the two regions.
Unless and until the root cause of the problem is tackled, ad hoc measures to deal with its offshoots, which occasionally manifest in one form or the other, would be of limited use.
Balraj Puri is Director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, Jammu