For over a month now, Jammu and Kashmir have stopped even cosmetically appearing to be a single state. This time round, there are no ‘outsiders’ to blame. The tensions manufactured by former J&K Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad when he first allotted land to the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board — in a bid to reach out to an electorate beyond the Valley before the winter Assembly polls — has taken up a nasty life of its own even after Mr Azad was forced to cancel the allotment. People have already died in police firing in Jammu and there have been deaths in Srinagar. The Centre has been bewilderingly silent, perhaps fearful of letting another boulder loose to take its own violent course.
But as the Centre mulls over what to do next — even as it meets today to build consensus by talking to ‘all parties’ — two things must be immediately done to bring both Jammu and Kashmir — not to mention J&K — back from the brink. One, the so-called ‘popular’ blockade targeted against the Valley must be lifted. If Muslim-majority Kashmir is indeed an integral part of India, the Union government should pull out all the stops to ensure that the Valley and its adjoining areas are not ‘cut off’. Two, law and order must be restored at the earliest in Jammu and in Srinagar. What should have been a banal matter involving who is to be in charge of a piece of land that, for two months every year, plays host to travelling Amarnath pilgrims, has turned into an ugly dispute that bears a serious potential of becoming uglier. Till now, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah has come up with the most sensible plan. His suggestion is to return the land to the Shrine Board — but with the important change of making only locals members of the Board.
There will be opponents to this pragmatic scheme. But these voices will continue to make grating noises from both sides of the Jammu-Kashmir fence in a bid to proclaim that they are the ‘bigger victims’ than the other. The Centre must realise fast that there are only one set of victims here: the people of Jammu and Kashmir.