Congress fears electoral fallout of Jammu unrest

August 6th, 2008 - 6:08 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Bharatiya Janata Party

New Delhi, Aug 6 (IANS) A worried Congress Wednesday discussed the electoral fallout of the unrest over the Amarnath shrine, even as it heard former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad blame other parties for Jammu and Kashmir’s worst communal divide in six decades. At a special orientation programme for party spokespersons across the country, Azad, who had to quit in the wake of the Amarnath row, explained “the realities” that have led to dragging protests in Jammu region.

According to party leaders who attended the one-day programme, Azad asked his party colleagues to aggressively counter the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) propaganda against the Congress on the issue.

Hindu groups in Jammu region have been demanding the restoration of 40 hectares of land that was allotted to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) - the governing body of the shrine in the Kashmir valley - before the order was withdrawn July 1.

The Congress-led government in the state had to step down after its partner the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) pulled out of the coalition protesting against the decision to hand over the land to the SASB.

Many state leaders asked Azad to visit their states to explain the party position to the public as the issue has gained communal overtones, with Muslim-dominated Srinagar opposing the land allotment to the shrine board and Hindu-majority Jammu insisting that the land be restored.

“Tum hi nein dar diya, tum hi dava dena,” (You have given the pain, you give the medicine too), a state leader reportedly told Azad at the meeting.

Azad told Congress leaders that the decision to hand over the land to the shrine board was mooted by the government of then chief minister Farooq Abdullah. He said his government took the decision at a cabinet meeting that was also attended by PDP ministers. But they changed their stance in the wake of public protests.

“Azad said there had not been any decision to allow the shrine to own the 40 hectares land. The decision was only to allow the board to have some pre-fabricated temporary construction there for two months,” said a leader.

The former chief minister also explained that the state government, in a revised plan, had proposed a Rs.50 billion development plan for the pilgrim centre.

“The comprehensive infrastructure and other development projects will ensure the safe and convenient passage for the pilgrims from Srinagar to the temple,” Azad reportedly said.

The Congress leadership is apprehensive of the possible national repercussions of the unrest in the coming assembly elections, including in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as the later general elections.

The fear is that the party would lose its political edge in Jammu region, to which Azad belongs. The protests could also fuel separatist tendencies in the state.

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