Saffron brigade dividing Hindus, Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir (Commentary)August 23rd, 2008 - 12:11 pm ICT by IANS
The Amarnath land transfer row has come as a godsend to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was looking for an emotive issue after the Ayodhya temple movement fizzled out. The party now hopes to recapture the mood of the “awakening” of Hindus, which was associated with Ayodhya, to consolidate its position in the run-up to the next round of assembly elections.However, there is a catch. The BJP’s encouragement of the temple issue came to be associated with communal tension and riots in the early 1990s. That was why the party decided to shelve the matter in 1996 so as not to antagonise its “secular” allies like the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), the Telugu Desam and others.
The Amarnath controversy carries, however, an even greater danger than provoking Hindu-Muslim confrontation. It can revive secessionist passions in Kashmir. For the first time after 1989, which marked the beginning of insurgency in the state, separatist slogans are again being raised.
What is more, extremist sentiments have gained prominence just when militancy was dying down and tourists from other parts of India had begun to visit Kashmir in large numbers. If the BJP is using the Amarnath issue to stoke communal feelings among Hindus, Muslim insurgents are exploiting it for their own purpose.
The BJP may have realised, therefore, that it will have to share the blame for playing into the hands of the pro-Pakistani elements in the valley and, thereby, fuelling secessionism.
The party has another difficulty. It is being kept at an arm’s length by the Sri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti (SASS), which is spearheading the mainly Hindu agitation in Jammu. Although saffron in orientation, the Samiti does not want its movement to acquire a political colour. The BJP, therefore, can only lend vocal support from a distance.
The matter has been further complicated by the call for Kashmir’s “azadi” (freedom) given not only by maverick leftist social activist and Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy but also by well-known media personalities like Vir Sanghvi and Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar.
Although, arguably, people like them are in a minority among the intelligentsia, they still carry a lot of weight. For the BJP, the problem is that their views will reinforce the belief that the party’s foolhardy tactics are threatening India’s integrity.
If such fears never arose during the Ayodhya movement, the reason was it was purely an internal affair. Besides, occasional communal outbursts have long been a part of Indian history and the saffron brotherhood has almost always been associated with them.
Secessionism, however, is another matter. To avoid the charge that it is indirectly helping the separatists, the BJP has been saying that it is urging the nationalistic elements to rise against the secessionists.
But conditions on the ground show that it is the latter whose position is being strengthened at the expense of the mainstream Muslim-dominated organisations such as the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference, which are scared of going against what is currently perceived to be popular sentiments in the valley.
If the PDP and the National Conference are unable to stop the separatists in their tracks, it is because of the unwise attempts of the saffron agitators in Jammu to impose an economic blockade of the valley. The leading role in this agitation is played by those close to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which are known for their provocative and anti-minority outlook.
These outfits have had little hesitation in creating a divide between the largely Hindu Jammu and the largely Muslim Kashmir valley because they have never placed much faith in the region’s syncretic culture. Because they do not contest elections, they are also not bothered about antagonising sections of populations, especially the minorities.
In the initial stages, the BJP did try to pretend that it was not too closely involved in the Jammu agitation. But its fraternal ties with the RSS and the VHP did not allow it to continue its act of dissembling much longer.
In its search for an emotive cause, the BJP had first seized the Ram Sethu issue. However, the absence of a Muslim factor in the mythology of Lord Ram’s bridge was a disadvantage. The issue was also in danger of becoming a north versus south affair with the formally atheistic Dravidian parties of Tamil Nadu insisting on dredging a channel through the sethu, ignoring the religious sentiments of the north Indian Hindus, who constitute the BJP’s main support base.
Hence, the party’s preference for the Amarnath dispute. It even thought at one time of starting a rath yatra from Amarnath and another from the south on the sethu issue. But if the cry for secession grows stronger in the Kashmir valley, it may have second thoughts on adding fuel to fire.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)