Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2008 > September 13, 2008 > Short-term and Long-term Causes of Popular Uprising in J&K

Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 39

Short-term and Long-term Causes of Popular Uprising in J&K

Thursday 18 September 2008, by Balraj Puri

The Jammu and Kashmir State is passing through an unprecedented popular upsurge, for the first time simultaneously in its two main regions, though in divergent directions.

Apparently, the cause of this upsurge is difference over government land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. It did provide a flash- point to the simmering volcano that already existed.

In Kashmir militants and separatists were providing an outlet to the sense of alienation. Suddenly both declined, partly due to the political upheaval in Pakistan and partly due to the developments within the State. The new civilian government in Pakistan ignored the separatist leaders and instead invited and gave recognition to the mainstream leaders like Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. These leaders had already encroached upon the space that separatists had occupied by protesting against human rights violations and supporting dialogue with Pakistan and the separatists for the final solution to the Kashmir problem.

The land transfer order, which was issued on May 26, 2008, provided the separatists an opportunity to stage a comeback by raising exaggerated fears about the possible misuse of the land, including for settling non-State persons there and thus changing the demography of Kashmir. Their task was facilitated by the Secretary to the Governor who was also the Chief Executive Officer of the Shrine Board. He said that the land had been purchased by the Board permanently whereas, according to the government order, it was only for temporary use for the period of the yatra. In a provocative statement he answered the charge that permanent structures by the Board on the transferred land might create pollution by saying that local people created more pollution than the yatris. He mentioned the Haj pilgrimage and declared angrily that “Muslim pollution is acceptable to you but not Hindu pollution”.

The People’s Democratic Party, as a coalition partner in the government, was party to the decision for land transfer. In particular two of its Ministers, that of Forests and Law, processed the whole case. But fearing isolation from the popular mood, it joined in the demand for cancelling the land transfer order. The main Opposition, the National Conference, too, jumped into the popular wave.

This provided a rare opportunity for the extremist and moderate factions of the Hurriyat, led by Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq respectively, to unite as also for the separatist and mainstream parties.
The new Governor N.N. Vohra, who took charge on June 15, in a bid to defuse the situation, wrote to the government that if it could make all arrangements for the yatra, as it had been doing, the Board would not need any land.

On July 1 the land transfer order was revoked after a nine-day agitation. It immediately provoked contrary reaction in Jammu. Though a religious demand for restoration of land to a Hindu shrine was the rallying point of the protest, it got popular support on account of the widespread feeling that Jammu had been discriminated against in every field and department by the successive governments for the last sixty years. The popular upsurge in support of Shri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti (SAYSS) has no precedence. Lakhs of people, including men and women of all age groups, courted arrests defying curfews. The protest movement has continued for two months. The ire of the Jammu movement this time was not directed so much against Pakistan or separatist leaders but against leaders of the mainstream parties. The Sangharsh Samiti objected to the presence of Farooq Abdullah, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and even the state Congress Chief Minister and Union Minister Saifuddin Soz at the all-parties delegation sent by the Prime Minister. It forced them to leave before they agreed to participate in a meeting with the delegation.

Muslim leaders, mainly of the Hindu majority districts, offered support to the movement as, according to them, they had been the worst victims of the policy of regional discrimination. Their support was appreciated by the Samiti and even by the National President of the BJP, Rajnath Singh, during his visit to Jammu. Meanwhile, many Congress leaders also joined the movement. But some sporadic attacks on buses to Rajouri, Poonch and Doda, the Muslim-majority districts, plus sympathy with the victims of the police firing in Kashmir, provoked hostile reaction and communal tension.

SPORADIC attacks by anti-social elements on traffic to and from Kashmir provoked a revival of popular protest in Kashmir. On August 11, fruit exporters, complaining that their fruit was rotting due to blockade on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, gave a call for a march to Muzaffarabad across the LoC. The march was joined by both factions of the Hurriyat, some mainstream parties and a mass of people. It was fired upon. The firing killed seven people, including a Hurriyat leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz. His funeral next day was joined by a large number of people. Another firing killed fifteen more people.

Though the government has declared that the Army had taken control of the highway and there was no blockade, the leaders of the movement said that the blockade or the Shrine Board land was no more the main issues and demanded right of self-determination and the final solution of the Kashmir problem. Now slogans for ‘azadi’ and even for Pakistan are being raised in the protest demonstrations.

Thus it is clash between the identities of the two regions, which sometimes and somewhere takes the form of a communal clash. As Kashmiris feel a threat to their identity, they seek an outlet in militancy and secession. In Jammu they seek an outlet in ultra-nationalist and integrationist slogans like abrogation of Article 370. This forms a vicious circle where reaction in one region provokes contrary reaction in the other.
While efforts are made to resolve the crisis over land transfer, unless the long term causes of regional tension are attended to, they may explode again in more dangerous ways.

Some exercises to ensure internal harmony in the State have been made in the past. In 1952 when Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah were discussing safeguards for the State within India, I was able to persuade both of them to ensure similar safeguards for the regions within the State. Both declared at a joint press conference on July 24, 1952 that the Constitution of the State would provide for regional autonomy.

Though initially the Bharatiya Jana Sangh opposed the Delhi Agreement, which guaranteed autonomy to the State, and started an agitation against it through its Jammu affiliate, the Praja Parishad, after a prolonged correspondence with Pandit Nehru, the Founder President of the Sangh, Dr Shyama Prasad Mukerjee, in his letter dated February 17, 1953, offered to withdraw the agitation and support the Delhi Agreement provided “the principle of autonomy will apply to province of Jammu and to the Ladakh and Kashmir Valley”.

A 45-page draft document on provisions of regional autonomy was sent by the State Government to Durga Dass Verma, the underground leader of the Praja Parishad, who approved it. On July 2 the Parishad leaders were released and invited to meet Pandit Nehru on July 3 where they agreed to withdraw the agitation on the terms Mukerjee had suggested.

The proposal was also supported by Sarvodaya leader Jayaprakash Narayan, Leftist parties and the Socialist groups.

The State People’s Convention, convened by Sheikh Abdullah in 1968 and attended by 300 delegates of the entire political spectrum of the Kashmir Valley, unanimously accepted my draft on internal constitutional set-up of the State which provided for autonomy to the regions and further devolution of power to districts, blocks and panchayats. In my report, as the head of the Regional Autonomy Committee appointed by the then Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, I elaborated the same proposal.

The report suggested division of subjects between the State and the regions. The latter would have legislative, political and administrative powers on subjects delegated to them. The lower tiers would be empowered more or less on the pattern of the Panchayati raj in the rest of India. The report also dealt with cultural safeguards for all ethnic communities. For financial allocation to various levels an objective and equitable eight-point formula was suggested which included population, area, road mileage in proportion to area, female literacy, infant mortality, share in government jobs as percentage of population, admission to technical institutions as percentage of population and contribution to the State exchequer.

This blue-print could be the basis for a wider debate to arrive at a consensus. In any case the present over-centralised system would continue to generate suspicion in one region against the other and is not conducive to solve even short- term problems. Already agitations in both the regions have exceeded the original demands.

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