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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 34

Bridging the Divide in J&K


Sunday 10 August 2008, by SC


The all-party meeting called by the UPA Government to tackle the Jammu unrest and bridge the J&K divide was indeed overdue. While it is true that differences did surface between the BJP, which projected the feelings of the agitators in jammu demanding immediate restoration of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), and the PDP and NC, which highlighted the public sentiments in the Kashmir Valley, such divergences were quite natural in the circumstances as those mirrored the J&K divide that has been lately brought about as a consequence of the ill-conceived steps taken by the authorities betraying knee-jerk responses at periods of crisis. But the significance of the meeting in the Capital lay elsewhere; as has been aptly noted by The Indian Express,

The nation’s political establishment, split right down the middle after a bitter trust vote, showed a rare unanimity in its response to the protests in Jammu and Kashmir. In a joint appeal for peace and normalcy, as many as 36 political parties—the two main formation UPA and NDA and almost every regional party represented in Parliament—underlined that “communalisation of the situation should be prevented at allo cost as this would adversely impact on the secular fabric of the nation.

This has been missed by several other publications that are seeking to magnify the differences inherent also in the dismissal of the Opposition’s demand for the Governor’s recall.

But this apart, the meeting called for immediately initiating a dialogue with the protesters and agitators in Jammu—the Governor was asked to form a committee of distinguished personalities of the region who would talk to the Shri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti leaders spearheading the movement in Jammu. What is more, it was decided that an all-party delegation would expeditiously visit Jammu to hold discussions with the Samiti representatives so as to “facilitate the suspension of the agitation and its peaceful resolution”.

The emotive speeches at the meeting were quite along expected lines. But the final outcome of the meet culminating in the joint appeal, as suggested by the PM to douse passions, was doubtless a positive development noted also by BJP leader Arun Jaitley who described the whole exercise as a “good beginning”.

However, if past experience is any guide, all such moves begin on an encouraging note but frequently lead us nowhere in the absence of effective follow-up action. It is here that the people’s representatives have shown the requisite sense of urgency. On the night of August 6 itself the Governor set up the panel for holding talks with the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti—this promptitude was also reflected earlier when he ensured the resignation of members of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board so that it could be reconstituted.

In this context it is worthwhile to consider the steps suggested by one of the panel members, Prof Amitabh Mattoo, the Vice-Chancellor of theJammu University, as published in a national daily: (a) the need for the Kashmir civil society to introspect and reflect on the Amarnath yatra, a part and parcel of the Kashmiris and their composite tradition for over a century; (a) recognition by the civil society of Jammu of the substantive contribution of the Kashmiris to the sanctity of the yatra and the harmonious manner of the conduct of the pilgrimage for so many decades; (c) the launching of dialogue between representatives of the Shri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti and Kashmir’s Action Committee so as to bring about real reconciliation of hearts and minds.

And thereafter he makes a passionate appeal:

Let the top leadership of the country—in the government and Opposition—realise that today on the streets of Jammu and Srinagar are the voices of the disempowered and the helpless. If we have to make real peace in the State, empower the people: from Ladakh to Lakhanpur.

His views are most appropriate as those are based on the ground reality.

Jammu is still burning, the situation there has not yet stabilised and return of normalcy will take some more time. In the prevailing conditions the danger of it spinning out of control is definitely potent. But the first steps to douse the flames and restore normalcy have been taken at the all-party meeting. And while doing so it was instructive that the Union Home Minister was taken to task for “messing up” matters in the sensitive State by all sides—not just by the Opposition and the Left but even the allies of the Congress in the UPA. That is how it should be in a democratic set-up where none should hesitate to call a spade a spade.

Essentially what has been done is to bridge the J&K divide. No task today is of greater necessity. And it warrants allout support from all segments of our polity if our national unity, composite culture and secular ethos are to be safeguarded and preserved.

August 7 S.C.

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