The situation in Jammu and Kashmir: Jammu focus

New Delhi, Sep 6 (ANI): Given the turbulent situation in the Kashmir Valley, it is hardly surprising that Jammu or Ladakh for that matter (till the recent disaster there), doesn't find any mention in the national media, especially the electronic one.

However, just because Jammu is quiet today, even though it feels neglected, it would be downright naive to ignore the portents just below the surface. If the political class has become irrelevant to the developments in the valley, it is in danger of suffering another setback in Jammu if it continues to ignore vital signs.

The developments in 2008 over the Amarnath Shrine Board controversy brought the simmering cleavage between Jammu and Kashmir out into the open in an ugly form. Old timers will tell you that this cleavage goes back a long time. Even if it does, recent developments in the valley have further widened the chasm.

The majority of the people in Jammu are downright sceptical about the cycle of violence that is going on in the valley. For them, every fresh outbreak results in making an inefficient government even more paralytic. To be fair, there is sympathy about the ordinary Kashmiri's plight, but there is also impatience and frustration that all developmental work has come to a halt because the government is focussed only on surviving on a day-to-day basis.

Jammu is suffering equally from the administrative meltdown and business losses due to the turmoil. Take the example of the oil tankers plying only intermittently to the valley due to the security situation, creating fuel shortages in Kashmir but also financial losses in Jammu.

Omar Abdullah's Independence Day promise of creating 50,000 jobs, ambitious as it is, is seen as pandering to the valley youth. People in Jammu wonder how many, if any, of these new jobs would be for the Jammu region.

Not surprisingly, opinion between the valley and Jammu is sharply divided on what should be done to break the cycle of violence and restore some semblance of governance.

In Jammu, the overwhelming opinion is for imposition of governor's rule to ensure that Indian sovereignty is not further eroded due to the valley's political impasse spiralling out of control. People are wary of any change of guard within the National Conference (NC) or the other option of bringing in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. The People Democratic People's (PDP) perceived ambivalent attitude towards Azaadi is viewed with a great deal of suspicion, something that Mehbooba Mufti has done little to dispel, focussed as she is on the valley constituency.

Given the chasm in perception, can it be surprising that the demand for a separate Jammu state has greater resonance now than in the past?

But the real danger in Jammu is not the cleavage with Kashmir or a perception of being ignored. It is the communal situation and the potential communal bomb that the region is sitting on.

Take the annual Amaranth Yatra first. The agitations of 2008-09, as also the current one, coincided with the two-month long Amaranth Yatra. Whether this was coincidental or deliberate is something that can be debated. The tail end of the yatra also coincided with Ramzan. The moot point is that the Yatris, who come from all over India, have to wend their way through some of the worst affected agitational and militancy areas.

Every year, the separatists assure the administration that no harm would come to the yatris. And, no harm has ever come, a fitting tribute to Kashmir's secular traditions.

But, if we are to believe Omar Abdullah's 'anti-social elements' or the Home Minister's LeT theory, then the longer the agitation continues in Kashmir, the greater is the threat to the yatris from either of the two.

At times, due to the inclement weather, the yatra has to be suspended and thousands of yatris get stranded on both the yatra routes in makeshift shelters. God forbid, should some yatris be targeted, and then the repercussions would reverberate not only in areas like Doda, Poonch, and Rajouri with their communal mix, but all over India.

Take the case of the minority Sikh community. After the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, they are the last vestiges of Kashmiriyat in the valley. Threatening letters written to them or stray cases of hair being cut have been controlled so far. But, if escalated, these could easily get out of hand and the first repercussion would be felt in Jammu.

But the really crucial issue is of the Jammu Muslim. Despite his lip service to Kashmiriyat, Geelani, with his Jamaati background, is basically projecting the Kashmir issue as a religious one. Worse, even though the agitation is confined to parts of the valley only, he and other separatists have arrogated to themselves the responsibility of speaking for all Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir.

Even though it is highly questionable that the separatists speak for even the valley Muslims, no one has challenged the fact that he or any other separatist just does not have the mandate to assume leadership of all the Muslims in the state.

What gets ignored in the entire debate is that non-valley Muslims have hardly ever supported any separatist agenda. This, however, does not deter the separatists from creating the perception of the Kashmir issue as being that of all Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir.

The problem is compounded by Jammu Muslims who, as with Muslim moderates in the valley, have remained mute spectators, instead of challenging what is happening around them and what is being claimed on their behalf.

If Kashmir is proud of its Kashmiriyat, let it not be forgotten that Jammu, too, has been a multi-cultural region, and as secular, with members of all faiths living quite harmoniously. While the valley has driven out the Pandits to become, almost exclusively, a Muslim preserve, in Jammu, mixed populations continue to thrive. In places like Doda, the population mix is almost 50:50, while in Rajouri and Poonch; the Muslims dominate the rural areas while the Hindus are in a majority in the urban areas.

The national media, focussed as it is on the valley, has ignored the critical fact that Geelani's calendar of protests has been largely ignored, week after week, by the Muslims in Jammu, in the Muslim majority districts like Rajouri, Poonch and Doda. Shops have remained open in Muslim dominated areas, there have been no sit-ins, mosque sermons have been religious and above all, there has been no case of stone pelting.

There are stray reports in the media about separatist elements trying to replicate a valley like situation in parts of Jammu, to try and exploit the dynamics of the population in a few districts.

With the government dominated by valley politicians, there is very little thinking on the Jammu situation. In fact, Jammu feels discriminated not only in terms of development, but also in terms of its harmonious plurality being taken for granted by the state government. Delhi is perhaps even unaware of the potential for disaster, if things are not taken in hand right now.

The big challenge is to ensure that plurality is preserved and disruptive and separatist forces do not pollute the atmosphere in Jammu. The time for action is now, and not when the communal poison is implanted from outside. Only at the peril of communal harmony, can the government, whether in Srinagar or in Delhi, ignore the situation in Jammu.

(The above article is the personal views expressed by the author.) By Salim Haq(ANI)

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