By H. K. Dua
Politicians, like children, cannot be allowed to play with fire. Both at times can take an emotional view of a situation and do things without thinking a wee bit about the consequences of what they are doing.
In India, where diversities of various kinds have yet to blend into the essential unity that should underscore a nation on the move, utmost caution has to be observed by political leaders — local, regional or national — to ensure that primordial passions do not come to prevail.
What has been happening in Jammu during the last few weeks was simply avoidable, if only some of those who had the power to decide had foreseen the havoc they were out to cause in the sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir.
All competent army commanders think in advance as to what could be the outcome of their decisions. The Jammu tragedy may not have occurred if only the Governor, Lt-Gen. S.K. Sinha, had cared to ponder for a while what would be the consequences before deciding to transfer the land to the Amarnath Shrine Board he himself was heading.
After 11 years of experience as Governor, two years as Ambassador and an army career replete with decorations, he ought to have figured out what kind of reaction and counter-reaction it would cause in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu and vice-versa. It is a matter of deep regret that he allowed his personal beliefs — if not agenda — and a desire to leave behind a legacy for which he would be remembered to be given precedence over sound political judgement required of a Governor of Jammu and Kashmir.
Once the fire was lit, wittingly or otherwise, anger swept the Valley and passions burst out in Jammu. One event led to another. In Jammu particularly, chaos came to prevail with many crossing the line from legitimate protest to sheer violence.
Rampaging crowds tore through Jammu and the neighbouring towns, attacked trucks and buses and even stopped traffic on the national highway linking Kashmir with the rest of the country. Little did the rioters and their leaders with petty ambitions realise how much damage they were causing to national unity.
Various outfits of the Sangh Parivar saw in the rioting an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves in the public eye. As the BJP functionaries came to the Sangharsh Samiti, the BJP leaders at the Centre also began seeing electoral gains the party could make in the forthcoming state elections as well as using the Amarnath land issues as a plank for parliamentary polls.
Unmindful of their duty, Mr Lal Krishan Advani and other senior BJP leaders, rather than exercising restraint, seemed to be rationalising the agitation. They took no steps to ensure that the Sangharsh Samiti did not follow the path of violence. As if he was a leader of the Sangharsh Samiti and not President of a responsible national party, Mr Rajnath Singh, in fact, began making a strange demand for the recall of new Governor N.N. Vohra. And it is a pity that even local Congress leaders showed lack of wisdom and chose to join the agitation, rather than stay at a distance.
Possibly, the people of the Jammu region had for long felt discriminated against and the pent-up anger burst out on the land transfer issue. In a democracy, however, there are enough avenues for voicing legitimate protest without resorting to violence that always proves divisive and destructive.
The leaders who either led or approved of the agitation should have seen the dangers of letting the rioters go on the rampage, blocking all road traffic and supplies of food, petrol and medicines and other essentials to the Valley. That the people in the Valley thought it was a kind of economic blockade of the Valley only helped the separatists to raise their head again.
During successive wars, Pakistan has aimed to cut off the national highway but has always failed. The Jammu rioters and their leaders did not see the ramifications of their blocking the lifeline.
While the communal divide has sharpened on both sides of Banihal, in Jammu, one heard the dangerous demand for a separate state of Jammu or a Dogra State. Separate statehood for Jammu was demanded by the RSS a few years ago, but we had thought this had been given up. The BJP would need to make it clear that the demand for a separate statehood has been buried.
A separate state for Jammu means carving out the areas of Doda, Rajouri and Poonch and linking them with the Valley. This has the seeds of the old Owen Dixon Plan, which found new avatars later in the Kathwari proposal or the Chenab formula which sought merger of the Muslim areas of Kargil and the Jammu region with the Valley. Essentially, it means a division of Jammu and Kashmir on the basis of religion - a concept India has always been opposed to. Pakistan and the separatists would love this kind of division of Jammu and Kashmir. In no case should this thought be encouraged by any national party.
No one is denying the people of Jammu the right to protest and voice their grievances, some of which could be genuine. But resorting to violence, blocking traffic and supplies to the Valley cannot be approved of, irrespective of which political party is in power and which sits in the opposition. This basic realisation seemed to have luckily prevailed at last night's meeting of the political parties. But they must ensure on the ground that whatever the issues, they cannot underscore the culture of violence as a means of protest.
India, poised for taking big leaps in the 21st century, cannot be seen to be at war with itself.