The Amarnath land transfer row is getting worse by the day. If it was Kashmir Valley first to oppose the transfer of land to the Shrine Board, Jammu followed by protesting the decision of the State Government to revoke the land transfer. By now both Jammu and the Valley have been engulfed in violence that has taken several innocent lives in the two regions.

One would have hoped that the all party delegation headed by the Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil that visited the state for two days would be able to sooth the feelings of the people and come up with some solution. But that was not to be. Instead it only led to hardening of stands making things more complicated. What went wrong with the delegation’s visit?

It is unfortunate that Delhi is still unable to read the psyche of the people in Jammu region and the Valley. Perhaps it is incapable to do so…

Jammu region has a deep rooted feeling that it being treated as subservient to the Valley, that the temperature in Srinagar determines the weather in Jammu. It has more area and its population is almost equal with Valley; yet it has less number of seats in the Legislative Assembly paving the way for political power vesting with the Kashmir leadership, always and invariably.

Till some time ago even the Deputy Chief Minister’s post was not with Jammu. The Gajendragadkar Commission recommendations made some difference but not enough to remove the imbalance. Delhi made no serious effort to correct the position. It looked on silently as the Farooq Abdullah government pushed through a law to freeze the number of seats in the state Assembly till 2026.

The discrimination is on the financial side as well. Jammu has been demanding equitable distribution of funds in the budget and when this did not happen it started craving for a separate budget for the region. No one in Delhi or Srinagar was prepared to listen. Even Ladakh was up in arms when the state assembly passed the ‘autonomy’ resolution some years ago. It is demanding UT status.

All this only shows that mistrust between Jammu and Valley is not a sudden phenomenon. It has been brewing for a long, long time and when the Amarnath issue was bungled by the alliance government, after it was betrayed by one of its partners the PDP, it only roused the already pent up feelings among the people in Jammu. Needless to say, while the two regions have a right to give vent to their feelings peacefully, they have come to be pitted against each other. The twists and turns the situation is taking is a matter of serious concern as the division has come to be pressed on regional and communal lines.

The Amarnath crisis was, in the first instance, created by some politicians in the Valley. The PDP, which was in the forefront to oppose the land transfer was itself responsible for the decision as the forest Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister, who pursued the case in the state cabinet, belonged to the PDP itself.

For the moderate and hard-line Hurriyat leaders it was golden opportunity to cash on, by misrepresenting facts and playing on the emotions of the people. How can a 100 acre land, given, not allotted, for temporary pre- fabricated structures for just two months of the Yatra, lead to changing the demography of the state? But such was the hype and the whole thing was stage managed in view of the elections to the state assembly due in November.

Things took almost a similar turn in Jammu with protests first ignited by extremists, till it became a movement. The people of Jammu must know that blocking the National Highway is not the answer to their ills. They have to fight their battle with the state government and Delhi and not with the people of Valley.

For the BJP, ‘cash for votes’ plot having backfired, the Amarnath controversy has been a quick substitute that can enliven street demonstrations—and fights whenever necessary—for many months. The desperation in the BJP and the much larger saffron brotherhood (Sangh Parivar) to derive political mileage from the Amarnath land controversy is evident from the way they have closed ranks to keep the fire burning in the Jammu region. Almost all the leaders of the agitation in Jammu are members of one or the other Sangh outfit.

The Kashmiri separatists are no less at fault. They have raised a hue and cry over the Amarnath land transfer order, calling it an ‘Israel type’ move to reduce the state’s Muslim population into minority. Nothing could be more preposterous. But the communal organisations in Jammu instead of contesting that outlandish charge retaliated by raising the unfounded bogey of ‘discrimination’ and ‘injustice’ to the Hindus. Their idea was to reach out to all sections of the community to try and give a non-communal colour to their agitation. The strategy would have worked very well if these organisations had at least tried to prevent attacks and destruction of Muslim properties in the Jammu region and stopped the unofficial blockade that was being enforced on the highway that leads to the Valley.

Of course, what has greatly encouraged the communal elements in Jammu was the usual display of paranoia and intolerance by the separatist, pro-Pakistani leaders in the Valley who are forever conjuring up visions of ‘Hindu conspiracies’ to decimate the Muslim population—a theory that is more vociferously echoed in POK and the country across the border. It might be truer to say that the paranoia in the valley is an item exported so regularly and in such large quantities from across LOC, LAC and the border that it now finds a place in nearly every household in the Valley.

The Pakistani Senate was quick to take up the Amarnath land agitation and pass a resolution criticising India. The move had the backing of the PPP-led coalition government. But that was only to be expected from the Parliament or the government of Pakistan that continues to declare that it supports insurgency in Kashmir in every possible manner even while proclaiming faith in maintaining ‘good relations’ with India.

But the new turn taken by the Amarnath land dispute must have pleased the Pakistanis as they see prospects of division of J&K becoming more real than ever before. They can hardly believe their luck. For 60 years they have been trying either to grab Kashmir from India by force or through subversive means. The on-going war through their armed surrogates and jehadis has succeeded in carrying out ethnic cleansing in the valley but had found stiff resistance to their plans in the rest of the state.

Camouflaged as an ‘out of box’ thinking and to look ‘reasonable’ and ‘flexible’ Pakistan has also been advocating a three-way division of the state of Jammu and Kashmir with ‘Hindu’ Jammu remaining with India and the ‘Muslim’ valley incorporated into Pakistan while the Buddhist Ladakh stays with India. The Sangh Parivar’s agitation in the Jammu region may have also fulfilled another Pakistani mission by narrowing the differences between the Muslims of the Valley and those in the Jammu region most of whom have thus far refused to be swayed by the pro-Pakistani propaganda.

The plan to divide J&K enjoys backing of various Sangh Parivar outfits in Jammu even when it is evident that Pakistan gains most with the division of the state into three parts. It strengthens the Pakistani claim that Hindus do not want to live with Muslims. The demand for separating Jammu from the rest of the state was so reassuringly raised by some of the newly created Parivar fronts four or five years ago that they decided to jump into the electoral fray when the BJP-led government at the Centre refused to grant their wish. They contested against official BJP candidates. The division of pro-Parivar votes dealt a crushing blow to the BJP and the Parivar alike four years ago.

Unless the communal and separatist passions so passionately aroused with an eye on the November elections in the state are doused, the elements in the forefront of the agitation will be doing themselves and the country a great harm. Hopefully, they will discover how harmful can be the consequences of pursuing the idea of dividing J&K—before it is too late. The Centre too will be failing in its duty if it doesn’t intervene to find a middle path to end the Amarnath controversy.

For the government it is a very difficult and delicate situation. Satisfying the people of one region will antagonize the people of the other region. But that should not prevent it from taking steps to put an end to the mess that has been created. In fact this should have been done much earlier without letting things came to such a pass.

There is a lesson in the Amarnath imbroglio. It is that the governments at the centre and the state must address public grievances as they crop up rather than allow them to turn into a festering wound, and not let the people, out of desperation, blow up their top. This is as much true about Jammu and Valley as it is for rest of the country.

– Asian Tribune –