An all-party delegation led by India’s home minister Shivraj Patil is going to Jammu to appeal for peace in a desperate bid to end Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir's worst communal flare-up in six decades. The crisis has claimed at least 15 lives in just over a month. Authorities in the state imposed a curfew in the border town of Poonch.
Indian Home Affairs Minister Shivraj Patil calls for calm in J&K
Violence, shutdowns and pitched battles between protesters and police have become a daily occurrence in a state torn by communal violence challenging Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s efforts at giving a healing touch to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The troubled state has been witnessing unrest since May 26 when the government allotted 40 hectares of land in the valley to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) that manages the pilgrimage to the high altitude shrine dedicated to the Hindu god, Lord Shiva.
But when on July 1 the government backtracked on its decision to allot land to the shrine board, Hindus in Jammu began their protests. They are being led by the Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti, a conglomerate of 30 groups including the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).
Appeal for calm
After weeks of violent protests the group’s convener Leela Karam Sharma said that he is willing to talk to the government. “If the proposal is positive, definitely we will respond to that. But let me tell you that our agitation will continue till a final decision is reached on the land issue.”
Earlier this week Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for an all-party meeting attended by 35 political parties including the major players of the state and appealed for calm. External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is the government’s chief trouble-shooter and part of the team to visit Jammu, said the situation in the state should not be seen in terms of the religious divide. “It was imperative that communalization of the situation should be prevented at all costs as this would adversely impact the secular fabric of the nation,” he said.
Solution in sight?
Jammu and Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state in India. Sixty-five percent of the nearly eight million population of the state are Muslims while Hindus constitute nearly 30 percent -- with most Muslims based in the Kashmir valley and Hindus in the plains of Jammu.
As Hindu majority Jammu burns and Muslim dominated Srinagar simmers over conflicting claims on land being allotted to the Amarnath shrine board, the political class fears the polarisation between the plains and the valley may have reached a point of no return.
Mehbooba Mufti, the president of the Peoples Democratic Party knows that an easy solution is not in sight. “The situation is very complex. What is good for Kashmir happens to be bad for Jammu today and vice versa,” she said.
The economic blockade by protesters, for instance, has hit fresh supplies of essentials like medicines to the valley. In the plains of the Jammu region, the many days of shutdown, including a week of curfew, have seen life coming to a standstill.
For a state that has witnessed nearly two decades of unceasing militancy, it is ironical that this particular phase of violence has nothing to do with separatists. But that does not make it any the less dangerous.