Long time back, Dr. S. Gopal – former President Dr. S. Radhakrishnan's eminent son and in his own merit Nehru's official biographer – had done a very important study. Trying to trace back the genesis and growth of communal forces, he had drawn from the electoral results in the 1930s and 1940s and had shown that the votes polled by Muslim League had gone up by leaps and bounds as and when the party had made a direct appeal to the community to vote on the basis of denominational considerations.
Located in a different time and context, such an analysis appears to be equally relevant in understanding the current spiral of violence in Jammu & Kashmir. The state has become a veritable cauldron and whatever gains had been achieved in the past few years seems to be completely rendered null and void in the current phase of violence. More alarmingly, the state, which had maintained granite like record of communal amity, is now showing disturbing signs of disharmony and confrontation along the lines of religious identity.
It is quite strange that an issue, given the history of Amarnath Shrine and the pilgrimage undertaken annually, should become such a major question of confrontationist positioning. That Kashmiri shepherds who also happened to be Muslims discovered the cave and the Linga is a well-known fact. And, equally well known is the fact that it is the people in the Kashmir valley who have over the years, bore the responsibility of taking care of the Amarnath pilgrims. That they were Muslims did not deter them from shying away from this responsibility, which demonstrated the sense of amity and brotherhood. And, of course, respect for other religious faiths.
Unfortunately, the ownership of the land, which is to house temporary structures for providing rest and hospitality to the pilgrims, has become controversial. On the one hand, fact remains that tribal land cannot be transferred under Indian laws – on the other, the non-transfer of the ownership can, in no way, adversely affect the well-being of the pilgrims. That is the experience of the past.
That the (former) Governor who happened to be the Chairman of the Shrine Board, would transfer the ownership to the Board and the separatist elements in the valley and the communal forces spearheaded by the saffron brigade would act in the manner that they are doing can only be explained by the fact that elections both in the state, as well as, for the parliament are very much on the cards.
The blockade of the highway towards the valley in Jammu and the call for march to Muzaffarabad is creating circumstances, which reinforce the challenge of sustaining the united character of the state. We know that separatists and communalists mutually strengthen each other, from our past experience. The present crisis, once again, is reenacting the same phenomena with unprecedented viciousness. And, the insensitivity of the security forces in dealing with the situation is also aggravating the situation. While their role ideally should have been directed towards isolating separatist and communal elements, it is in effect allowing extreme elements to mobilise even larger moderate sections around them.
Problem of Jammu & Kashmir has always been aggravated due to the fact that there has been both an internal, as well as, an external dimension. With the violence playing out as it did and continues to do so both in Jammu and the valley, the external dimension is also appearing to loom large.
In keeping with the traditional Pakistani position, Musharraf - now under his imminent impeachment threat – was at his histrionic best during his Independence day address to the nation. To divert the attention of his countrymen from the issues, which has led to the move for impeachment, he declared – "Every Pakistani is with our brothers and sisters in Srinagar.
Kashmir beats in the heart of every Pakistani." Describing those who lost their lives in Jammu & Kashmir as `martyrs', Musharraf reiterated the old tune of `human right violations'. Musharraf's charges were coming in the wake of the Pakistani government itself announcing that they were taking steps to internationalise the Kashmir violence and planning to raise the issue at the United Nations.
The Minister for External Affairs – Pranab Mukherjee – has rightly responded to such observations of Musharraf and the government of Pakistan. He pointed out - "We have never interfered in Pakistan's internal matters. Pakistan should do the same." In fact, regarding the internal developments within Pakistan, the Indian government has been consistent. Indian leadership in the past has always maintained that India would always like to see a democratically-elected government by the people. In the wake of the verdict of the people in the recently-held elections, the same observation has been reiterated. And, now in his Independence Day speech – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has pointedly referred to such an outlook – "We wish all our neighbours well. We welcome the strengthening of democratic forces in our neighbourhood, especially in Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan."
It goes without saying that such an approach is unexceptionable. But there is a jarring note. In an interview to the Strait Times, M. K. Narayanan has recently stated – "It (the impeachment) leaves a big vacuum and we are deeply concerned about this vacuum because it leaves the radical extremist outfits with freedom to do what they like, not merely on the Pak-Afghan border but clearly our side of the border too. Like nature abhors a vacuum, we abhor the political vacuum that exists in Pakistan. It greatly worries us."
Whose brief was Narayanan holding? It was surely not that of either the External Affairs Minister or the Prime Minister. As NSA, it will not be too much to expect of him that the present spurt of activities of fundamentalist elements in Pakistan, particularly emanating from the Pak-Afghan border is clearly an outcome of the US and NATO activities within Afghanistan. And, it is the US view that Musharraf is a reliable ally in the battle of terror. Political parties in Pakistan, particularly those who have won the elections and are running the government do consider that the battle against terror and that for democracy are interlinked. And, efforts at impeachment of Musharraf are an essential part of that battle. Can the Indian government and more so the NSA afford to question this? For anybody following the complicated process that is underway in Pakistan, it will be inescapable that the NSA merely parroted the US line in complete disconnect with our official position. Both the MEA and the PM must sensitise themselves about the observations of the NSA before rightly responding to the official reactions of Pakistan on the Jammu & Kashmir developments.
Therefore, the challenge is complex. Retrieving the gains that had been achieved in the Kashmir valley. That has to be done by addressing legitimate questions of the people on the one hand and taking on the communal offensive of the saffron brigade in Jammu and the separatist elements in the valley on the other – and not pander to narrow electoral concerns. The Congress leaders of Jammu appear to be precisely doing that. In the same way, India must engage with the Pakistani leadership and not comment out of turn as if at the behest of some external powers on the democratic process in that country.