The controversy over the transfer of 40ha of land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board and the violence it unleashed in Jammu and Kashmir have abated. Legitimate environmental concerns apart, there was little else to the political reactions that ensued. Like other aspects of politics, form has triumphed over substance.
The controversy began after forest department land was transferred to the board for creation of facilities for thousands of pilgrims who visit the Amarnath shrine every year. Predictably, the reactions were wild. Separatist political outfits alluded to India “conspiring” to create “Israel-type” of settlements in Kashmir by giving away the land.
Mainstream political parties such as the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which was a constituent of the coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, took the cue and asserted that “people’s interests” would not be compromised. Protesters in Jammu (led by the Bharatiya Janata Party) had their own version of a conspiracy theory.
There are simpler explanations at hand. For one, Jammu and Kashmir is in election mode. Political parties such as the PDP have little to show by way of governance and developmental achievements. The controversy is a godsend. If elections are held on issues that concern the people of the state (employment, education, business opportunities, etc.), no party can run an effective electoral campaign. In any case, the PDP has been restive ever since Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad took over as chief minister from PDP’s Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in November 2005. In this, it’s behaving like other partners in political coalitions running governments in India.
Things are not very different for the assorted separatist outfits (such as the All Parties Hurriyat Conference) in the valley. With little stake in constructive politics, they have to grab any political opportunity that comes their way. There’s little else to their politics.
As far as the pilgrimage is concerned, things on the ground are unlikely to be any different. If the government will provide logistic support for the pilgrimage instead of the shrine board, how does it change things substantively? The board is a duly constituted body with legal obligations. All this was lost in the din of agitation.
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