Srinagar / Jammu: As the Union Government mulls a plan of action to deal with the crisis in Jammu and the Kashmir Valley, Wednesday’s terror attack in Jammu feeds into the militant religiosity that is growing by leaps and bounds on both sides of the communal divide.
If the Kashmir Valley has rediscovered pro-Pakistan leader and Jamaat-i-Islami chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani as its chief protagonist, the Jammu campaign over land for a Hindu pilgrimage to the Amarnath shrine has been led by a little known lawyer by the name of Leela Karan Sharma, who openly admits to receiving patronage from right wing Hindu fundamentalist organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its outfits such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal.
Close call: Children, who were rescued by security forces after a gunfight with militants at Chinore in Jammu, with their relatives on Thursday. Photograph: PTI
In an interview with Mint in Jammu earlier in the week, Sharma said the “RSS is fully supporting our agitation, the Bajrang Dal is supporting us, the VHP is supporting us, as are the chambers of industry, and the bar association. Everyone here is fed up because we feel that the government has played with our religious sentiments.”
For the past two months, as his RSS-backed Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti has fuelled the agitation, leading to a shutdown in Jammu as well as a blockade of the only trade route into the valley and Ladakh, the emotionally surcharged Kashmir Valley has found it much easier to intensify pro-independence and pro-Pakistan slogans.
Geelani, in an interview in Srinagar before he was arrested on Sunday, said, “With their economic blockade of the Kashmir Valley, it is the people of Jammu who are running a communal struggle, not us.”
“We want nothing short of self-determination,” he said, adding, “There has been enough dialogue between Kashmir and the Centre, the dialogue process was started on 23 March 1952 and (the) dialogue has taken place more than 130 times. But as far as the Kashmir dispute is concerned, nothing has been achieved. Until and unless India accepts the disputed nature of Kashmir in clear terms, dialogue will have no purpose… Moreover, we are not open to any solution within the Indian Constitution.”
Prabodh Jamwal, editor of the Jammu-based The Kashmir Times newspaper, says that Geelani and Sharma were, actually, “two different sides of the same coin.” “That is why it is essential for Jammu to remain peaceful. If Jammu burns, if there is a terrorist incident like there was on Wednesday, it will only further exacerbate the situation in the Kashmir Valley,” he said. “Moreover, Jammu is a gateway between India, on the one side, and Kashmir and Ladakh, on the other. If there is trouble in Jammu, there will be no breathing space left between Kashmir and the rest of India.”
Three suspected militants who slipped across the border from Pakistan were shot dead by security forces on Wednesday after they killed six people in Jammu, Reuters reported, citing the police. The militants’ six victims included three of the nine hostages they held in a house where they were holed up for 18 hours. “Jammu is not new to terrorism, but it has not allowed these attacks to disturb its communal harmony. But there is a danger now that inflamed passions could drive the wedge deeper between the two sides,” said Sushoba Barve of the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation.
Analysts in Jammu as well as Kashmir, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Geelani had been preparing the ground for intensifying the anti-India campaign in the valley when he saw that the Centre’s dialogue with Mirwaiz Umer Farooq-led faction of the Hurriyat Conference did not yield any particular results.
When the Amarnath shrine agitation began two months ago, an Urdu newspaper journalist said, “It was like a spark that ignited Geelani’s fire. When the Amarnath order was revoked by the state government and Jammu was outraged, Geelani saw in it an opportunity to take his movement forward. The Amarnath sangharsh samiti’s agitation was like a gift from the gods.”
Significantly, although Geelani pushed for an Islamist line in the Kashmiri agitation, the people realized that they had to be wary of being seen as “Pakistani agents”.
“Geelani may be the most popular leader in the Kashmir Valley today,” said a Srinagar analyst, “but that is because more moderate voices like the Mirwaiz have been neutralized by Delhi and because mainstream parties such as the National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP (People’s Democratic Party) are being seen as increasingly irrelevant by the younger, newly hardline generation.”
The same holds true for the Jammu region, very religious in character because of the number of shrines located here, including Vaishno Devi nearby and the Raghunath temple in the city. The reason an unknown lawyer like Sharma has been able to sustain a two-month-long agitation on the Amarnath shrine, says Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of The Kashmir Times, is because lacklustre political parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress ceded him the political space to do so.
Facing off: Separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani (left) and Amarnath samiti chief Leela Karan Sharma. Photographs: PTI
Sharma has become such a force, according to unconfirmed reports in Jammu, that when BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Rajnath Singh wanted to come to Jammu and hold a rally a few days ago, they were told to stay away.
Clearly, though, Sharma’s hard line has infused new energy into the state BJP.
“Kashmir, with its pro-Pakistan and azadi slogans has always been the only separatist state in the country. We, in Jammu, are fighting the nationalist struggle,” Ashok Khajuria, state BJP president, told Mint in a phone interview. “We are fighting with the Tricolour around us, but you, the national media in Delhi, are only interested in separatist Kashmiri leaders who are waving Pakistani flags. I am asking you as a citizen of India, tell me if Geelani is a Pakistani agent or not?”
Back in Srinagar, Siddiq Wahid, vice chancellor of Srinagar’s Islamic University of Science and Technology, said, “Religious radicals are feeding off each other in both parts of the state, it is a challenge to neutralize that.”
Jamwal pointed out that when curfew was relaxed for a few hours on Wednesday, the day of the Jammu terror attack, people came out across the valley and staged anti-India protests. Two people were killed in Army firing in Kupwara district.
“The Indian state can’t fight against separatists in Jammu as well as in the Kashmir Valley at the same time. Jammu will cool down if there is an acceptable solution to the Amarnath land issue, that is our only hope now,” Jamwal added.