Amarnath pilgrims: Victims of sinister politics

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The dastardly attack on unarmed, innocent Amarnath Yatra pilgrims mostly from Gujarat wherein seven precious lives were lost and 19 others injured at Batingu in Jammu and Kashmir on July 10 last has shaken the conscious of the people of India. However, the resilience shown by the people of J&K including separatists and the rest of the country is remarkable at a time when the hate mongers are ruling the roost. The attack was horrific and eyewitness accounts speak of the bus coming under fire from all sides. The bus driver Sheikh Salim Gafoor Bhai kept driving the bus for about a kilometre, and later told reporters: “God gave me strength to keep moving, and I just did not stop. The firing went on and on, so I didn’t stop. I kept driving.” Salim has emerged as the silent hero of this terrible tragedy, driving the vehicle through and eventually past the hail of bullets. Significantly, the street sentiment was amplified by frontline separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik. Kashmiris, individually and in organisations, have come out in strong condemnation of the attack. Many have demanded a probe into the attack by an impartial agency. They were uncharacteristically swift and stinging in joining the mainstream politicians’ chorus of condemnation, calling the yatris’ killing “against the very grain of Kashmiri ethos and traditions”.
In that sense, the terror attack in Anantnag, so far reckoned as the ground zero of a tenaciously virulent local militancy in South Kashmir, may signal new straws in the wind. It offers a tentative but tantalizingly narrow window, for both Mehbooba and the Narendra Modi governments, to pick up the lost political threads to steer Kashmir out of the vicious logjam in which it has been trapped for three years now. No doubt that the Government of India is responsible for overall law and order situation in the country. Indian State has to ensure now that peace prevails. They must realise it now, since they have lost their own people now in Amarnath Yatra attack. Kashmiri innocent dying hardly matters to the Indian State. We may condemn the shooting of yatris, but the fact is uncomfortably true that the yatris and the bus are mainly to blame. Breaking away from convoy, travelling after 7 pm, the bus conspicuously carrying Shiva slogan and picture, all these are like giving an invitation to the terrorists or rather challenging them. How could no authorities detect such a bus travelling on the highway for more than an hour after 7 pm? All these are usual lackadaisical attitude of our people and then blame government for all problems.
Dr Sandhya Kashyap, a medical practitioner, says that if the intelligence agencies had warned on 25th June that terror attack is expected, and within 18 days it happens, then who is to be blamed. Either they take these warnings lightly or they just ignore it. If they had taken it seriously and had taken preventive measures (such as not allowing the bus ply at night, more guards in the bus etc.) then this attack could have been averted. Militants also take advantage of slackness and attack. We have to be smarter than Terrorists’ brain. Fighting terrorism means avoiding terrorists’ attacks. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh used Twitter to counter angry demands for retaliation and baying for blood against the terror attack on Amarnath pilgrims in Kashmir and send out a clear message that not all Kashmiris are terrorists. Singh noted in a tweet that the people of Kashmir had strongly condemned the brazen assault by terrorists. “It shows the spirit of Kashmiriyat is very much alive,” he said. The mature handling of the attack, however, has changed the political narrative and opened just the window of opportunity that an alienated and sullen Valley so badly needed. As such Rajnath Singh’s emphatic signalling that ‘all Kashmiris are not terrorists’ appears to have provided the balm needed by a society that has been shocked by the lynching of a police officer just before Eid and by the killing of yatris. Jammu and Kashmir passed through a fragile moment when news of the terror attack on the pilgrims first broke out because by training their guns at the yatris, they had hoped to increase the gulf that exists between the two ideologically-opposed regions of Jammu and Kashmir. They had also hoped to create a wedge between the state’s coalition partners. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the BJP together have formed a government in 2015, but they have had more disagreements than agreements. The strange bedfellows were, however, able to paper over their seemingly irreparable differences and handled the fallout of the terror attack with tact and maturity. Both spoke in one voice; and both emphasised the syncretic culture.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti called the killings an attack on the state’s very ‘ethos and tradition’. Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh, from the BJP, walked an extra mile and told a television channel that in fact more Kashmiri Muslim civilians had been killed than Hindus. Mufti had the philosophical wisdom to explain the ‘unholy alliance’. The current mood has opened up a window of opportunity – however narrow – for a political outreach. Rajnath Singh must seize this opportunity and take his ‘all Kashmiris are not terrorists’ approach forward. The Centre has been of the view that it needs to contain militancy first but an outreach will be far more meaningful than any cordon-and-search operation that brings alienated Kashmiris out of their homes in protest. Singh’s unequivocal assertion helped humanise the Kashmiris, viewed for too long as stone pelters and militants by the rest of India. The Amarnath tragedy has presented an opportunity. The solidarity that marked the response needs to be consolidated, for the majority, like the Anantnag official, are fatigued by the daily cycle of violence.
The attack has come at a time when there have been frequent incidents of violence against Muslims. It has also been seen that many a time anyone expressing views contrarian to that held by the ruling dispensation is labelled as “anti-national” or asked to “go to Pakistan” The situation in the Valley, on the other hand, is marked by new-age militancy, overwhelming support for militants by civilians, emergence of videos of rights violations by security forces and sharp spike in counter-insurgency operations.
Moreover, there have been numerous incidents of common Kashmiris attacked or threatened in parts of India in the name of nationalism. Under such circumstances, it isn’t difficult to guess that the narrative of “Kashmiri Islamist terrorists have killed Hindu pilgrims” will probably be used to whip up passions of a section of Hindus against Muslims and specifically Kashmiris — and that would be most unfortunate. The narrative is wrong because the police have said a bus carrying pilgrims was caught in the crossfire when militants attacked a police post. It will be a real shame for a country where Muslims are lynched in the name of cow protection, even if one Kashmiri Muslim is attacked or threatened in retaliation of this n

Opportune Moment
National Conference Leader Omar Abdullah called on right-thinking Kashmiris to say unequivocally – this is #NotInMyName. This is an opportune moment for the Central and state governments, Valley politicians, civil society and everyone with a stake in the return of normalcy in J&K to come together. A similar movement needs to happen in the rest of the country too, where Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh must ensure that Kashmiris – especially students – living elsewhere do not face misguided retaliatory attacks, while beef lynching and anti-minority hate crimes are curbed with an iron hand. As Yusuf Tarigami, a veteran Leftist J & K MLA in Srinagar, puts it: “This is an opportune moment to break the frozen politics. Lack of political engagement is helping extremist elements.” Tarigami may be speaking for a large constituency in Kashmir that is angry and alienated but still yearns for peace.
Post-Anantnag, letting the spasm of terror overwhelm the new portents could well be another episode in Kashmir’s long chapter of missed opportunities. The Anantnag incident has given a narrow window to chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and the Narendra Modi government to pick up the lost political threads to steer Kashmir out of the vicious logjam in which it has been trapped for three years now. It’s another grim marker of the atrophy afflicting the fragile Mehbooba Mufti-led coalition government. Yet even the grimmest moments of despair in Kashmir are rarely without a sliver line of hope. That silver lining lies in a perceptible outrage among ordinary Kashmiris against the militant strike on the yatra. Hard and soft line one doesn’t understand, but the solution to Kashmir does not lie in use of greater force. It is childish to talk of war with a nuclear armed neighbour. Sooner or later, when our hearts grow weary of the mounting death toll, we will have to start a dialogue, one within the state, one with our neighbour. Difficult to find a solution if one doesn’t acknowledge that there is a problem.
A small first step would be to talk to the entire Opposition, seek a broad understanding of what would be politically acceptable and feasible. Ordinary citizens have not allowed acts of terror to poison the atmosphere. There is, however, a lot of vitriol swilling around social media and also a worrying trend of hate crimes against the minorities, which require a swift, harsh response from the state. As for Kashmir, there has been no diffidence on the part of the authorities, but things are getting worse. There should be a clear road map for peace to return to the valley. According to Yusuf Tarigami, in the first place, the attack should have never taken place; whosoever has done it, has certainly committed a grave crime against basic humanity. It is heartening to see that every section of Kashmiri society has risen in unison in condemning the attack. The separatists have denounced the attack in clear terms. There is a realisation within sections of the separatist camp that if Kashmir’s political issues are to remain credible, they must be separated from the growing extremism which will only bring the people of Kashmir at loggerheads with the people of the rest of India.

Jammu: A security personnel stands guard as Sadhus (holy men) wait to board a bus for annual Amarnath pilgrim yatra in Jammu on Friday. The journey has been suspended temporarily due to bad weather. PTI Photo (PTI6_30_2017_000047B)

Among other designs, the attack appears to have been carried out with the sinister aim to wreck communal harmony and create mass disorder in the state and in the rest of the country. Perhaps the perpetrators of this attack need a few lessons on how and why the secular and syncretic fabric of the Valley has survived despite the conflict of the decades. They forget the “light” that Mahatma Gandhi saw in Kashmir amidst all the dark chaos of the gory events of the partition in 1947. The Yatris have always been welcomed and facilitated by the common people of Kashmir, even in the most adverse circumstances. A lot of poor and working class Kashmiri people depend on the Yatra for their livelihood. The Yatra also symbolizes, in an undeniable way, the rich secular ethos and age-old syncretism of the people of the state. It is important not to fall prey to the evil objectives of these violent elements. This is the only reply the residents of the state and the rest of the country can give to these elements. Some TV channels began to rant, baying for blood and calling an all-out revenge, but that cannot be the approach. We must deal with the situation sanely so that we don’t play into the hands of the elements which are behind the attack. It must also be admitted that similar horrifying incidents have begun to take place with sickening regularity, especially in South Kashmir. Less than a month ago, in the same district, six policemen were also brutally killed in another horrific attack. The current governments, at the Centre and the State, should not limit themselves to mere condemnation. They should ensure that the lives of the citizens are protected. This is not the time to play petty politics but to present a united front, so that the cycle of violence is put to an end and some relief is brought.
The government must also begin talks for a long term political solution, alongside due security priorities. An enormous sense of insecurity along with mass alienation is generally apparent. Lack of political engagement and the absence of a comprehensive dialogue with politically disgruntled sections of Kashmiri society in the last three years of the BJP government have created a huge vacuum in Kashmir. The aggressive and indifferent attitude of the current dispensation at the Centre towards Kashmir for some time now has greatly marginalized the mainstream parties and moderate voices of the state. Moreover, certain elements which are antagonistic to a democratic and peaceful solution of the issues have capitalized on the Sangh Parivar’s approach to Kashmir to reinforce their own extremism. They have managed to apply the unique idea of India through the Sangh Parivar to Kashmir. No surprises that radicalism and fundamentalism are taking root in the Valley and many young people are taking to the gun. This vacuum has been allowed to build and sadly, it is being now filled by violent elements who profess an extremist consciousness.
Extremist elements should not be allowed to succeed in their desperate attempts by giving them any chance to capitalize on the people’s political dissatisfaction. This can only be achieved when there is a serious attempt to start dialogue and political reconciliation with all the disgruntled sections in the valley. The attack on pilgrims is in many ways a continuation of the vicious cycle of violence and death which is now a daily feature, or sadly, a new low of common Kashmiri life. In all this, the elected state government which continues to boast of an abstract ‘healing touch’ and ‘dialogue’ seems to have completely fallen in the abyss of indifference and insensitivity to the suffering of its masses.

Forbidding Challenge
Whether it is the forbidding challenge of economic development in a large, populous country or the security threats from two and a half fronts, which often seem to merge, no government can fix everything in one term of five years. Nor is tenancy on either the treasury or the opposition benches immutable. With the two national parties in the lead and the regional parties in concert, the effort should be to develop a stronger sense of shared national purpose, one fine example of which was on display on GST. Each time there is a loss of human life through violence, from state or non state actors, we must turn our thought to the need for resumption of dialogue. Do we wait for the last gun to fall silent, can we afford the mounting toll in the interim, or is it time to attempt a process of peace and reconciliation, no matter how agitated the national mood may be.

VHP & Shiv Sena train guns on Modi Govt
It is no secret that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts in Kashmir have failed to deliver any concrete results so far. It is also true that the Sena and the BJP have had a rocky relationship ever since Modi came to the BJP’s helm of affairs. But public criticism of Modi’s Kashmir policy coming from NDA partners and hardline-Hindutva organisations should be a sign of worry for BJP crisis managers. The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) has trained its guns on the Modi government and said the militants’ attack on Amarnath Yatris was a result of its failure to end terrorism in Kashmir in its three years of rule. Its international working president, Pravin Togadia, demanded dismissal of the Jammu and Kashmir government, which he alleged was a supporter of terrorism. This is an open attack on Modi as it is well-known that Mufti’s PDP and BJP are alliance partners in the state.
The Shiv Sena also condemned the attack on the Amarnath pilgrims, saying that it was symbolic of an attack on the entire country as well as the government. They urged the BJP-led Union government to exact revenge.
Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut, MP, said mere discussions and condemnation of the attacks on social media will not do, and now is the time for Modi to prove he has a 56-inch chest. He said, “The surgical strike, demonetisation, have had no impact. We need to deal with Pakistan and terrorists. Mere condemnation and expression of sorrow will not do, the government needs to give a blunt answer.” NaMo’s Pakistan and J&K policy has been a Flop Show. It’s been more of hot air, gas and bluster than any substantive policy. And, whatever happened to the so-called “Doval Doctrine” so eulogised by the media? There is, regrettably, no Kshatriya Spirit in this BJP Govt.

Government’s accountability
No doubt it is a good omen that the entire country including separatists in Kashmir has condemned the senseless violence in one voice. However, when opposition leaders ask for the government’s accountability on curbing terrorism, all nationalists are up in arms. They take umbrage as to how can anyone raise a political question on such incidents? If they really need an answer, they need not look beyond Modi in his avatar as the erstwhile chief minister of Gujarat in the UPA era.
Rewind to September 2008 when serial blasts had rocked Delhi, the then chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi was quick to lambast the UPA Government. As the government of the day was busy with rescue operations and most cities were being put on high alert, Modi claimed he had passed on information to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and NSA MK Narayanan that terrorists had planned to attack Delhi when he had met them earlier. Similarly, there were specific inputs by intelligence agencies of a terror threat to the Amarnath Yatra this year. Then why is there so much anger within BJP and the government if legitimate questions are being raised now? Attacking UPA on terror and terming Singh as a weak PM was a signature BJP tune for many years in the pre-Modi era.
The BJP supporters have been extremely critical of CPM general secretary, Sitaram Yechury and other opposition leaders who took to micro-blogging site Twitter to raise some pertinent questions after the Amarnath Yatra militant attack. Yet the same people are conveniently willing to ignore Modi’s past record on the issue of dealing with terror. The situation in Kashmir remains tense with no signs of improvement and opposition leaders have every right to demand accountability from the BJP-led-government just like Modi did in the past.

SDPI ‘smells conspiracy’
Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party of India, (SDPI), vehemently condemned the dastardly attack on unarmed, innocent Amarnath Yatra pilgrims but the party “smells conspiracy” stating serious doubts about the whole tragedy and its fallout therein. Looking at the overall situation and how the BJP has been working hard to create communal tensions and violence in the country, there is something suspicious in this tragedy. The Central government keeping in view the ensuing assembly polls to Gujarat assembly wants to play political games at the cost of the seven human lives of which five were from Gujarat and the rest two from Maharashtra. The point to be looked into is that why did the terrorists targeted only the bus bound to Amarnath filled with mostly Gujarities? Why not the buses from other regions? Is there something fishy? SDPI national president A Sayeed in a statement expressed apprehension that the whole tragedy may be a stage-managed conspiracy by the BJP to bolster its nose-diving fortunes in the face of Patidar agitation led by Hardik Patel. The Patidar stir has virtually put the state and the central BJP leadership on its toes in view of fast approaching Gujarat state Assembly polls slated to be held in December this year.
While condoling the death of pilgrims the party blamed the intelligence agencies for their failure in anticipating such heinous attack and save the lives of the Yatris. SDPI has demanded a probe into the attack by an impartial agency to spell out whether it was just mayhem by some militant group or there was something more than that meets the eye which would have repercussions not only in the Kashmir Valley but in Gujarat and elsewhere in times to come where BJP would try to reap rich harvest of electoral gains. Sayeed pointed out that this year’s yatra was being organised under the “highest-ever multi-tier security setup” as intelligence agencies had warned that militants were planning to target 100 policemen and as many pilgrims participating in the Amarnath Yatra. That despite heightened security the terrorists managed to do their despicable act shows that there are chinks in our armour.


However, efforts to polarise the communities are not meeting with the same success currently as in 2002 and after when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. There has been some erosion in the Dalit base after the Una floggings with Muslims, Dalits, farmers, activists, youth organisations participating from all over the country in the first anniversary of the Una atrocity in Ahmadabad. The message from this meeting, according to Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani was for unity of all the marginalised sections cutting into what is now being increasingly defined as divisive politics being propagated at different levels by the BJP. As per figures available with South Asia Terrorism Portal, (SATP), 88 security personnel were martyred in terrorist attacks in 2016. This is the highest casualty figure since 2008 while 40 security personnel have already made the supreme sacrifice till July 9 this year. The Srinagar Lok Sabha by-poll saw a voter turnout of 7.14% has only added to Modi’s woes.

Mixing religion with politics double-edged sword
Mixing religion with politics is a double-edged sword. It may have paid the BJP rich dividends with a massive mandate in the last UP assembly elections, but it can also hack into its support base when the two clash like they are doing now when the Amaranth yatra is being attacked by militants. Though criticism from opposition is but naturally expected but when alliance partners start criticising the government, it does ring a dangerous bell. One of the BJP’s oldest alliance partners, Shiv Sena, has started taking on the government over its handling of Kashmir. “Allah-o-Akbar” and “Jai Shree Ram” have become the political slogans nowadays. “Inquilab Zindabad” doesn’t give goose-bumps anymore. These new ones put the requisite chill down the spine. Hence these political slogans are gaining acceptance. N. Sahu, a BJP worker, totally agrees that Modi had said: “Achche Din Ayenge, Achche Din Ayenge. Par Modi Ne Yeh Nahi Bataya ki Kab Achche Din Aayenge.” Under the BJP rule, in the morning witness lynching by Gaurakshak, in afternoon, killing of Indian soldiers at LoC by Pakistan, and in evening, welcoming PM at airport who returns from another foreign trip. His policy of hatred has divided India on basis of religion and castes.
Mohammad Yahya, a Congress activist, is of the opinion that the unholy alliance between PDP and BJP which came to power in J&K with a promise of Development and Peace in the Valley has failed miserably that even their party leaders are calling for dismissal of the government and imposition of Presidents rule. What a Shame? They came to power with much fanfare but their dismal performance in the governance has created a mess. BJP has become a talking party with no knowledge of ground realities and pulse of the people, they are dejected and rejected lot, they have lost trust and confidence in the Govt of the day .Now blame game starts NSA blamed, what about the political leadership? What they are doing? Are they not sensitive to Terror and have no idea to control and crush Terror, it is possible; we need Indira, the Iron Lady and the courageous PM ever India has seen. Could Indian withdrawal from Kashmir initiate the Dulles nightmare of a domino effect? Meanwhile, Dr Vithal Rajan, an economist, social activist and columnist, several years ago in his Blog wrote: “Could Indian withdrawal from Kashmir initiate the Dulles nightmare of a domino effect, with all Indian Muslims rising up as one man to demand more partitions? While few Indian Muslims have any reason to thank the Indian state for the non-benign neglect they have received over 60 years, they are spread thinly everywhere and new partitions are a geographical impracticality.
Would withdrawal increase militancy?” Let us ask another hard question. What will be lost along with Kashmir? An unreal and bloated sense of  Self-importance. It has taken Great Britain 60 years to realise it is no longer the centre of an empire. Indian rulers have yet to realise they are no longer in charge of ‘the jewel in the crown.’ Indians are not the leaders of Asia the Chinese are. If India wishes to be considered a good second to China, it should not fritter away its resources on nuclear weapons, aircraft carriers, or Commonwealth Games. India should use its scarce resources where they are most needed, to help people raise themselves out of poverty. And India should not play dirty pool with China, and harbour Tibetan governments-in-exile. Let it not be forgotten that one of the causes of the India-China border war of 1962 was the covert activities of the CIA from Indian bases. Yes, it is sad, the Buddha lived in India 2,500 years ago, but none are true to his vision; nor are the Tibetans. India should mend its fences pronto with China, and accept the glaring fact that they are bigger, and better  just as it wants Pakistan to acknowledge its leadership”, Dr Rajan emphasised.

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