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In Kashmir’s hate-and-violence narrative, a silver lining of goodwill and amity

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Srinagar, Aug 5 (IANS) Rajnath, 72, a retired school headmaster, continues to live in his ancestral home in north Kashmir’s Manigam village. The turmoil of the 1990s saw most members of his minority Kashmiri Pandit community leave the village, but Rajnath stayed back in the village he was born in, with his wife and daughter.

Rajnath, a Hindu, has tremendous faith in the goodwill of his Muslim neighbours, most of whose present generation in the village have been his students. Local Muslims helped Rajnath’s daughter get a teacher’s job in a private school. They have been the biggest support not only for Rajnath, but also for over 3,000 Kashmiri Pandits who continue to live among their Muslim neighbours in the Valley — much against the established narrative that all Pandits had fled because of persecution in the Muslim-dominated region.

Only two months back, local Muslims not only carried the body of an elderly local Pandit to the cremation ground in Srinagar city, but also ensured that all Hindu rites for the departed were performed in accordance with the customs of the family. Womenfolk in the neighbourhood mourned the death like one of their own. Muslim neighbours arranged food and other requirements for the bereaved family since no Pandit household cooks food during the mourning period.

Rajnath is sad for those fellow local Pandits who left their homes and lands behind while migrating out of the Valley during the turbulent 1990s. He also harbours a strong grouse against the government.

While his daughter teaches at a private school, the wages are too meagre to support her family. She has a four-year old daughter and a husband working as a wireless operator in the police telecommunication wing. She has a masters degree in sociology and for five years she has been running from pillar to post for a government job, but to no avail.

“Her husband has now started pressing my daughter to seek a job outside the Valley and, if that happens, I and my wife would be left behind,” the father said with moist eyes.

“While ordering relief packages and employment offers to the migrant Pandits for their return to the Valley, the government has completely ignored those members of our community who chose to stay back,” he said.

Unfortunately, the story of traditional amity and brotherhood between different communities in the Valley are lost in the negative narratives of violence and hatred that Kashmir has faced in the last three decades.

An ancient temple site in Sumbal area of Bandipora district was last year cleaned and spruced up for Pandit pilgrims by local Muslims. The holiest Hindu temple shrine of Mata Kheer Bhawani in Tulamulla village of north Kashmir’s Ganderbal district continues to receive thousands of devotee Pandit pilgrims each year on the annual festival. The festival is held towards the end of the spring season.

Despite migration, thousands of Kashmiri Pandits continue to come to pray at the Mata’s shrine in Tulamulla and the centuries-old tradition of local Muslims bearing earthen pots filled with milk to receive the pilgrims has not been affected by the winds of violence sweeping the Valley.

One of the holiest places for immersion of ashes for the local Pandits is the Gangabal lake situated at the foothills of the Harmukh peak in the Kashmir Himalayas. After remaining suspended for some years, Kashmiri Pandits have resumed the tradition in the last four years.

Local Muslims have historically worked as guides and load carriers for the Pandit families during the uphill trek to this mountain lake. Even today, local Muslims continue to discharge this duty for the Pandit devotees visiting the lake.

“I have never felt any difference in the warmth and affection the local Muslims have shown towards our family since my childhood when I visited the Kheer Bhawani temple with my parents.

“After my family migrated to Jammu. I have been visiting the temple shrine each year since 1990. Local Muslims have the same warmth and affection when I visit the shrine now as a middle aged devotee,” Ashok Koul, 56, a bank employee, told IANS.

While attacks by misguided militants get front-page coverage in newspapers and as breaking news on TV, the aspect of Kashmir showing the communal harmony and brotherhood among ordinary Muslims and Hindu Pandits gets scant attention. Good news, alas, doesn’t make news any more for the sensation-seeking media of today.

(The weekly feature series is part of a positive-journalism project of IANS and the Frank Islam Foundation. Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at [email protected])

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Mishandling Kashmir: Learning little from history

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Independent India and I are both septuagenarians, but since I am a trifle older, I take the liberty of indulging in some reminiscences on the nation’s 71st birthday. My recollections are focused on Kashmir where I was born, in a town called Anantnag.

I particularly remember the traumatic night of October 30, 1947 when India was 10 weeks old and I had just turned three. In my mother’s arms I, with two elder siblings, hid under bushes in our garden as bullets ricocheted off our cottage roof. We lived in Badgam village, 30 km from Srinagar airport. The fusillade was coming from surrounding hills, occupied by Pakistani kabailis (tribals), en route from Uri and Baramulla, hoping to capture Srinagar airport.

At dawn, we piled into the family horse-drawn tonga, with just the clothes on our back and fled to the airport, where RIAF DC-3 Dakotas were disembarking Indian troops. We clambered into a departing aircraft, which flew us to Delhi, and refuge, with relatives.

Growing up in lovely little towns of the Valley in post-independence decades was idyllic and I reluctantly parted from my parents in Leh in 1959, to join college and the Indian Navy. In Jammu and Kashmir, my playmates were all Kashmiris — of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faith. Our parents were friends; we ate in each others’ homes and celebrated festivals together. But even as children, we understood that Kashmir was not (yet) India, and that the average Kashmiri’s attitude towards India was ambivalent.

India provided huge financial assistance to Jammu and Kashmir: Food, education, clothing and medicine were either free or heavily subsidised. Kashmiris would accept the largesse, but tune in every evening to Radio Pakistan which invariably played on their religious heart-strings, spouting propaganda about “occupation” of Kashmir and “atrocities” by the Bharatiya fauj (Indian Army).

Kashmir’s first ‘Prime Minister’ (he was called Wazir-e-Azam) Sheikh Abdullah was the state’s tallest figure then; a friend of Nehru’s and a staunch secularist, he was the self-styled Sher-e-Kashmir (Lion of Kashmir). In 1953 we were startled to hear that he had allegedly conspired with the Americans to become “King Abdullah” of an independent Kashmir. He was arrested and the Valley burst into flames.

I recall seeing my father, then Magistrate of Baramulla, coming home, bleeding from the head; there had been stone-pelting in the old town, as agitators waved Pakistani flags and shouted pro-Pakistan slogans.

While the 1950s and 60s may not have witnessed wild enthusiasm for India, there was neither hostility nor bitterness amongst Kashmiris.

However, an utterly unimaginative New Delhi had little to offer them, apart from money. As much as 95 per cent of the millions that India poured into Jammu and Kashmir never reached the impoverished Kashmiri. In the absence of a politico-economic strategy for creating jobs, industry or infrastructure, Indian money merely enriched Kashmiri politicians and aggravated popular resentment and alienation, which Pakistan exploited.

India’s maladroitness did not end here. A succession of Pakistani-orchestrated incidents, between 1963 and 1999, demonstrated the ineptness of our intelligence agencies, lack of civil-military coordination and the complete strategic bankruptcy of New Delhi. This depressing sequence included the theft of Prophet Mohammad’s sacred relic, seizure of Hazaratbal shrine, capture and burning of the Charar-e-Sharif shrine, expulsion of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley, the Kargil War and hijacking of IC-814.

This reminiscence is not a history of Kashmir’s travails, but merely a reminder to those who profess shock at recent developments in the Valley that the Indian state has, since 1947, learnt nothing from history, repeated its mistakes and failed to convince Kashmiris that they are Indian.

The French have a cynical aphorism: “the more things change, the more they remain the same”. This Independence Day, let us introspect if this is true of India’s management of Kashmir.

(The author is a former chief of the Indian Navy and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. The article is in special arrangement with South Asia Monitor.)

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I-Day musing: Does not the law and its protecton apply to all?

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August 15 this year marks the 71st anniversary of Indian independence. As the Prime Minister unfurls the national flag at the Red Fort, it is a celebratory moment; yet, a certain sense of bleakness and despondency is palpable. There is a deeply ingrained perception that anarchy is spreading in the country and that the state has abdicated in its primary responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of every citizen, irrespective of religion, caste, class and gender. Recent events bear testimony to this mood.

In an unprecedented development, the Attorney General (AG) of India K.K. Venugopal informed the Supreme Court in an anguished manner that there was an incident of major rioting every week in different parts of the country and that they often go unpunished. The AG noted: “Kanwarias (a sect of Hindu pilgrims) are overturning vehicles in Delhi…There is an incident of major rioting every week, even by educated groups. Marathas in Maharashtra, SC/ST (scheduled caste/scheduled tribe)… nothing is done.”

Earlier, a former Chief Justice of India, T.S. Thakur, asked a very pertinent question: “When we see day in and day out, mobs lynching people, it’s a complete failure of rule of law. If a mob can take the law into its hands and administer summary justice, what kind of rule of law is this?”

The sub-text in both cases is that the Indian State has become selective in how it applies the law and that there is a tacit indifference to the safety and welfare of the minority citizenry.

Thus what is disturbing is the pattern that emerges in the disaggregation of the violence that is ostensibly spontaneous — be it the rioting mob, the beef-lynchings or now the Kanwarias, the annual north Indian ritual of carrying water from the Ganga to one’s home.

Thousands of Hindu devotees walk long distances in July-August to collect the sacred water and, over the years, the numbers have been swelling and the entire event has acquired a huge carnival profile with music, dancing, et al. Given the religious significance attached to the event and the majority Hindu sentiment nurtured by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Kanwaria pilgrimage also has an electoral relevance. This has clearly become more acute in the run-up to the 2019 national election.

Indian politics and the gradual absorption of the religious leader to high office is exemplified by the election of Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk, as the Chief Minister of India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh in March 2017. This was a significant development at the time for South Asia, for not even Pakistan, which was created on the basis of religion, had appointed an Islamic cleric to such office.

Thus, in August, India witnessed an unusual spectacle — that of Kanwarias being showered with rose petals from a helicopter by none less than the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and senior police officials. That some of these Kanwarias have become a law unto themselves has been brought to the attention of the courts – but as the AG noted, “nothing is done”.

The ascendancy of religious orientation in Indian politics and the BJP’s empathy for unbridled Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) fervour has an electoral dimension to it. Uttar Pradesh is the swing state that will shape the outcome at the in 2019 elections. Thus the pandering to the majority community is predictable — but this comes with a very heavy price.

Citizenship in India is no longer equal and the law, alas, is not applied equitably. On its 71st independence anniversary, one cannot ignore the conjecture that India, which had determinedly rejected the two-nation theory in August 1947, is now moving towards it in a visible manner. The question whether the silent Indian majority, that is Hindu, subscribes to the ugly manifestation of Hindutva and the violence associated with it, remains moot. But the state cannot abdicate and the exhortation of the Attorney General should not be ignored.

(The author is Director, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi. The article is in special arrangement with South Asia Monitor)

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Projecting Rahul as PM candidate is conscious effort by BJP: AAP

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New Delhi, Aug 9 (IANS) The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) believes that the BJP is consciously trying to position the 2019 Lok Sabha election as a Rahul Gandhi-versus-Narendra Modi affair for its own convenience.

AAP leader and chief spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj said the projection of Rahul Gandhi will only harm the opposition.

“Projecting Rahul as PM candidate is a conscious effort of the BJP to position this contest as Rahul-versus-Modi as it suits them,” Bhardwaj told IANS.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he said, was choosing its opponent according to its convenience.

“If they choose Mayawati or Mamata, there is a problem. Rahul has never been a minister or a Chief Minister,” said the MLA from Greater Kailash constituency who is a known confidant of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

The BJP was creating a perception in which Modi will be seen as a stronger candidate in the battle for prime ministership when his opponent is Rahul Gandhi.

“The perception created about Rahul is to ensure that if there is a contest between Rahul and Modi, Modi will be a stronger candidate,” he said.

But the projection of Rahul Gandhi suits the Congress, he added.

“The Congress is also liking this positioning as it suits them. Their leader is getting the limelight.

“However, this positioning will not suit the opposition’s fight against Modi and the BJP. Projecting Rahul as PM will be a loss for the opposition,” he warned.

He added that for the last three months, BJP leaders, including Modi, were attacking Rahul Gandhi. “Attacking Rahul by taking his name is BJP’s poll strategy.”

Taking about the contest in the national capital, where the AAP is in power, Bhardwaj said the Lok Sabha battle would be between the BJP and AAP.

“The fight in Delhi is between AAP and BJP. Congress will not get a single seat. Their vote percentage may go up, but they will not win seats.”

Bhardwaj also said that the AAP was not part of any opposition alliance. “The party has no plans of giving support to anyone in 2019. Also, there is no plan for any kind of alliance or understanding with the Congress. This is very clear,” he added.

Speaking about AAP’s preparations for the Lok Sabha polls, he said the party had appointed “prabharis” (in-charge) for five of Delhi’s seven Lok Sabha constituencies in June.

“The remaining two will be appointed very soon. Within a week hopefully. It is very likely that they will also be the candidates.”

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP bagged all the seven seats in Delhi. The AAP came stood second in all constituencies and the Congress finished third in six and in fourth spot in one constituency.

The AAP swept the later, February 2015, Assembly elections, winning 67 of the 70 seats. The BJP won three seats and the Congress none.

(Nivedita Singh can be contacted at [email protected])

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