Kashmir: Risky Silence
By Poonam I Kaushish
5 August is a red letter day for the BJP which has a corollary for India. It stands testimony to fulfillment of two of the Sangh Parivar’s core agenda, namely abrogation of Articles 370 in Jammu & Kashmir and construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, only enactment of the Uniform Civil Code remains. Two controversial national issues which transcend political planks, ideology, philosophy and thesis.
The Ayodhya saga which started with Rajiv Gandhi’s shilanyas in 1989 down Advani’s Rath Yatra in 1990 to the demolition of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992 will culminate tomorrow with the bhumi pujan of a grand Ram temple at the contentious site in Ayodhya by Prime Minister Modi at 12.30pm.
This follows the Supreme Court verdict last November which recognized the rights of the 2.77 acre disputed plot as the birthplace of Lord Ram and handed it over to the deity Ram Lalla who was one of the three litigants in the case. A chapter of Indian history is now approaching its end.
Predictably, this has put the Opposition in a tizzy. While the Congress remains silent, a few murmurs question the absence of an invite to its leaders, some wonder whether Modi is attending in his personal capacity or as Prime Minister. Others warn that its construction would open a Pandora’s box on Mathura and Kashi.
Will the temple construction be a soul cleanser for our netagan? Will it now stop them from using religion as a hand maiden to serve their petty, parochial political ends? Can it become a symbol of national unity, if all castes and communities are involved in its construction?
A site which has caused a fundamental political rupture among Parties in the past three decades. It has tested India’s resilience as a secular Constitutional democracy. A place which for the Hindutva Brigade has always been a symbol of faith and national revival, central to their faith-based politics of majoritarianism, whereby the BJP brazenly uses Ayodhya and Ram temple construction emotively and divisively, milking it to garner votes for electoral gains, pronounced at poll times and dormant otherwise.
It is a near certainty that the BJP hopes to derive political mileage out of the bhumi pujan followed by construction, specially in the Hindu heartland UP and in Bihar which goes to the polls later this year, embracing the idea of a “Hindu rashtra”
This is countered by the so-called ‘secular’ Parties like Congress and its ilk who hold secularism as a principle, but pander to minority Muslim sentiments, ignoring the majority Hindu’s feelings thereby turning it into a communal-secular issue to suit their parochial ends, resulting in toxic secularism wherein a ‘communal’ pro-Hindu opposition Party became ‘secular’ pro-Muslim when it joins like-minded forces.
Consequently, Ayodhya has become synonymous for all key debates: secularism, Hindutva, inter-community ties, ‘communal jihad’, historical injustices, rule of law and political movements around religious or caste identity. Conveniently, trashing Mohammad Iqbal who hailed Ram as Imam e Hind.
Today also marks one year post the bifurcation of Jammu & Kashmir State into two Union Territories, Ladakh and J&K. Questionably, has the Modi Sarkar fulfilled its promise of development, normality and end of terrorism?
The Valley is far from normal, there is a heavy blanket of security coupled with a widening trust deficit and increased alienation, some leaders baring NC’s Abdullahs continue to be in detention under the Public Safety Act including PDP leader and ex Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who was part of coalition Government with the BJP till June 2018 or like Congress leader Soz under ‘house arrest’. Militancy is rife a result of radicalisation of local youth, alienation has increased amidst simmering resentment, people only venture out for necessities, there are restrictions on mobile telephony and internet aggravated by Covid 19.
For New Delhi it is still work in progress as Kashmiris see the new domicile rule as a ploy to change the erstwhile State’s demographic profile by fresh delineation of Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies which could see an increase in seats in Hindu-dominated Jammu and with Kargil now being a part of Ladakh, the numbers of Muslims would stand diminished. Besides, Jammu residents who had welcomed abrogation, now fear Government jobs may no longer be reserved only for them.
Security analysts assert that the lack of protests and no violence is either simply because the average Kashmiri has resigned himself to the change and wants peace or is waiting for the right opportunity to implode. Clearly, the Centre will soon have to take the bull by the horns as the Union Territories cannot remain bereft of political activity much longer as a long-term clampdown goes against peoples’ fundamental and democratic rights.
Till date the Centre has failed to give the Kashmiris a feeling of belonging or a wrap up which will treat them with respect, restore their dignity and try and heal the accumulated humiliations. The need of the hour is for India to connect with Kashmiris.
More. The Government has not been able to plug Kashmir deeper into the Indian economy and create more broad-based stakeholders in the Valley who will benefit from greater economic interactions with the rest of India. It is imperative development of the region and economic activity begin soon. With tourism being a major money spinner we need to promote world class tourist facilities and build new infrastructure for modern industries.
Investments for new projects, even ongoing projects under the PM’s Development Package are progressing slowly thanks to the uncertain security scenario. In the five years since Modi’s announcement of the Rs 58,627 crores package only 49% funds have been utilized and only 9 projects of 54 have been completed, 8 “substantially completed” and the rest are either “ongoing” or “slow moving”.
Time now for politics to play out by holding polls soon, whether it is a hung Assembly or one Party gets majority is not important. A Modus Vivendi with locals by gathering lost threads from the baggage of chequered history and keeping ones ears to the ground. There should be a return to normalcy with people being restored their democratic power. The Government should open communication channels with the people, identify stakeholders and talk to them. It should simultaneously ensure the return of displaced Kashmiri Pandits.
Modi has to leave no ‘stone’ unturned to further India’s national interests and make Kashmiris’ truly feel they belong to India. The Kashmiris’ too need to rise to the occasion. The need of the hour is imagination, innovation and impetus. It remains to be seen if he can get the cherry blossom to truly bloom again and make the Kashmir dream a reality. It is a long dreary road.
As for Ayodhya it remains to be seen it the Ram temple’s construction will become a catalytic agent to integrate India and make it a cohesive whole, given our pseudo-secularism has come a full circle. All stake holders need to remember that India is a pluralistic society where Hindus and Muslims have to live and die together. Those at the helm of governance must desist from showing a bias towards any faith as it could seriously strain inter-religious relations. People across all castes and communities are now craving for progress and development.
It is now time for the Parties to close ranks and re-dedicate themselves to a truly secular nation. There can be no two opinions that the developments at Ayodhya will alter the course of contemporary politics from which both the BJP and the Congress stand to gain as well as lose. INFA