Thursday, August 21, 2008
Agitation in Jammu and Kashmir: A study in contrast by Mohua Chatterjee(TOI)
JAMMU: The peaceful demonstrations in this otherwise bustling city, in stark contrast to the high decibel protests in Srinagar, said it all. If the idea was to play on the contrast with Srinagar in communicating that they have been differentiated against, Jammu's agitationists succeeded in sending across the message quite clearly. In prominence are community langars in every locality where daily wagers and the poor are being fed by households that can cook their meals even as the more than month-long bandh continues. The picture is one of bonhomie among citizens, irrespective of denomination. And clearly, any attempt to suggest that a single political party has taken over the movement that the Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti has sustained for 53 days is clearly a non-starter. There is a rare unity to be seen in Jammu for a cause that seems to have built up over years of what the people here see as institutionalised neglect. Also, there is a careful attempt to ensure that it does not take a communal turn. This was clear when a local BJP leader confided that a proposal by Baba Ramdev to join the movement by marching up to the Amarnath shrine with a contingent of sadhus had to be stalled, so that it did not create communal trouble and spoil the "legitimate demand" to allow the shrine board to use the adjacent land for pilgrims' facilities. Even BJP, which has taken up the Amarnath issue to build up a national level campaign against the ruling Congress for "offending the sentiments of Hindu pilgrims", has had to redraw plans to participate in a rally organised by the Sangharsh Samiti. In fact, BJP has called it "communication gap" between the two organisations. Going on the backfoot after being snubbed by Sangharsh Samiti chief Leela Karan Sharma, who denied there were any plans for a rally, leave aside any invitation to BJP leaders L K Advani and Rajnath Singh to participate, the party's state president Ashok Khajuria told TOI , "The Sangharsh Samiti is the last word on this movement and BJP is only one among its 42 member units and hence will follow what the Samiti says." Interestingly, a good number of field level National Conference and PDP workers in Jammu have joined the Samiti. Surinder Singh Shinghari of NC, a corporator from the city's Bakshinagar area, has resigned from his party and post and joined the movement. He is not the only one. It is not easy for a city that thrives essentially on trading and business activities to sustain complete closure of shops and business establishments for 53 days without having any idea as to how much longer they will have to take it. Leela Karan Sharma said, "We are ready to talk as equals to all - the Centre, Kashmiri leaders - but only if our core issue of allowing the High Court order on the land is reverted back to."