Valley of fear and loathing

The repercussions of the violence in the Kishtwar region of Jammu and Kashmir have been making headlines since 9 August. According to initial reports, a group of people, raising anti-national slogans after the Eid prayers, was attacked by another section of people in Kuleed area leading to tension. The two groups indulged in stone-pelting and arson in which 10 shops were set on fire. The security personnel’s efforts to control the situation did not materialize; rather the situation turned ugly when police was fired upon from homes.

The recurrence of violence again on 12 August has resulted in the death of three persons and 10 people have sustained injuries. The sporadic violent incidents belie the claims of the state government as well as the Centre. Opposition parties have slammed the state government for not being able to control the situation. The Omar Abdullah government has drawn flak from the Samajwadi Party. While demanding dismissal of the Omar Abdullah government, the BSP supremo Mayawati has called for the imposition of President’s rule in J&K.

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti has accused chief minister Omar Abdullah of 'trying to divide people of the state on religious lines'. The national opposition parties, especially the BJP, are reluctant to subscribe to Centre’s insistence that the situation in Kishywar was under control and it would disallow the repeat of forced migration witnessed in 1990.  

The senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley has alleged that the state government had failed to take appropriate measures to control the violence and warned that it should not be a repeat of 1990 when an entire minority community was compelled to leave Kashmir valley. Stating that the violence in Kishtwar and adjoining areas should not be seen only as a clash between two communities, Jaitley warned that it involved the sovereignty and integrity of the country.

The BJP leader’s assertion about the complicity of a senior functionary of the state government in the happenings of the Kishtwar incident has made the Jammu and Kashmir Minister of State for Home Affairs, Sajad Kitchloo submit his resignation to the Chief Minister pending judicial inquiry into incidents of communal violence.

In the meanwhile, J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in an interview with Rajdeep Sardesai of Ibnlive on 12 August 2013 has defended his administration's handling of the communal violence in Kishtwar and accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of trying to play politics over the incident. While hitting back at the BJP for criticising his Government over the handling of the Kishtwar communal violence, J&K Chief Minister has asked the BJP that it should recount its response to the 2002 Gujarat riots. Calling the BJP leaders 'hypocrites,' Omar Abdullah said Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi waited for days to call out Army for controlling the riots in his State and has not apologised for it so far.
Kishtwar and its adjoining areas are very volatile socially, religiously and politically. The region witnessed occurrence of violent incidents in early September 2000 wherein shops and homes went up in flames and the police firing claimed four lives.

Five years after communal fires last raged across Jammu and Kashmir, claiming dozens of lives in a battle sparked off by the grant of land-use rights to the Amarnath Shrine Board, the state has again been seized by a wave of hate. Three people, at the very least, are dead; many towns and cities under curfew. In April, communal clashes broke out because of an anti-encroachment drive in Poonch; a teacher’s stray remark almost sparked off riots in Bhaderwah two years ago; in 2007, an India-Pakistan cricket match led to pitched communal battles in Rajouri. It isn’t just the Jammu region, either: Kashmir has a vibrant tradition of dystopian politics, seeking to sharpen the boundaries between the largely-Muslim valley, and Hindu-majority Jammu.

The situation in the entire Kashmir valley is very volatile and fragile. There are vested interests aided and abeted by the neighbouring country to flare up a small issue into a volcano to destabilize the peace and tranquility of J&K. Break-out of a small fracas or brawl over even a non-issue entails the potential of being turned out into an inter-community disturbance and providing chauvinistic and fissiparous elements to destabilize the situation.

Recurrence of violent incidents in the politically sensitive areas entails full potential of pushing the things back to what happened in 1990. Strategic location of the region makes it a fertile ground for Pakistani machinations and manoeuvres to disrupt peace and tranquility of Kashmir with the help of local sympathisers. Terrorist outfits either in the Kashmir Valley or on the other side of the border may be lying low for time being, their potential for converting this violence as a prelude to terrorism
cannot be underestimated.    

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