Friday, August 22, 2008

Have Hurriyat manage the Amarnath Yatra

For years, the signs of outward peace lulled policy wonks into thinking that the ‘Kashmir’ problem was de facto solved. That sense of complacency has been shattered in the last two months because of the raging fires triggered by the Amarnath Yatra controversy. For hardliners in the valley, the controversy is all about an attempt to erase the Kashmiri identity. For people protesting in Jammu, it is all about the State bowing down to a bunch of hardliners in the valley. This lethal divide is a result of decades of shortsighted policies and hypocrisy.

India has always professed to practice secularism. But the fact is that it has always pandered to religious fundamentalists; usually for political reasons. B.R Ambedkar failed miserably in efforts to conjure up a Uniform Civil Code for India. Since then, the State has continued to surrender. The nadir of this surrender and retreat policy was reached during the eighties. The Supreme Court delivered a verdict in 1986 that granted alimony to divorced Muslim women. Rajiv Gandhi was universally admired as the new hope of a new, younger and more progressive India. And yet, the Indian Parliament passed an Act that negated the SC verdict. Hindu hardliners were up in arms at this ‘appeasement’ and they too were ‘appeased’ by the government opening the locks of the Ayodhya shrine. India continues to pay a heavy price for those actions.

In 1990, the daughter of the then Union Home Minister was abducted by militants in Kashmir. The government tamely surrendered. In 1999, Pakistani terrorists hijacked an Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to Delhi. The government tamely surrendered. These were occasions of big surrender. The smaller ones are too numerous to recount. One recent example will suffice. Raj Thackeray and his followers continue to ‘terrorise’ north Indians with impunity. The government meekly looks on. What this does is send a powerful message – both to agitators and terrorists – that the government will surrender to hardliners; especially when they are noisy and violent enough.

The Amarnath Yatra controversy shows ominous signs of becoming yet another ‘cause’ like the Ayodhya issue. You already have ‘Hindutva’ activists spraying propaganda about how the Indian government appeases Muslims and contemptuously treats ‘Hindu’ sentiments. You already have preposterous claims being made in Kashmir that the land transfer to the Amarnath Trust is a move to settle ‘Indians’ in the valley, a la Israelis settling in Gaza.

Her husband Rajiv Gandhi lost a historic opportunity in 1986 to ‘fix’ the Hindu-Muslim problem (and let''s not delude ourselves by claiming that there is no problem). Sonia Gandhi again has a historic opportunity. Why not have temporary shelters for Hindu pilgrims in the valley and let the separatist organization Hurriyat take charge of those shelters?