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Kashmir - India’s thorny crown prickles again

IS there a sinister side to the events that unfolded in Kashmir in the last few weeks? The deplorable attack on Muslim worshipers, offering Eid prayers, by Hindu fanatics in Indian administered Kashmir’s Kishtwar area suggests so.
Previous incidences like massacre of unarmed civilians protesting against desecration of a mosque and Holy Qur’an by India’s paramilitary personnel, assault on a renowned Kashmiri cardiologist, eruption of sectarian clashes in Budgam and the latest border scrimmage also point toward a grand design to push Kashmir ever deeper into crisis. Indeed, there is something ominous in the air, not only in Kashmir but throughout India as well.
Why on earth did the security personnel, deployed in Ramban, interfere in religious rituals performed within the mosque premise is a million dollar question. They were pressurizing the imam to abruptly terminate the taraweeh prayer. Surely, India’s home minister, responsible for deployment and conduct of troops in disputed Kashmir, will find it difficult to justify such unethical behavior. Rather, such injudicious act on the part of the security forces exposes the fallacy of New Delhi’s Kashmir policy, especially when the district police chief has rubbished the theory of “firing in self defense” propagated by a section of the Indian security establishment.
The unprovoked Ramban firing and Eid day violence has all the ingredients of dragging Kashmir back to those days of turmoil in the 1990s when a no-holds-barred militancy borne out of anti-India sentiments turned the lives of ordinary Kashmiris into a living hell. One wonder, whether the picturesque Himalayan province is once again on the verge of getting sucked into the dirty ethic-less world of India’s electoral politics wherein ordinary citizens are unabashedly pitted against each other along communal lines to extract mileage in the polls. After all, Kashmir remains the most potent tool for inciting emotions in the name of nationalism — misplaced though — in a pre-general election year.
And an inflamed country has time and again fallen prey to jingoistic nationalism without even realizing that this amounts to being a party in keeping the pot boiling in Kashmir. But what intrigues this author is a sudden spurt in Shiite-Sunni schism within the country.
Take the case of Kashmir. How can a minor altercation between two drivers in a non-descript locality snowball into a religious conflagration involving Shiite and Sunni sects, unless planned meticulously? Kashmir’s secular spirituality is reflected in the harmonious existence of people from all faiths including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism since 13th century till Kashmiriyat was tarnished by institutionalized violence receiving patronage from both side of the divide.
Now there is a spreading pattern of Shiite-Sunni conflict simmering in India with Subramanian Swamy, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) co-strategist for the 2014 general elections, spilling the beans on the opposition’s chilling “split Muslim vote bank” action plan that envisages creating friction between the different Islamic sects. It is therefore no wonder that this nation remained witness to the heinous and unprecedented act of a religious procession being targeted in the northern Indian city of Lucknow this holy month of Ramadan.
It is high time that the sensible citizens in this country saw through such nefarious designs that will only invite anarchy in the days ahead. Unless confronted, such extremist ideals will devour the secular Indian fabric in no time and leave this nation with little option other than counting the dead.
India, having embraced pluralism and fostered a culture of religious tolerance and freedom since her birth, it would be suicidal for any responsible political group to stoke such divisiveness in order to win votes. As the election approaches, there is every possibility of orchestrated violence spreading its tentacles throughout the length and breadth of the country.
Some motivated terror attacks on religious groups or shrine to divide the polity for extracting maximum electoral mileage might make headlines with Muslims being the usual target of retribution.
On the Kashmir front, it would be a colossal strategic blunder on the part of both Indian and Pakistani establishment to continue maintaining a certain grade of violence and link the Kashmir crisis with the Afghan cauldron. This will only bolster those who have a vested interested in propagating fanaticism.
For New Delhi, it is extremely important to analyze the aftereffects of Ramban firing in right earnest and the message emanating from the tragedy. The very fact of areas outside the Kashmir valley getting attracted to pro-freedom concept, in spite of having shunned secessionist politics historically, does not augur well for Indian democracy.
Moreover, India’s trigger-happy security apparatus has virtually ensured that Kashmir once again hit the international headlines for all the wrong reasons. The appalling murder of innocent civilians has significantly evoked condemnation from the secretary generals of the United Nations and Organization of Islamic Cooperation. A realization therefore must creep in at some point that it is impossible to destroy an organic movement, like the one in Kashmir, with bullets and propaganda.
By Seema Sengupta is a Kolkata-based journalist and columnist.

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