Sajjad A Kitchloo, the Kishtwar representative in state assembly was home when the town burnt. This was one reason why the BJP criticized him. Kitchloo resigned as state’s minister of state (home) well before Chief Minister Omar Abdullah went to attend an all party meeting. From Kishtwar, Kitchloo talks at length to offer his version of the crisis that made him to resign within less than seven months of taking over as minister for the first time in his political career.
On August 3, when my uncle Mohammad Abbas passed away, I was in Jammu. Immediately I started for home. I started at around 5 pm and I reached home at around 2 am. The reason is that wherever I reached, I was stopped by people on the road.
They had been told that I am coming, so they were waiting for me in groups – at Thathri, Drabshala and at many other places.
They said that there are some people who are creating problems during nights by resorting to nocturnal stoning on houses. It had created panic everywhere in the majority Muslim community. They said it has been happening for almost a month now. I forgot the mourning at home, I got the SP and we encouraged the locals to set up local committees which will be guarding the villages during the nights. Since the police lacks huge numbers who could not be deployed, so civilians should do it. After we constituted those committees, the reports of such attacks during nights were substantially reduced.
It was amid mourning that another major earthquake hit the belt. As people were coming to offer condolences, I was out in the field to see how the miseries of the people could be reduced in wake of the new damages. Somehow, we observed fourth day of our uncle on the eve of Eid and I decided to celebrate Eid with the family.
You must know that we have a common facility for the entire social, cultural and to a larger extent the religious events in Kishtwar. It is Chowgan ground that is central to the life in the town. For decades, this ground plays host to Janam Ashtami, Dussehra and Eid as well. On these occasions, the entire district administration stays around this ground. This Eid was not different.
It might have been around 10:15 am that we went to a local shrine that is not far away from the grounds. We kept our vehicles near TB hospital and then went to the Ziyarat and offered Fateh. I smelt something different but could not gather what it was.
As we came out of the shrine and started for the Eidgah, I saw youth moving on bicycles and driving badly. One of my PSOs stopped somebody to ask why it is so and the answer came that there is stone pelting somewhere and he is taking his child home. Somehow we entered into the ground and it might have been10:25 AM. As soon as we got in, the Imam started the prayers. I could feel some hurry in the entire process. I feel the Imam was in such a hurry that he probably missed a Takbeer. I do not remember anything about Khutba.
As soon as the prayers were over, it was complete crisis. Everybody started fleeing. People were in such a rush to leave the grounds that they were choking each others’ way. That was the same case with the cars and bikes. At some corner, there was stone pelting and probably tear smoke shelling as well.
You can imagine that at a place where you have more than 25000 people assembled at a place and they want to leave at one time, what could happen? Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Saleem was with me and I advised him that given the scare and the confusion within the people, they should ensure that every single gate of the ground should be opened immediately. We directly went to the Dak Bungalow which is not far away and soon we were joined by SP Sunil Gupta.
SPs report was alarming. He said the situation in the town is terribly bad. His problem was that he lacked numbers to manage the law and order situation. He had made his deployments wherever he could and they intervened to prevent any escalation to the level possible. Kishtwar took minutes to change. As we were discussing the situation along with DC and SP, we could see the beginning of the blaze.
At that point of time, I wanted to move out and intervene but the police did not permit me. They said I am the target from all sides. I suggested the SP to announce the imposition of curfew in the town by sending the bunker vehicle fitted with loud speakers so that a section of the people is scared away. Well before, my advice was acted upon, a mob set afire this bunker and it happened as we were watching. Then a mob came to attack the Dak Bungalow itself. They wanted to kill us all. We made a tactical retreat to a residence in the rare and manage to save our lives. We scaled a wall to be safe.
By then, I had already informed the Chief Minister, the Chief Secretary and the State Police Chief. We had already requested the army for help. Chief Minister had advised me that no lives should get lost in the crisis management.
Any intervention at that point of time could have proved disastrous. A BJP leader was leading a mob of thousands of Hindus and Muslims were also on the streets. There was stone pelting at various places and various markets were set on fire. There were chances of thousand deaths in such a situation.
As we asked army to help, they said that they lack enough of soldiers in the town and they will have to collect them from the periphery. They had only 35 soldiers available in the morning and all of them were immediately deployed in the town with police and whatever was available. But they were too small in number to manage such a huge crisis. At one point of time when the local army commander got the tip that me and my team was attacked, he came to rescue us. But we had managed to save ourselves by taking refuge in a residence.
Deputy Commissioner started formally communicating with the army at 10:40 am. Army was cooperative and they sent whatever was available with them. But we needed more, and they wanted a formal request. The DC and his staff had to go to their office to type and fax it. From our side all the communications were sent by 12:12 pm and I have every single receipt of those communications. But the army came later in the day. As they entered the town, we could see the immediate cessation of hostilities between the two sections of people. State Police Chief and other officials also landed in the town and stayed there for a few hours till the army started marching in the town.
By then, the tensions had escalated at Padder. Facebook and other social networking sites had started adding to the mess. I am personally pained that three people were killed – two Muslims and a Hindu. But it could have been in hundreds had not we been in the town.
The situation I saw in the town cannot be described. It was unprecedented. There are quite a few people who were injured by bullets but you cannot imagine how many guns were used. It was God’s grace that these guns did not trigger casualties.
Yes, it is a fact that one of our business concerns Chenab Gun Factory was broken open by the rioters. They have taken away nearly thirty guns, mostly one or twelve bore guns. They might have taken the ammunition as well. So far, there is no indication of any of these guns having been used. Another important thing is that the police have the knowledge of all the people who looted it. These guns can be recovered any time.
There is nothing that is shrouded in mystery. It is open knowledge, who did what? It started with a local BJP leader’s security guard taking out his bike and trying to force his way through a procession of Muslim worshippers who were reciting the verses and were on way to the Eidgah. That is all.
My resignation was my contribution to fail and frustrate the dirty plan that the BJP had drafted to burn J&K. They wanted to use this event to polarize entire Jammu so that they attack Kashmir bound transport. The idea was to create a situation that involves Kashmir directly and then watch how the state burns. They wanted to exploit this situation for the next polls, as they did in 2008. Now even Home Minister had briefed the Prime Minister that the conspiracy was hatched by the Bajrang Dal, a BJP ally. BJP leaders from Jaitely to Modi had started exploiting it. My resignation has blunted their game plan. They have lost the script and they will lose in J&K as well. Politics playing on dead bodies does not survive for long.