Sangh’s Kashmir Forays

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Even not having a token presence in Kashmir, Sangh Parivar has been making forays in the state primarily to play to the larger vote bank in the mainland. Ilham Hassan takes a look at the various attempts of the right-wing organization.

There are two ways of looking at the proposal of Bhartiya Janta Yuva Morcha (BJYM) to hoist Tricolour at historic Lal Chowk on January 26 (Republic Day). The right-wing Sangh Parivar attempts to establish that Kashmir is an integral part of India, much the same as any other corner of the country. But, for the majority of Kashmiri people, the issue has demonstrated that even after 64 years of India’s independence, the unfurling of Tricolour in Kashmir at the choicest place, is not a routine affair. “Only under the barrel of gun and jackboots on the ground, the flag can be hoisted. The authorities will have to put the entire population under siege. What it demonstrates is self-explanatory,” said Mohsin Ali, a youngster from Srinagar.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s compulsion to speak against the proposed flag hoisting plan is understandable. He says that Kashmir has limped back to normalcy with great difficulty after the public uprising, which dominated the entire second half of 2010. Omar is not, per se, against the flag hoisting but maintains that the way BJP plans the ceremony, is bound to inflame passions. The announcement of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik to march towards Lal Chowk on January 26 to counter the BJP youth wing’s programme, added yet another dimension to the issue. The showdown has turned more ideological and reflective of the complexities in Kashmir.

A senior BJP leader told Kashmir Life that the idea of hoisting the Tricolour at Lal Chowk was born after two seminal developments in Kashmir. In October, he said, Omar Abdullah challenged the merger of Kashmir with the union of India at the floor of J&K Assembly saying that Jammu & Kashmir has only acceded to India under various conditions. Another provocation, according to him, was when thousands of people, on Eid-ul-Fitr, placed green Islamic flags on Clock Tower at Lal Chowk and rejoiced in a sense of victory. “This was the challenge to Indian authority in Jammu and Kashmir. We have to change this mindset,” he said. Interestingly, the youth wing’s ekta yatra (unity march) started from Kolkata, the birthplace of Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, the right-wing ideologue and founder of Bhartiya Jana Sangh, who led a similar march in May 1953, which was aimed at violating the permit system that disallowed non-state subjects to enter the jurisdiction of Jammu and Kashmir without requisite documents.

A college professor, wishing anonymity said that Sangh Parivar’s Kashmir interventions have been target-oriented, well-timed and substantially worked out. “Even as Mookerjee was arrested while entering Kashmir but following his mysterious death in jail, Sheikh Abdullah was not only dethroned and humiliatingly arrested but also in the following years, the special status of Jammu & Kashmir was gradually eroded,” he said.

The second time, BJP planned a yatra to Kashmir was in 1992, at the peak of armed insurgency when militants were ruling the roost. A former Hizbul Mujahideen militant told Kashmir Life that the cadres of his outfit were ordered to cover every inch of the Srinagar-Jammu Highway from Qazigund to Srinagar to sabotage the BJP yatra led by the then-president Murli Manohar Joshi. Joshi and a few of his confidants were later airlifted to Srinagar to hoist Tricolour amid unprecedented security arrangements. Even as a rocket fired by separatist militants landed close to the venue, Joshi fulfilled his aim to hoist the flag.

“There was a bigger message to the Indian people and establishment that despite risks involved in the flag hoisting, they have to keep the flag flying at all costs,” said the professor. He pointed out that Joshi’s yatra was a go-ahead to the Indian government to initiate a ruthless campaign to trample the resistance movement in Kashmir.

“In the subsequent years, we saw Army and other security agencies violating all democratic norms to silence the voice of dissent in Kashmir. The BJP has always endorsed the campaign and even boosted the government to enhance its impact on the ground,” he said.

He said that Sangh Parivar’s close association with the renegades and counterinsurgents in Kashmir has been a less-probed area.

The Tiranga yatra is the Parivar’s third attempt in Kashmir. “It is definitely result-oriented. The BJP knows that after a series of public uprisings in Kashmir in 1990, 2008 and 2010, the Center has to go for political intervention in the region. The yatra will convey a message that BJP has its strong views on Kashmir, which cannot be ignored,” said a senior journalist. The flag-hoisting is symbolic.

There is unanimity of purpose in BJP’s activism in Kashmir. The party wants complete merger of Jammu & Kashmir with the union of India, silencing the dissenting element even in the mainstream parties; and abrogation of the article 370. In his book, “My country, my life”, former deputy prime minister Lal Krishan Advani writes, “My party, first as the Bhartiya Jana Sangh and later as the BJP, has been all along opposed to Article 370. Perhaps no other issue has figured as regularly in our party resolutions, and as many times, as Jammu and Kashmir’s full integration into the Indian Union”. Advani quotes a resolution passed in Jana Sangh’s Kanpur conclave in January 1966 titled as “Abrogate Article 370”.

“Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Pakistan has aggressively occupied one-third of the state since 1947. To get that aggression vacated and secure the liberation of Pak-occupied part of the state is the duty of the government of India. …the question of the constitutional integration of the part of Jammu and Kashmir (which is in our hands) with the rest of India is a purely internal affair of India. The temporary and transitional Article 370 of the Indian constitution on the basis of which Jammu and Kashmir has a separate constitution of its own is a big hindrance in the way of such integration. It has created a psychological barrier between the people of the state and their counterparts in the rest of India, which has been exploited all these years by anti-national elements and Pak agents to the detriment of India’s vital interests. Its abrogation and application of the Indian Constitution in full to Jammu and Kashmir, is an essential prerequisite for the normalization of the situation within the state”.

Advani writes that he is amazed at the relevance of this resolution, even after 42 years. (He wrote the book in 2008).

Some analysts argue that BJP trumpets abrogation of Article 370 to gain political mileage in the Hindu belt but they have not endeavoured to scrap the vital law during their regime at the Center (1999-2004). The party could not do away with the Article because it lacked the requisite strength in the Parliament. However, it effectively grounded the National Conference’s move to restore pre-1953 position in the State. This, many analysts believe, was as lethal as the abrogation of Article 370.

Advani writes, “The nation was shocked on 26 June 2000, during the Vajpayee government’s rule in New Delhi, when the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly adopted a report of State Autonomy Commission (SAC) and asked the Center to immediately implement it. The SAC recommended the return of the constitutional situation in J&K to its pre-1953 status, by restoring to the state all subjects for governance except defence, foreign affairs, currency and communication”.

The union cabinet rejected summarily the autonomy resolution on July 4. Advani told reporters, “Its (autonomy resolution) acceptance would set the clock back and reverse the natural process of harmonizing the aspirations of the people of the state with the integrity of the nation. If the government were to accept it, it would encourage trends that will not be conducive to national unity.”

Advani sought to clarify that the issue of restoring constitutional situation in J&K to its pre-1953 status had been discussed and settled a quarter-century ago, in the 1975 accord between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah. “The agreement had clearly affirmed that provisions of the constitution of India already applied to the state of Jammu and Kashmir without adaptation or modification are unalterable,” he writes.

Advani says that on this issue he and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were firm with state’s chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah, whose party National Conference was part of NDA. Farooq’s son Omar Abdullah was the junior foreign minister in Vajpayee’s cabinet. “We advised him (Farooq) not to press for the implementation of the SAC report. Indeed, Atalji told Dr Abdullah to decide whether to continue in the NDA at the Center following the union cabinet’s rejection of the state assembly’s autonomy resolution. To his credit, Dr. Abdullah allowed the issue to lapse,” Advani says.

Analysts say that Farooq Abdullah chose to cling to power and nourish his son’s political career by compromising on the autonomy resolution. “The two-thirds majority is a dream for NC now, which can never be fulfilled. The autonomy cry of the party is bogus and unsubstantiated in the wake of Advani’s revelations and actual happenings on the ground,” said a journalist-turned-politician.

Analysts say that the NDA regime was instrumental in making inroads in the separatist camp also. During Vajpayee’s rule, separatist amalgam All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) broke the precedent to engage in a dialogue process with New Delhi. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the head of Hurriyat led a delegation of separatist leaders to meet the home minister and Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani in January 2003. Advani in his memoir narrates how he conducted parleys with the separatist leaders in presence of interlocutor NN Vohra and intelligence chiefs. The parleys did not yield anything for Hurriyat except the fragmentation of the separatist camp. “This was the prime objective of the NDA to engage separatists in meaningless dialogue. The Hurriyat has never been the same after that development,” said a leader of hardline Hurriyat Conference, which opposed the dialogue process.

The NDA government’s rejection of autonomy issue was in line with what Dr Shama Prasad Mookerjee did in 1953. Mookerjee opposed the Indian Government’s decision to grant Kashmir a special status with its own flag and prime minister, which envisaged that no one, including the President of India, could enter into Kashmir without the permission of Kashmir’s prime minister. In opposition to this decision, Mookerjee said: “Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan and Do Nishan nahi chalenge” (A single country can’t have two constitutions, two prime ministers, and two national emblems).

Mookerjee, who was a staunch supporter of India’s partition and subsequent dominance of Hindus differed with Jawahar Lal Nehru over his policies on Kashmir. To violate the permit system, he embarked on a visit to Kashmir in 1953 and observed a hunger strike to protest the law that prohibited Indian citizens from settling in Jammu & Kashmir and mandated that they carry ID cards. He was arrested on May 11 while entering J&K. After serving detention for 42 days, he died on June 23, 1953, in custody. This created a furore against Shiekh Abdullah and subsequently, coinciding with other political developments, Sheikh was expelled by Nehru on August 9, and arrested while holidaying in Gulmarg. While Farooq Abdullah maintains that Mookerjee died a natural death due to his ailments, the Sangh Parivar alleges that he was killed in custody. The death remains shrouded in mystery.

The BJP is carrying forward Mookherjee’s legacy both politically and intellectually. On June 23, 2010, when the anti-India public uprising was gaining ground in Kashmir Valley, an unprecedented seminar was organised in Srinagar by Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, headed by BJP ideologue and MP Tarun Vijay.

The seminar was held on the “martyrdom anniversary” of Mookerjee and addressed by likes of Kashmir University Vice-Chancellor Prof Riyaz Punjabi. Emboldened by organising a seminar in Kashmir, the foundation continued its programme in the Valley. In August 2010, when the public uprising was at the crescendo, the foundation conducted a tour of 60 students from Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) for interaction with top BJP ideologues and federal ministers including Home Minister P Chidambaram.

The students met with BJP President Nitin Gadkari on August 16 in New Delhi who boasted before the students that nobody on the earth can secede Kashmir from the Union of India. Even as the students posed embarrassing questions to the BJP leaders, the purpose of the visit was to create a space for India in the rebellious young generation.

Interestingly, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar carries its Kashmir operations from New Delhi. To its dismay, the party has not been able to grow potential leadership in Kashmir. Even as the Parivar has a support base in Hindu dominated pockets of Jammu province, which returns legislators to the assembly in almost every election, the party has not produced a leader of the stature. The Jammu based leaders thrive on anti-Kashmir sentiment and backing of the Sangh Parivar.

“This is the reason that BJP got 11 seats in 2008 assembly election, which was purely fought on communal issue post-2008 anti-Kashmir stir in Jammu,” said Jammu based journalist Jaan Muhammad. He said that during Amaranth land row, BJP polarised the situation in Jammu, enforced an economic blockade of Kashmir Valley and Muslim pockets of Jammu province and even attacked Muslim habitations. Leaders like Vinay Katiyar showed off weapons to raise passions against Muslims.

But, despite the leadership lacunae, the Sangh Parivar backs the Jammu based leaders to the hilt and promotes them to counter Muslim mainstream leaders from Kashmir. “I have observed that chief ministers from Kashmir have always been fearful of Sangh leaders from Jammu. They dance to their tunes,” said Abdur Rashid Kabuli, a former legislator and MP who joined BJP in 1998 and parted ways in 2002.

In Kashmir Valley, the BJP never had a support base, primarily because of Muslim dominance. Before the migration of Kashmiri Pandits, a nominal unit of the BJP was functioning in the Valley. Militants shot dead Tika Lal Taploo in Habba Kadal locality of Srinagar in early 1990, who was the provincial head of the BJP unit. For several years later, the unit was dysfunctional.

However, after 1994 when counterinsurgency led by Ikhwan began in the Valley, several counterinsurgents joined the BJP. A senior politician, who watched the developments from close quarters told Kashmir Life that Sangh Parivar was highly influential in counter-insurgency and had deep links with army commanders. “During these years, renegades, army officers and Sangh Parivar jointly acted to end militancy in Kashmir,” he said. He said that the army-Sangh nexus was later established when Lt Col Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya Singh were arrested in connection with Malegaon blasts aimed at targeting Muslims.

The BJP fielded candidates in parliamentary and assembly elections. Majority of the candidates were former militants and renegades. During the campaign in 1999 Parliamentary election, Hyder Noorani, a BJP candidate from south Kashmir’s Islamabad constituency was killed in a powerful IED blast along with his bodyguards.

The BJP also attempted to rope in influential political leaders like Abdur Rashid Kabuli and Rafiq Sadiq. Kabuli, who had an impressive record of challenging stalwarts like Shiekh Muhammad Abdullah was never accepted by the people. He eventually quit the party, in 2002, in protest against the Gujarat pogrom.

He is now editing a lesser-known weekly newspaper. He claims that he purposely joined the party at a crucial phase and nurses no regrets for his decision.

The BJP also roped in Rafiq Sadiq, the lesser-known son of former chief minister Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq, who was feeling suffocated in the Congress. One of the reasons for getting Sadiq into party fold was the relentless service done by his father to erode the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, said a senior politician. However, Rafiq’s political ambitions were not fulfilled even in the BJP. He died in oblivion in 2009.

Whether the Sangh parivar has a local address in Kashmir or not, it continues its operations in Kashmir. The unionist or separatist leadership can criticize them but they cannot afford to ignore them, said Muhammad Yasin, a political science student.

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