Monday, November 9, 2015

Dear Modi ! Packages cannot cover up vile agendas.

"A sum of Rs 80,000 crore is not enough to cover up the overt, totalitarian designs of the PDP & BJP"

By: Salman Nizami




Till Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi arrived on the scene, a financial package from New Delhi was always a humble gesture to reach out to the Kashmiris and listen to what they have to say. It was never a grand gala event, designed to announce to the world that “see we are so generous and we are giving fat cheques to these poor people”. As a journalist, I have covered Kashmir extensively in the past, but I do not remember a rally that had been put up to highlight a humanitarian measure. A visit by the head of the state from New Delhi was always meant to extend the message of peace and brotherhood. Peaceful protest or Shutdowns were allowed to happen in a spectacle demonstrating the spirit of democracy. But when Modi visited, everybody was caged inside their houses while a paid assembly of few state loyalists was set up to cheer the dignitary. Even the way the package was announced smacked of arrogance and superiority feeling. The Congress PMs had never resorted to such publicity gimmick. They knew people want a political resolution rather than package.
When Modi visited on 7 November, shopkeepers were driven out and asked to close down their shops. So massive was the security cover, people dared not venture out of their houses. When Modi began his speech, it was obvious from the language and demeanour of the crowd, that it had been sourced from outside. Many of them were Biharis, who are settled here. But the event was stage-managed and the world was told that Kashmiris are cheering Modi.
The truth is that people’s voice was muzzled. The million march rally planned by the separatists, which would have exposed how the ordinary Kashmiri was against Modi, was stopped coercively. Modi went on to announce a package of Rs 80,000 crore for Jammu and Kashmir. But were there any takers?  No. For, he did not utter a word against the growing intolerance in the country. He did not offer any condolence to the bereaved family of the truck drivers who were charred to death by Hindutva fringe elements. In fact, people went around protesting the BJP in the aftermath of the rally. The high-handed regime of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed did not bat an eyelid before asking the police to use extreme measures to quell them. A young boy Gowhar lost his life in the police firing on the same day.
During Congress rule, the state had witnessed tremendous development under the able leadership of Ghulam Nabi Azad. Azad too had batted to secure grants from the Centre. In fact, he had secured grants three times more than what Modi announced on Saturday. And yet, he never publicised it. Because he knew that he was not giving alms to the state. Jammu and Kashmir, like any other state, has a right on the Central funds and this must be given out to her with dignity.
The grant which Modi announced is said to be used for projects sanctioned by the UPA government, which includes the national highway projects and power projects. So basically, the BJP is patting its back for what the Congress had long envisioned. What is shocking is the fact that only a meagre Rs 8000 crore has been earmarked for the aid of flood victims, compared to Rs 44,000 crore demanded by the Congress - National Conference government.
Mufti Sayeed is already feeling the heat for having joined hands with communal forces like the BJP, which is trying to impose theocracy in the country with its controversial diktats of beef ban. He thinks he can make up for his mistake with the announcement of a package. A sum of Rs 80,000 crore is not enough to cover up the overt, totalitarian designs of the PDP and the BJP. People, especially ‘babus’ from the government sectors, may have attended the rally under duress, but they soon made their resentment known. Mufti should understand, he cannot sell the conscience of the Kashmiris to RSS the way the Maharajas had bought this territory centuries ago. We can’t give away Kashmir to brazen, fundamentalists waiting to plunder her resources. People here have given up the gun long ago and most believe in peace. It is time the PDP did something to stop the march of the RSS and its fringe groups in the valley. Else, the price will be exemplary.

How BJP fooled Ladakhis with UT status "Jumla"

By: Salman Nizami



From the time of making false promises of "Aache din" the Bharatiya Janata Party has mastered the art of political manuevers. Unlike the Congress, whose legacy runs deep into the Indian nationalist movement and also the arduous institution-building exercise in post colonial era, the saffron party has nothing to talk home about. It has, therefore, resorted to myth-building and election ‘jumlas’ as a tool to attract people. In 2014, we had a good share of these ‘jumlas’ or hoax vows. Scrapping Article 370 and instituting a uniform civil code topped the list.
Recently, it repeated the same in Ladhak. I was quite baffled with the BJP’s victory in the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh elections on 17 October. It was doubly surprising because Ladakh had returned most of the Congress candidates in the Assembly elections barely a year ago, and despite its explicit polarisation drive the BJP had bitten the dust in the region.
Besides that, the Congress has long espoused the struggle and challenges of the Ladakhis. It was during Congress regime that the LHDC was established. It was the Congress government again which had felicitated the victims of the Kargil war. From Pt Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi , Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi to Ghulam Nabi Azad all have been admired by Ladakhis. Confounded, I asked one of my colleagues how could the Congress possibly lose this election? “What is BJP famous for?” he replied with a grin. “Communalism?” I answered. “No, this time it was their jumlas.”
The colleague then explained to me how the BJP fooled the Ladakhis with the plank of a Union Territory status for them. The irony cannot be starker. The state is bound by Article 370, which accords it a special status. A UT status means this provision will have to be abrogated, which is next to impossible. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley of the BJP had clarified in Rajya Sabha sometime back that the Centre will not dilute this Constitutional arrangement. True, the BJP centred its entire campaign of the general election in 2014 on scrapping Article 370 and went on length explaining how this might benefit the state. But once they had stormed to power, they went back on their words. “It was a chunaavi jumla,” the FM announced in Parliament.
And now the theatrics are being repeated with pomp. Throughout their campaign, the BJP insisted on the Ladhakis that if its candidate was returned, the party would initiate efforts to turn Ladhak into a UT. One cannot help feel nauseated at the BJP’s lies. But then, people are vulnerable and lies told from the roof top often find buyers. The Congress, which had won 22 seats last time, was reduced to merely five seats, ending its 15 year domination of the LHDC.
One wonders how the BJP will now convince people that a UT is not conceivable. The Apex Court has already pulled down the appeal to revoke Article 370. Any state legislation too is unlikely, since the BJP’s own coalition partner in Jammu and Kashmir, the people’s Democratic Party, has made its aversion known for any alteration in the special provision.
In the heart of its heart, even the BJP knows scrapping Article 370 would spell devastation for Jammu aswell as Kashmir and Ladakh. If Article 370 is abrogated, investors would mushroom the state, edging out the local population. There will be a major setback to local traders, shopkeepers and transporters, and the ethnic Dogra, Ladakhi, Kashmiri, Gujjar and Pahari people would be forced to migrate to other places in want of a livelihood.
The BJP’s fixation with Article 370 itself is an irony. J&K’s autonomy has been eroded to a large extent through successive legislation over the decades and only a faint shadow of the special provision now remains. This shadow has to remain for some time until the Kashmiris get more economically integrated with the rest of India.
The BJP’s jumlas on UT status for Ladakh started first during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It bagged the seat on the UT plank but in the last year and a half precious little has been done to improve the situation in Ladhak. In fact, all other promises of the BJP remain unfulfilled. These include the inclusion of the Bhoti language in Schedule 8 of the Constitution, a deemed university status for the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, early completion of the tunnelling at Khardung-la, opening a route to Kailash Mansarovar via Demchok, a central university or medical college, and a Regional Advisory Council for Leh and Kargil.
Ladakh, no doubt, is a hotbed for tourists, but people who are not engaged with tourism suffer a lot. Women of Ladakh are hard-working but the opportunities are missing. There is no proper health care facility and people also lack access to clean water. There is not much awareness about education schemes available in the state. The students are not aware of the government-run scholarship programmes. In the want of good road connectivity, people cannot be rushed to hospitals in an emergency. There have been cases when people lost their infant children half way before they could reach the hospital.
The congress, no doubt, tried to connect the region and improved the health and education sectors. But the BJP shifts the political discourse from these basic issues to controversial subjects in order to win elections. Only a self-interested party like the BJP can refuse to focus on education of women, promotion of tourism, or the regional economy. The BJP has got a mandate to rule the centre as well as the state. It should keep its jumlas aside and focus on development. Fake promises cannot steer India to development. Dividing people on religious lines too is not going to take us anywhere.

RSS March in Jammu :  Torching centuries of co-existence 

By; Salman Nizami



In what seemed to be a nefarious attempt to undo the age-old communal harmony of Jammu, activists of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh took to the streets recently flaunting guns and swords that too led by the Speaker of J&K assembly and his other BJP colleagues. Whereas a peaceful  procession of Muharram had just been disrupted in the Kashmir valley, the administration turned a blind eye to this overt display of muscle-power by the Hindu far-right group. The message is loud and clear. Now that we have a coalition government of the PDP and BJP in J&K, the RSS which provides the ideological anchor to the saffron party, wants to threaten the very existence of the minorities in Jammu. This is a grim contrast for a state that has his social values steeped in the Nehruvian ideals of secularism and plurality, which also forms the bedrock of our constitution. The arrogance of the RSS, hence,  reminded me of my childhood years when the words “communalism”, “riot”, and “fundamentalism” did not form a part of our vocabulary. Even adults were immune to such feelings.
I was in the 5th standard, and very merrily living with the Hindu neighbourhoods in Jammu, a city where Muslims families could be counted in the fingers. I belong to a Punjabi family and my roots are from Pakistan. But this was never a bone of contention to anybody. I gelled well with my Hindu friends and there was no hint of alienation. During the winters, my parents had put me in a tuition centre. One day the teacher asked us to bring hand-made paintings to decorate the class. I went home and made a crayons painting of the famous Raghunath temple. The teacher was surprised and was curious to know what prompted me to draw a temple, and not a mosque. With the innocuous smile of a child I told him this was the place my Hindu friends visited so often. And I wanted to gift them a painting of their beloved place of worship.
The Hindu teacher hugged me and said that every religion indeed has the same core message: of love and humanity.  All my friends were overjoyed and they also clapped for me. Our mindset was free from religious passions then. A year later my parents put me in a Madrasa and a very similar incident happened. In one of our drawing classes, a boy had painted a temple. When one of the fellow classmates complained to the teacher about this, the Maulvi sahib scolded him and said that all places of worship must be respected and there is no harm in painting a temple or a church or a gurudwara. He further explained that faith should be in the heart and there should always be the capacity to offer respect to others’ faith. It is only when we can love somebody from a different community as our own, that we can achieve the true essence of religion.
Jammu has been a symbol of communal harmony and brotherhood since time immemorial. But, perhaps, not any longer. The RSS is making every effort to put the Hindus against the Muslims, and they are also attempting to revise the very tenet of Hinduism from one of tolerance to that of rabid inclusivity.
They sowed these seeds of hatred right in 2008 during the Amarnath Land row. It was a time of Jammu vs Kashmir, and the Muslims in Jammu for the first time felt cornered in their own homes. The right wing groups were creating a false impression that we were rejoicing the cancellation of the land granted to the shrine board. It was not true. Most households here in Jammu are apolitical. In fact politics does not form the predominant discourse when families sit at leisure and talk.
But the general bonhomie could not be muted by the radicals. A Hindu friend had come frantically to my place, enquiring if we were safe. Later, some of the Hindu and Muslim families joined hands and took out a peaceful demonstration across the town. We wanted to send out the message that even at time of this Amarnath controversy, we stood united. It was not forced. Muslims participated in this peace march voluntarily. I had told my friend back then that I will live and die in Jammu. Because if I fled, it would inadvertently mean that secularism was dead in this place. But it was very much alive back then. None of the Muslim households were torched despite the hate mongering by RSS and its allied groups.
But, the scene in Rajouri and Chenab Va─║ley is different. In these far flung areas, the right wing groups have managed to have a sway. The Muslims have come under suspicion despite the fact that we in Jammu region suffered badly during the militancy years. In the post 1990-era, the Muslims in Jammu region were targeted but they refused to join the armed conflict. The Muslim youths here stood by the nation. But their patriotism was not acknowledged by right wing groups who always incite Hindu youths to view us as “others”. Even the Kashmiri leadership ignored the Jammu Muslims. But we remained nationalist. The Hurriyat too failed to cajole us into supporting their agendas. Our Hindu brethren too showed a remarkable resistance to Hindu fringe elements.
But slowly, this culture of tolerance has begun to erode. This has happened ever since the Narendra Modi led BJP government captured power at New Delhi in 2014. During the last year’s general election, the BJP’s entire manifesto aimed at putting the Hindus against the Muslims. They opened a Pandora’s box by shouting from the roof top that they would install a Hindu chief minister in the state, revoke Article 370 and resettle refugees from West Pakistan. These issues have for long been the epicentre of debate between the two communities. But both parties have skirted discussing them in order to focus on peace and harmony. But BJP channelled people’s thoughts and sentiment toward these very contentious issues. They stormed to power, encashing the renewed Hindu sentiment and in the last one year they have left no stones unturned to keep this alive.
The rise of the Hindu fringe group is the beginning of the end of our long history of shared aspiration, shared struggle and shared values of harmony, peace and brotherhood. It is high time people see through the BJP’s tricks and denounce its politics of hate. Jammu is the confluence of varied cultures. This is one place where Dussehra, Eid Milan, Ravan Dahan, Deepawali, all have long been celebrated together, making a grand spectacle of oneness. Let the vested groups not undo our inherent social fabric.

PDP; The old bride of BJP


Dividing the electrorate on communal lines have been the hellmark of Mufti's politics 

By; Salman Nizami 



PDP's Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has always had a tacit electoral understanding with the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party, although the people of Jammu and Kashmir got a hint of it only now, after the 79-year-old joined hands with the saffron front to become the state's Chief Minister. Those in politics as well as the state's intellectuals and senior scribes were, however, not taken aback. They knew this for a fact for many years that the People's Democratic Party and its ally BJP had always chalked out their election strategies mutually to reap in benefits. They had always been more than eager to help each other to communally divide the Hindu and the Muslim votes, so that while the PDP benefited in Kashmir, BJP won handsomely in Jammu. The stalwarts of the two parties would fly down to New Delhi before every election to prepare the common blueprint behind closed doors. This common blue print would, however, be followed by underlined public posturing to appear as sworn foes and fool the public. Until the two parties succeeded in securing a rock solid majority and it was no longer pertinent to wear masks.
The PDP and BJP had formed a secret understanding way back in 2008 during the times of the infamous Amarnath row. That was a time when the state was being ruled by its very loved and dynamic leader, Ghulam Nabi Azad. Not only was Azad successful in transforming the hitherto corruption ridden, languishing state into a hub of developmental projects, he had also endeared himself to people across region and religion by his popular poverty alleviation and women's emancipation programmes, which went a long way to stabilise and normalise the lives of people here after over a decade and a half infiltration.
But Azad's popularity became a thorn in the eyes of the PDP, which was at that time, an ally of the Congress. The two parties had come together to form the government in 2002 in which no single party had secured a majority. The understanding was that the chief minister's post would be rotational with Mufti getting the chance to head the state during the first three years. Whereas Mufti's rule was mostly lacklustre, Azad was able to win back the trust of the people once he became the CM on 2 November 2005. By the summer of 2008, Azad had become arguably the state's best chief minister ever and it was being widely predicted that he would be able to secure a simple majority for the Congress on its own when the state went for election in end of 2008.
And then the Amarnath row happened. This was when the PDP decided to backstab it and covertly form an alliance with the BJP. The PDP was afraid of the Congress' might and Azad's popularity and hence it decided to fan communal sentiments of the people together with BJP. The PDP and the BJP decided that whereas the saffron front would take up massive "Bam Bam Bhole" processions in Jammu pressing for the continuation of the land transferred to Amarnath board, the PDP would work in the valley to mobilise the Muslims against it. So that, while on the one hand the BJP would become the most trusted party in Hindu dominated Jammu, the PDP would appear as the messiah of the Muslims in Kashmir. For their own selfish goals, the two parties did not even blink once to strike a near-permanent damage to J&K's long history of communal harmony. But fortunately, the Congress survived the Mufti plot and formed another coalition government with Omar Abdullah's National Conference.
PDP's evil designs were defeated but not exhausted. The party once again revived its old strategy as the state was ready for yet another Assembly election in end of 2014. A time that also witnessed a massive flood, leading to large scale displacement and casualty. The PDP once again had an arrangement with the BJP to delay Central relief, thereby aggravate people's problem, and then blame Omar government for everything. The strategy suited both PDP and BJP as this would give them a chance to corner the incumbent government of NC-Congress and raise their prospects in Kashmir and Jammu, respectively. Having done this, the two resorted to the public posturing of enmity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi blamed Mufti for family rule and pro-Kashmir policies, which he said was costing Hindu dominated Jammu. Mufti, on his part, took on the BJP for its hate politics and for its professed vow to scrap Article 370 which gives a special status to the state. The result was that Hindus flocked towards BJP in Jammu while the Muslims in Kashmir voted the PDP, believing it to be their saviour against the BJP. And the rest was history. Both parties threw away their masks to openly tell the people, "listen we bluffed you", and formed the government together. 
Even now, they are continuing with their old strategy. In order to divert attention from the administrative failures of their coalition government, the two parties have come up with beef politics. While Mufti is giving an impression that he is sternly against the ban, BJP legislators recently beat up an independent MLA inside the J&K Assembly because he had allegedly hosted a beef party. The parties are cashing on the beef strategy while the common man is paying for their sin. Two truck drivers were recently set on fire over the rumor that they had consumed bovine meat. How is such hatred going to solve the existing problems of the state. It is only going to compound them. The two drivers are fighting for their lives in AIIMS. Youth are complaining of unemployment. The public is tired of sky-rocketing prices. 
But, thankfully there is also a constituency of people who have been able to finally see through the Mufti-BJP plot. They have realised that that for these two parties, power comes first. And in their lust for power, they can push the people of J&K to even drudgery. They have realised that to ensure peace, stability and development, the Congress's secular, inclusive and progressive politics under the leadership of Ghulam Nabi Azad is the only way out. The recent victory of the Congress party in the Kargil election is an important indicator of the same.

Beef Ban in mutton loving Kashmir

"The Idea is to fill the environment with communal sentiment and then cash on it electorally"

By: Salman Nizami




The raging debate over beef, which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has very subtly ignited to win over the majority sentiment, baffles me. The ruling party may like us to believe that India is composed of two conflicting groups of people, viz., those who consume beef and those who detest such practice. But, the truth is that even among the Muslims, at least in my state Jammu and Kashmir, not many eat beef. Mutton and chicken remain the preferred non-vegetarian platter in most Muslim households. The valley as well as Jammu has never really witnessed any confrontation from the Hindus, of even a miniscule scale, over the consumption of beef.
Although I was born in a Muslim majority district in Jammu, my parents always advised me against eating beef. In fact, so grave was my parents’ aversion for beef that I would often escape going to get-togethers or marriage parties where beef had been cooked. On one occasion, when I unknowingly gulped in some beef-made snack while hanging out with friends, there was a ghastly countenance on my face. My friends were startled. They asked me, “Are you a non-Muslim?” as I quickly puked out the substance from my mouth. “Beef is allowed in our religion. Why do you then not eat it?” they questioned.
I recounted them an incident from my childhood, which had kept me away from consuming bovine meat. I was holidaying in Banihal during the summers. One day, I and my friends went out for a walk through the foothills of the surrounding mountains. I bumped against the police head of our town, shook hands with him and moved ahead. But a few steps and I overheard a vehicle carrying bovines being stopped by that officer.
The vehicle owner came out with a pensive look and told him, “Sir mere ko do nakoon pe pehle hi... Aap maaf karo (Sir, I have already paid at two check-posts. Please spare me).” But the officer did not relent. I knew he was being forced for speed-money. The vehicle was allowed to move only after the poor man dished out quite a few Gandhi notes, probably of 100s, but I could not see from a distance.
The next day, I saw the vehicle unload the animals at a market place not very far from the town-centre. Most of these bovines were rather old. Two of them were so ill, that they could hardly move. They had wounds in their body that was not covered. Flies were constantly sitting on their bleeding skin. They had to be pulled out. A local broker bought the bovines at Rs 6,000 per animal. Next day, those bovines, including the two suffering ones, were slaughtered and their meat was sold.
“This is the reason why we do not eat beef,” I told my friends. And this is the same reason why most Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir do not eat beef. Bovines in India are unhealthy. In Jammu, cows which are suffering from prolonged illness or are very old are slaughtered. Sometimes, they are sold at least a full day later after they have died. They are shifted from nakkahs in different cities and brought to Jammu. If you eat them, there is a considerable chance you may fall sick.
In India, beef is banned in many states. In J&K, it is banned since Maharaja Hari Singh’s time. Nevertheless, India tops in beef export. In fact, the government provides subsidy for this business. It has thrived as those responsible for enacting the anti-beef laws are happy collecting bribe and let things go on. I have rarely seen any beef-export smuggler getting a life imprisonment or even a much lesser sentence. There are thousands of illegal slaughter houses in India, including those in BJP-ruled states, which are flourishing. Clearly, the saffron party is not serious about stopping them. Why is then such a fuss about beef ban now?
Well, it is more of a political posturing by the BJP. The crucial Bihar Assembly elections are about to happen, and if BJP loses it, it will become evident that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s one and a half year rule has been lacklustre. BJP needs to win this poll and what better way can it think of other than mobilising the Hindus on communal lines. Beef ban is just a tool for that larger objective. The idea is to fill the environment with communal sentiment and then cash on it electorally.
They banned beef in J&K too, although there are very few shops here that sell beef openly. There is not a single slaughter house in the state for bovines. We in Jammu and Kashmir have always respected the sentiment of the other community. We have never ever made a spectacle out of beef eating as it would annoy the Hindus. We have always imposed self-regulation on ourselves. And that’s the only way, harmony could be achieved. It cannot be achieved by applying coercion over one’s choices.
Hindus living in Kashmir have been never asked to abstain from drinking alcohol or any other activity that is considered ‘haram’ for the majority Muslim community. Father of nation Mahatma Gandhi, my grandfather tells me, was himself against imposing such blanket restrictions on any community. He never encouraged people who sent him letters pressing for banning beef. He upheld the secular principles of our state which mandates that religious dogmas cannot be the guiding force for policy-making. But, as the RSS is seeking to transform our nation from Gandhi’s India to a totalitarian India, we see Dadri like brutalities happening. We are also seeing the prime minister’s grisly silence over such communal acts. But then, hatred has never conquered over love. Gandhi and the Congress party have laid the foundations of this nation on bricks made of love and brotherhood. However hard the RSS and its subscribers in Delhi may try, they will fail miserably in shaking this foundation. India’s people will themselves tell them that this foundation is unshakable.