In his Independence Day speech,Chief Minister Omar Abdullah looked for a reason behind the hyped up response to Kishtwar violence and found an answer in the larger issue of disconnect between Kashmir and New Delhi. While few can dispute Omars words,the problem has always been his timing. The CM chooses to speak his mind about how things stand only in a crisis.
In 2010,when the situation in the Valley was out of control,he had said that Kashmir had acceded and not merged with India and questioned the way New Delhi has demolished that agreement with Kashmir. That 2010 speech had its intended political impact in Kashmir and gave his government a window to temporarily calm tempers soon after a brutal repression of the summer agitation.
This time again,though the speech was addressed towards New Delhi,especially the BJPs national leadership who had turned Kishtwar violence into a major issue,Omars true audience was his own constituency. He knows his government buckled down before the BJP demands and sacrificed a minister though facts on the ground are yet to be investigated. He knows that this type of show of accountability has never happened even when incidents of much bigger magnitude have hit Kashmir.
What he cant escape though is that the Kishtwar flare-up was waiting to happen,and that it will recur unless the Omar government takes measures beyond crisis management. The entire Jammu region has been a tinderbox since the 2008 Amarnath land row sharpened communal schism. The governments response,on the other hand,has been abysmal. After an uneasy calm was achieved,the government didnt pursue even cases of murder such as a truck driver from Srinagar being burnt alive,or two policemen being lynched to death in Jammu.
The presence of the village defence committees is another provocation. The VDCs were set up during peak militancy to provide security to villagers from militants. In most areas,these armed groups have lost their purpose because there are hardly any militants left. While Omar has been seeking to reduce Army presence,his government maintains 26,567 VDC members in Jammu and Leh. The composition of the VDCs is a recipe for disaster. In Kishtwar district,among 3,287 VDC members,3,174 (96.56 per cent) are Hindus. In Doda district,of the 6,521 VDC members,5,874 (90.08%) are Hindus.
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Besides,there are serious allegations that the administration across Jammu division is split along communal lines and the decisions to post officers to sensitive places are taken under popular compulsion.
If the growing communal chasm in J&K has to be bridged,the CM needs a comprehensive plan,including disbanding the VDCs and taking serious action against those involved in communal violence and fanning communal passions. The situation will not change unless there is a serious process of reconciliation. That is Omars challenge and responsibility.
Muzamil is an associate editor based in Delhi firstname.lastname@example.org