The Amarnath Yatra may have polarised the state four years ago,but this time,people treated attempts to rake up emotions over the issue of providing better infrastructure facilities on way to the shrine with the disdain these deserve. While the bandh call given by Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani evoked little response in the Valley,protests organised by right-wing Hindu organisations in Jammu too failed to attract crowds.
It was the Supreme Court that in July set up a high-powered committee to look into the rising number of deaths of pilgrims enroute to the shrine,situated 13,500 ft above sea level,and to suggest improving facilities. This summer,86 people died on way to Amarnath. Apart from shrine board representatives,the panel comprises ministry officials as well as director generals of the BSF,CRPF and Border Roads Organisation.
The first objections that were raised were that any construction of a road to the Amarnath shrine would destroy the fragile ecology of the Himalayas. That was before the panel made any such recommendation to the Supreme Court. Separatist Hurriyat leaders took the debate to a completely new level,with Geelani seeing a government of India conspiracy in the increased influx of Amarnath pilgrims from across the country to the state. He said it was a ploy to change the demographics of the state,and to keep the security forces in Kashmir.
Apprehending 2008-like trouble,which had pushed the state to its worst ever polarisation along religious as well regional lines,the state government announced that it didnt intend to construct a road in South Kashmir Himalayas. Not surprisingly,it failed to placate the Valley-based naysayers while Hindu organisations in Jammu saw it as yet another submission by the government before Valley separatists.
If the issue died down,it was because the people in both regions now know better and treated it as little more than ill-advised political grandstanding in a troubled state.
The National Conference-Congress government can retrieve lost ground by waiting for the report by the Supreme Court-appointed panel and cohesively laying down its strategy to preserve ecology of the Himalayas rather than be swayed by proclamations from one side or the other.