Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Appeasement is never good for a nation

Lalit Koul | August 06, 2008 | 15:48 IST

10,000 forest trees are chopped down to build the Mughal road in
Kashmir. No one makes a noise.
Acres of land in the Kashmir valley are given to install mobile phone
towers. No one screams.

Acres and acres of land in the Kashmir valley are allotted to lay
sewage and drinking water pipes. No one objects.

But when 40 hectares of uninhabitable land is handed over to the Shri
Amarnath Shrine Board to provide better facilities to the Amarnath
Yatra pilgrims, all hell breaks loose.

Why? Because the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board caters to Hindu pilgrims
who want to visit the Amarnath shrine in the valley of Kashmir. It is
as simple as that.

Politically correct politicians, policy-makers and administrators
might try to tell you that it is not about religion, but the fact of
the matter is that it is all about religion. It is a design by
communal forces within the valley to completely Islamicise the valley
by removing every symbol of Hinduism and other faiths from the valley.

Today, these communal forces are preventing the setting up of
facilities for the yatra, tomorrow they will even go to the extent of
banning the yatra altogether.

The land transfer fiasco has already consumed the Ghulam Nabi Azad-led
Congress government and is on its way to now adversely damage the
state's economy. The fear psychosis has already resulted in a sharp
decline of tourists to the valley. Counter-strikes and bandhs
announced by the pro-land-transfer parties within the Jammu province
have paralysed the life in that part of the state as well.

So far it has been a win-lose situation in favour of communal forces
in the valley.

Let us take a hard look at the arguments presented by the locals who
opposed the transfer of land:

1. The allotment would have adversely affected the environment around
the area. One wonders where these tree-hugging environmentalists were
when the same government allowed the felling of 10,000 forest trees to
build the 89 km-long Mughal road.

40 hectares of land that was going to be used to provide temporary
shelters and night-time facilities to pilgrims was in fact going to
help in proper maintenance of the current day waste that actually
pollutes the environment. But who can argue with senseless politicians
who instigate people to come out on the streets?

2. The allotment is the government's ploy to settle Hindus from
outside the state to change the demographics of the valley. Look, who
is talking! One has to only go back 18 years in the history and check
who changed the demographics of the valley.

Islamic terrorists changed the demographics of the valley by
ethnically cleansing Kashmiri Hindus from the valley. I wonder where
these we-do-not-want-to-change-demographics-folks were when Kashmiri
Hindus were slaughtered and the valley's demographics were altered.

One would like to ask a few questions: a. Is 40 hectares of land
enough to settle so many Hindus that it would change the demographics
of the valley?

b. By putting this argument of demographic change, are the valley's
Muslims implying that Hindus are not welcome in the valley anymore?
And I do not mean the Hindus from outside Kashmir. I mean the Hindus
from the state of Jammu & Kashmir itself.

What if the Hindus, who hold the state subject certificate of J&K
state and are legally allowed to purchase land in any part of the
state want to purchase land in the area around the Holy Amarnath? Are
the valley's Muslims saying that those Hindus cannot buy the land
there and settle down? Is that what they are implying? Are they trying
to protect the environment by preventing the Hindus from settling in
the valley?

Another argument Kashmiri Muslims present is that the land cannot be
allotted to the Shrine Board because Article 370 does not allow anyone
outside of J&K to own land. Their argument is that since the J&K
governor is the chairman of the board and he is an outsider, this
transfer of land is illegal.

How dumb does one have to be to understand that the land is
transferred to the Shrine Board which is an institution based in the
state of J&K and created by the J&K government. The land is not
transferred to the chairman or the CEO of the board per se.

Having touched upon the outlandish arguments of those who oppose the
allotment of land, let us look at some facts and the real story:

It was during the first three years of the Mufti Mohammad
Sayeed-Ghulam Nabi Azad coalition government that the original
proposal of land transfer was initiated and cleared. It was under
Mufti Sayeed's leadership that his forest minister Qazi Mohammad Afzal
and law minister Muzzafar Hussain Baig originally cleared the
proposal. It just so happened that due to red tape, the proposal was
finally approved by the cabinet when Azad had taken over as chief
minister during the second three-year part of the six-year term.

The same PDP led by Mufti Sayeed was originally okay with this
proposal. But as soon as the PDP smelt that terrorist outfits like the
Hizbul Mujahideen were not in favour of the allotment of land and
realised that it could become a polarising issue to whip up sentiments
to garner votes in the upcoming assembly election, it backtracked.

Since it is an election year, the National Conference and other
smaller political parties would not let the PDP cash in on this
opportunity alone. They jumped into the fray and whipped up sentiments
by fooling the local Kashmiri Muslims. And that leaves the Congress.
How could the Congress not try to cash in on this polarising issue in
an election year?

Azad did not waste any time and revoked his cabinet's decision to
appease the Kashmiri Muslim vote bank. He did not just stop there. In
addition to revoking his own order, he also effectively disbanded the
Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. Now that is some level of appeasement!
That is the real story behind the story.

It is an issue created by Mufti Sayeed to polarise the vote banks. It
is his design of playing politics with the religious sentiments of
lakhs of Hindus from all over the country.

Now that we know the real story behind the story, how about the Hindu
pilgrims who want to visit the shrine and what about their fundamental
rights to practice their religion with complete security, dignity and

Isn't it a shame that Hindus living in India, where 80 per cent of
population is Hindu, cannot freely visit the shrine and expect better
facilities? It is only in India that the majority community has to
make all the sacrifices in favour of minorities because our
politicians believe in appeasing Muslims at the cost of Hindus.

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah on a television debate on
this issue asked why there is a need for land and new facilities when
the pilgrimage has been going on for many years.

Does Omar Abdullah mean to say that there is no need to improve the
facilities provided during the treacherous pilgrimage? Is he implying
that if the yatris were okay for so many hundred years, then why
change and improve the facilities?

I have never heard him say such things with regards to the Haj
pilgrimage. Every year Muslims from Kashmir and the rest of the
country want better facilities and subsidies for Haj pilgrims. But
when it comes to providing better facilities to Shri Amarnath
pilgrims, it becomes a sore point for Kashmiri Muslims and their

Heavy rains, snowstorms, landslides and hostile environment took away
256 lives during the yatra in 1996. And Omar Abdullah has the audacity
to promote the status quo!

Some of you might argue that it was not the valley's Muslims, but the
political parties and terrorists who opposed the land transfer order
and forced people to come out on the streets.

I can buy that argument, but that does not absolve the valley's people
from their responsibility? They cannot always support these
fundamentalist forces and then at the same time claim innocence.

They did the same in 1989 and in the early 1990s when they either
stood as mute spectators or as vocal supporters while Kashmiri Hindus
were ethnically cleansed. As a good citizen, it is incumbent upon them
to raise their voice against these dreaded forces and stop this

If they sincerely believe in peace, then they need to stand up and
reject these terrorist outfits and their masters. Conversely, if they
don't, then they are as much party to the madness as the principals
and thus need to be held accountable.

Appeasement policies are never good for a nation, particularly for a
nation like India that is so diverse in ethnicity and culture. Whether
it is amending the Constitution during the Shah Bano case, releasing
terrorists during the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping case, freeing dreaded
terrorists during the IC-814 hijacking or continuing the temporary
Constitutional provision of Article 370, all such policies will one
day result in the nation's doom.

It is incumbent upon the leaders of the nation as well as the
citizenry to be on guard and not allow such appeasement policies to
take effect in a nation that is based on the concept of secularism,
democracy and fairness to one and all.

Lalit Koul is the President, Indo-American Kashmir Forum, a US-based
advocacy group. He can be reached at

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