First Person | Halved by Religion

The J&K elections have brought to life the once buried two-nation theory

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

A few years ago, before Jammu and Kashmir’s People’s Conference party chief Sajad Lone had started to voice his electoral desires, in an informal conversation with FORCE, he called the state of Jammu and Kashmir an artificial construct.

Nothing binds the two regions together, he had said, not quite in these words of course. We have nothing in common, not the language, culture, food or political aspirations. To be fair to the people of Jammu, he had then said, why they should be saddled with us. They don’t want azadi (freedom), we want.

What about the Muslims of the Jammu region? They don’t stand with us, he had said. Our religion may be similar, but culturally we are very different and have always been so, were his arguments. Without mincing words, he had said that ideally, Jammu and Kashmir should be two states.

Ironically, Ladakh did not figure in the discussion.

Lone is probably not the only Kashmiri whose thinking did not rise beyond the Valley. Most Kashmiris are insular, at least as far as Ladakh is concerned, with very few crossing the Zoji la. But with Jammu, almost all Kashmiris have a link. An economic link. The Kashmiris drive down to Jammu to buy their quarterly rations and the Jammu traders ply their trucks into the Valley for transportation of fruits, vegetables and condiments. This economic interdependence ensured that the ‘artificial construct’ held together as one state; even during times as difficult as the rise of militant violence.

This link was very badly frayed in the summer of 2008 primarily because opportunistic politics interfered in the traditional relationships. As protests against land acquisition by the Amarnath Trust turned violent, a few people in Jammu, with very obvious political support, enforced a blockade on National Highway 1A, the only road that connects the Valley with mainland India. The two-way blockade not only stopped the vehicles coming from the Valley into Jammu, many of them carrying the seasonal apples for the wholesale markets of Delhi, it also stopped the traffic going towards the Valley carrying everyday supplies, including medicines.

In economic terms, the loss was not great. But in psychological terms, the damage was immense. The unspeakable had been done. Either out of anger, or goaded by vested political interests, the people of Jammu had successfully boxed in the Kashmiris between the Pir Panjal and the Greater Himalayan Ranges. In ‘taken for granted’ relationship, distrust crept in.

With this background, the recent state assembly elections have thrown up interesting results. Religion has triumphed over the regional divide. Analysts say that people have voted according to their regional predilections; Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) mopping up Kashmir and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pocketing Jammu. But actually, the details are finer. The BJP had fielded Muslim candidates in those Jammu districts where Muslims were dominant. Its candidate won, for example Kalakote in Rajouri. Whereas, even in a Hindu majority district a National Conference (NC) candidate won because of his religion. If a single BJP candidate, despite being Muslim, did not win in Kashmir, it was because they were pitted against other Muslim candidates. Incidentally, demographically, Jammu has a substantial Hindu population, but not the majority. This is the reason that out of 37 seats, BJP won only 25 in Jammu.

Even at the time of writing this (first week of January), there was no clarity about who would form the government. With the BJP refusing to throw in the towel, rumours abound about talks between the former and the PDP being stuck on the issue of religion. Apparently, a majority of Kashmiri legislators, cutting across party lines, do not want a Hindu chief minister! In the past, the state accepted a chief minister from the Jammu region: Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress.

So, what does all this mean? In one word: disaster. The two-nation theory, which many within the BJP claim was buried in the battlefields of Bangladesh in 1971, has been revived in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Despite being religiously conservative, Jammu and Kashmir traditionally has not been a communal state. Even if the cross-community ties were need-based, they have mostly been tolerant, the brief interlude of killings of Kashmiri Pandits notwithstanding. Decades of exposure to terrorist violence and radical Islam exported from Pakistan, has been chipping away at the famed Sufi tolerance of Kashmir. To counter imported Islam, the Union government started injecting doses of the Barelvi version in the Valley.

Meanwhile, the BJP had been playing its own electoral cards. Having won only one seat in 2003, BJP raised its tally to 11 in 2008, riding primarily on the highly avoidable Amarnath fiasco. From there to 25 in 2014 has been a huge leap. Surely, Prime Minister Modi’s charm has had a role to play, but a damning role was also played by the Kishtwar communal violence of 2013. Both raised the Muslim bogey, consolidating the Hindu votes.

Today, such is the fear of the Hindus amongst the Valley’s legislators that even the lure of power and concomitant benefits is not tempting them to support the BJP-led government. Having closed the door on Kashmir resolution, the BJP has now divided the state along religious lines. Of course, these lines are not unbridgeable. But given the mood of the current government at the centre, these lines will only deepen. Who knows how deep the fissures will go.



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