Raising the bar for what is acceptable as a secular democracy
The chickens, or should one say cows, are coming home to roost. The marriage of convenience that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had contracted to form the government in Jammu and Kashmir has become the proverbial fishbone in the PDP’s throat which can neither be spitted out nor swallowed.
The most recent crisis to hit the PDP government (PDP is the face of the government, at least in the Valley) is the bovine brouhaha. The most unfortunate part in this saga is that it reflects deliberate mischief on the part of the BJP and utter slothfulness on the part of the PDP. In the bargain, both have hammered in yet another nail in the cross of persecution that an average Kashmiri believes he/ she carries.
Here is the brief history of the events. In 1932, Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of the state of Jammu and Kashmir imposed a ban on slaughter, sale and consumption of cows in deference to the Hindu belief that holds them sacred, despite the fact that the majority in the state did not believe that cow was sacred. However, post-Independence, the implementation of the ban became lackadaisical with the successive state governments ignoring stray instances of cow slaughter in the state. Despite this, beef-eating, even in the Muslim-dominated Valley, never became part of the Kashmiri cuisine, which relied heavily on goats.
Yet, in 2014, when the Omar Abdullah government was in the last year of its tumultuous reign, a Jammu-based lawyer, Parimoksh Seth, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Jammu bench of Jammu and Kashmir high court, urging the court to ensure that the 1932 ban was implemented stringently. Incidentally, Seth’s father Onkar Seth heads Jammu State Morcha, an affiliate of the BJP, which has been urging statehood for Jammu.
The court asked the Abdullah government to give evidence of the steps it had taken to ensure that the ban was not violated. Obviously, the government had taken no such steps, because, let’s face it, this was a non-issue. The government did not take the PIL seriously, leaving the Damocles’ sword hanging for the next government.
Oblivious to the PIL, PDP, on possible urging of the BJP, appointed Seth as deputy advocate general of the state earlier this year. Eventually, when the court’s notice landed in its lap, it tried to persuade Seth to withdraw the PIL. Seth refused to do so. The government then relied on additional advocate general Vishal Sharma to carry forth its arguments in the court. No coincidence that his father Leela Karan Sharma spearheaded the 2008 Amarnath land row agitation and was instrumental in imposing the blockade on the national highway disrupting supplies to the Valley. The Mufti government belatedly realised the black hole it had been pushed into and sacked the duo after the Jammu high court ordered the state government on September 9 to ensure that the 1932 ban was strictly enforced with punitive action taken against the violators.
Sure enough, the Valley erupted in protest. The trademark Friday stone-pelting became more vicious, with Separatist leaders urging people to go ahead and slaughter hapless cows on Eid-ul-Zuha (when the ceremonial sacrifice is made), which was falling on a Friday. Sensing trouble ahead, especially after two consecutive Fridays gave a taste of what could be expected on Eid, the government banned internet services in the state for about five days, to prevent circulation of images of slaughtered cows.
Meanwhile, another PIL was recently filed in the Srinagar bench of the high court, which urged the government to review the 83-year-old ban. Caught between the two high courts, Mufti government has now approached the Supreme Court, rendering the matter sub judice.
But people on the street do not understand the concept of sub judice. What they understand is that once again the Indian government is trying to impose its writ on them. Probably, the majority of young Kashmiri weren’t even aware of the beef ban; they just took absence of beef as part of their cuisine. Now, when the ban has been made public, especially by the efforts of the party known for its hard-line attitude towards Kashmir resolution, there will be more people trying to violate it, thereby leading to unnecessary violence. Kashmir’s history shows that all it takes is a rumour to spiral things out of control.
Why has the BJP allowed this to happen? Is it hoping that another economic blockade, as threatened by Leela Karan, would create conditions for the partition of the state along religious lines, thereby accruing electoral benefits for it? Nothing could be more tragic for the country than BJP remaining in election mode in the state that is an international dispute and the primary cause of discord between India and Pakistan; especially now when China is breathing down Kashmir, both through Northern Areas and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
My suspicion is that this is typical BJP-cum-RSS hit and run formula. The Parivar and its frequently mutating affiliates raise contentious issues to see how far they can push their agenda of majoritarianism. When the protests become too loud or when the courts intervene, they beat a tactical retreat. Else, a new normal is created, legitimising greater intolerance.
While India can absorb these blows, Kashmir may just hit back, a bit too strongly for national security and integrity.