Former Jammu and Kashmir minister Lal Singh Chaudhary, who had once called Bharatiya Janata Party leaders "imposters" and "thieves of highest order" before joining the party in 2014, has been making controversial statements of late to evoke negative sentiments in the people of Jammu against Kashmiri Muslims. Even losing his ministry after participating in a rally to support one of the accused in the Kathua rape and murder case did not push him to mend his communal ways.
On Saturday, Chaudhary took his divisive ways to another level by warning Kashmiri journalists to learn lessons from the assassination of Rising Kashmir editor Shujaat Bukhari. In a veiled threat, he warned that those who do not learn from Bukhari's murder could meet the same fate.
"What is wrong with what I said?" Chaudhary asked. "There is a section of press in Kashmir that has been glorifying militants. Whenever a militant is killed, they write that he was going to college, studying in some university, was so much educated, etc. They hold India responsible for him becoming a terrorist. How is India responsible? They (Kashmiri journalists) glorify militants and their lives. How can we tolerate that."
The 59-year-old was a minister in the Congress-Peoples Democratic Party coalition government in 2002-2008. Even then, he would often use abusive language against BJP leaders. A three-minute video in which he can be seen using obscene words against BJP leaders and calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi names went viral two years ago. The Dogra leader left the Congress after the party denied him a ticket in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
"I was trying to advise them to look at the situation and the violent attacks on journalists in Kashmir," he said. "Those who glorify terrorists are killed. Those who support terrorists should understand that they (militants) killed the journalist (Shujaat Bukhari). They need to draw a line. You cannot glorify terrorists and anti-nationals."
In a strong criticism, the Editors Guild of India on Monday condemned Chaudhary's threat to journalists in Kashmir and demanded that governor NN Vohra take action against the BJP lawmaker. However, this would need the consent of Speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly Nirmal Singh, who is a member of the saffron party. The Kashmir Editors Guild had also demanded that the governor take action against Chaudhary, but its appeal fell on deaf ears.
"Such a warning not only betrays Chaudhary's deep disregard for the role of a free press in a democracy, it also encourages physical attacks on journalists in the sensitive state and elsewhere in the country," a spokesperson for the Editors Guild of India said in a statement, demanding that the governor take note of the "incitement to violence against journalists" and initiate necessary action against Chaudhary.
Polarising politics and a powerful shield
Surprisingly, the Jammu and Kashmir Police has yet to take any action against Chaudhary for his hateful statements, especially his open threat to journalists. There are rumours that he has the blessing of the "high command" to keep the Jammu region on the boil ahead of the 2019 General Elections.
Chaudhary said he was not afraid of anyone, including his party members, when it came to saving the "pride of the Dogras" and "saving Jammu" — his bases to polarise the Hindu heartland of Jammu and Kashmir.
Srinagar-based journalist Jehangir Ali said it was quite possible that the BJP leader had a "powerful hand" behind his "communal and despicable politics". "Why else would the party tolerate the former minister, who has been embroiled in controversies because of which the BJP has had to eat a humble pie on many occasions?" he said. "He seems to be reading from the script prepared for Jammu ahead of the General Elections."
The bogey of discrimination has driven a wedge between the three regions of the state — Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Playing their divisive politics, politicians have exploited these false claims to create an atmosphere of uncertainty among people, and Chaudhary has been acting no differently.
"I will soon organise a rally demanding an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the Rasana case because the government was led by a Muslim chief minister (Mehbooba Mufti) who was Kashmir-centric and whose administration did not do justice to the Jammu region," he said, echoing the remarks made by BJP president Amit Shah during his rally in Jammu on 23 June, when he had accused the PDP of discriminating against Jammu and Ladakh.
Is it then the BJP chief who is encouraging Chaudhary to poison the sentiments of the people of Jammu towards Kashmiris? That the saffron party will use politics of hatred to keep a hold of its vote bank is not something new. That this is the approach being used in a sensitive state like Jammu and Kashmit puts the idea of democracy, and the whole country, under threat. Chaudhary must be stopped before he does any more damage in the state.
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Updated Date: Jun 26, 2018 14:11 PM