How beef ban could result in Jammu and Kashmir descending into violence

The stage is set for a confrontation between the people and the state, and between the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Wajahat Qazi September 20, 2015 11:12:05 IST
How beef ban could result in Jammu and Kashmir descending into violence

As the news of the ultimatum given by the state wing of the VHP has spread and sunk in amongst Kashmiris, apprehensions, worries and anxieties have begun to be voiced by people here.  The VHP ultimatum pertained to the ‘discussion’ to be held in the state Assembly about the activation of a piece of legislation dating back to the Maharaja which prohibits sale and slaughter of bovines in the state.

The  leader of the state unit of the VHP said: "If the beef ban is revoked, VHP would enforce an economic blockade in Kashmir, forcing people to starve. The people of Jammu would not tolerate it...The government will have face consequences".

Drawing a parallel with the 2008 agitation, Sharma said, "People will be forced to take to the streets and launch an agitation similar to the one in 2008 if slaughtering of bovines continued unabated in the region".

How beef ban could result in Jammu and Kashmir descending into violence

Protests in Kashmir over the beef ban. PTI image

This is as clear as a threat can be. The VHP leader’s statement comes just ahead of Eid-Al-Adha- a festival where animal sacrifice (bovines, lambs, camels) is mandatory for Muslims. It comes even as the separatist spectrum of the state’s politics, in conjunction with major religious bodies, have enjoined Kashmiris to slaughter bovines to demonstrate defiance against the activation of the legislation that prohibits it.

The stage is set for a confrontation between the people and the state, and between the people of Jammu and Kashmir. (Hindus form the majority in the Jammu division of the state, while Muslims are a majority in the Kashmir division).

The question is why have things come to such a pass?

The reasons pertain to the alliance between the BJP and the PDP- two parties that are as different as chalk and cheese, with differing and different agendas and manifestos. Inevitably, and perhaps even naturally, despite the ‘common minimum program’ agreed upon by the two parties after elections, the respective agendas of the two parties will be at odds with each other.

This is what happened in the past few months; the beef ban controversy is merely a catalyst that brought the contradictions of the alliance out in the open. The PDP, which won 28 seats, appears to have been in the alliance purely for the purposes of power and government formation. The BJP, on the other hand, appears to have had larger agendas and interests in opting for the alliance and government formation.

Each appears to have thought, or assumed, that they would make the alliance fungible and cannibalize it for their respective interests and agenda. But , as is perhaps natural in politics and alliances of opportunism, the contradictions have come to the fore and the state is now poised on the precipice of conflict and even violence.

But why did the BJP rake up of the beef ban at this point in time?

The answer is speculative but given the paucity or even non existence of alternate scenarios, be plausible. The BJP appears to have decided to consolidate its power and position in the Jammu region of the state. What better way than to strike on an issue that would be of import to peoples of both the regions of the state, albeit for different reasons.

In Kashmir, the beef ban would jar with the sensibilities of people and offend them given its Muslim character. In Jammu, the resistance to the ban would do the same given that the majority of the population there is Hindu. In  this schema, the BJP kills two birds with one stone.

Does this mean that the stage is set for the trifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir? This may not be the real reason for the BJP’s agenda. Trifurcation of the state has strategic and political consequences. By weaning off Jammu and Ladakh from Kashmir, the focus will be on Kashmir as a Muslim dominated entity overlain with ethnic undertones and overtones. This will sharpen and make powerful the separatist argument  for self determination. For these reasons, powers that be may be loathe to trifurcate the state.

But why is the BJP doing what it is doing? The reasons for the far right’s activism may be to alter the balance of power in Jammu in the party’s favour and then negotiate and even enjoy power from a position of strength.

This is as fas as the tactical and strategic aspect of the power play that is going in the state under the guise of the beef ban is concerned. But what is alarming is the potential for the states’ descent into violence and conflict and the larger impact of these on inter-group relations in the country. If the state gets caught in the crucible and vortex of conflict, the price will be paid by innocent people.

A shop keeper on the Boulevard - the scenic stretch of road that borders the Dal Lake- told me, "It will be difficult for Kashmiris in the rest of the country if there is violence here."

"But, we will also not remain silent here," he added , as his gaze wandered to a group of tourists from other parts of the country who were sauntering past.

The 'us' versus 'them' sentiment will only be heightened and innocents will feel the heat. This is the real tragedy of  Kashmir.

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