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Commentary/Pritish Nandy

Ladakh is too innocent for bloodshed

This column is being filed from a remote part of India. Leh. Leh, in case you do not know, is in Ladakh. And Ladakh, in case you do not know, is in Kashmir.

Kashmir, as we all known, with the exception of some of the foreign television channels, is in India. Whatever maps say to the contrary. Whatever Pakistan may say in international fora. Kashmir has three parts: Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh. There is also another part, PoK. But that, as the name itself explains, is occupied by Pakistan. By force, claims India. By right, claims Pakistan.

Insurgency is a serious problem in Kashmir. Because Pakistsan funds and trains terrorists. For years, the Americans did not believe this. In fact because they did not believe this, they funded and armed the Pakistanis who (in turn) funded and armed more terrorists. It is only recently that the Americans have figured out the truth and, last week, India won a huge victory when one of the top militant groups of Kashmir was listed by the US government as a terrorist outfit. This will be a setback for the militants.

While Kashmir is where the guns boom, Jammu is where the refugee camps are. The Kashmiri Pandits have repeatedly drawn international attention to Jammu, where many of their brethren are living in camps for years. Having fled from Kashmir, where their homes and property have been grabbed by militants.

Ladakh - the third part -- is entirely laidback, tension free. A gorgeous country, innocent and unspoilt. It is a Buddhist stronghold and the Dalai Lama has an ashram out here. If you have the time you must come here.

What am I doing in Ladakh? Leh, to be precise. I have come with Farooq Abdullah who has taken time off from celebrating the first year of civilian government in Kashmir to address a new campaign launched by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Sindhu Darshan is yet another BJP yatra trying to grow the great Hindu dream. Curiously, the yatra is hyped as part of the 50 years of Independence celebrations. The celebrations logo is on all its posters, banners, leaflets to confirm the impression that this is part of the national celebrations calendar. Actually, it is not. It is a BJP affair. Smart thinking by Sahib Singh, chief minister of Delhi, who has organised it.

Sindhu Darshan has not yet grabbed the masses because no one knows that the Indus flows through Ladakh. Sindhu. Hence Sindhu Darshan. Hence the arrival of the BJP in Buddhist Ladakh in Leh.

The river looks more like a stream. A gurgling little brook next to which stands a monstrous dais with the BJP banner fluttering from two ugly iron rods. On one end of the banner is a portrait of the Buddha. On the other, Sindhu Mata. The party logo shares prominence with the 50 years celebrations logo. The speeches are also clever. They are patriotic and Hindu at the same time, cannily blurring the dividing line between religious and cultural evangelism.

Between India and Indus civilisation. Between Sindhu and Hindu. Between Mother India and the River Goddess. It is what marketing people call image transference. Selling by association. Like Pepsi and Reebok do. After hijacking religion and patriotism, the BJP is now trying to hijack history and civilisation as well.

Lal Kishinchand Advani is here. Not because he is a Sindhi. Nor because he is the icon of the party's strident Hindu -- read Sindhu --posturing. He is here because he is the aggressive, revivalist face of the BJP. Just as Vajpayee is the good guy, the softie. Advani builds up the momentum to the elections through his yatras, the highstrung histrionics of Hindu evangelism whereas Vajpayee basks in the platitudes of mainstream politics and appeals to a entirely different constituency. Advani drives emotions. Vajpayee is the quiet voice of the compromise and understanding. Together, they make a lethal combination.

There is dissonance, as rumours want us to believe. Just clever media manipulation to keep everyone off guard. That is why, even as the Congress and the JD, the RJD and the BSP hog headlines by virtue of their silly antics, it is the BJP that quietly and dangerously grows stronger and stronger, attracting people -- often talented, intelligent, decent people -- across the nation. For being Janus-faced, it offers each one what he wants to see.

For those seeking Hinduism in strong doses, you have the VHP and Bajrang Dal axis. For those yearning for nationalism, it showcases the RSS. For other wanting to be part of modern, secular, mainstream India, it offers you Jaswant Singh, R V Pandit. For those nostalgic for royalty, the Rajmata Scindia. For corporate India, you have Pramod Mahajan who knows the language of deal makers and business patronage. For those who believe in high ideals, they have on display Nanaji Deshmukh. It is the one party that can boast of support from both Dhirubhai Ambani and Nusli Wadia.

Watching the master showman Farooq Abdullah perform on stage for them, delivering a powerful and emotionally charged plea for religious tolerance, amuses me. As it amuses me to watch the innocent people of Leh clap each time. Advani quotes from Nehru and then turns the quotation on its head.

Every speech is followed by Vande Mataram and a handful BJP guys raising slogan for Sindhu Mata. Then they dip their filthy feet into the pristine river and wipe them dry with torn pieces of plastic which are left behind in the water, to strangle the stream. I am concerned, I am concerned not just for ecological reasons but because I know exactly what they are up to. What they are saying and what they actually mean.

I know how their moles in the media will quietly increase the figures of attendance, and people all over India will come to eventually believe that thousands of people were at the Sindh Darshan though I can barely count a dozen BJP activists. All of whom look as if they have been ferried across from Delhi. The rest were curious locals herded together. Farooq, of course, has his own agenda. He wants to keep everyone guessing what he is up to.

But my fear is simple. One day, I fear, like in Ayodhya, the lie will outlive the reality and this magic land of Buddha, where the mountains change colour every time the sun shifts -- from green to orange to purple to suddenly blazing gold at midday -- may become yet another political battlefield where religion will divide people, create dissonance, change cultures, rewrite history, falsify our past. In the name of truth, patriotism, faith.

It would be a very sad day if this happens. Ladakh is too beautiful, too innocent for bloodshed and pain.

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Pritish Nandy

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