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
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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