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'J&K unrest is the handiwork of politicians'
Krishnakumar P and Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
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August 11, 2008 22:23 IST

As the police jeep turned into Residency Road near Srinagar's [Images] city centre, Mohammed Asadullah Mir let out a sigh. "It's curfew," he sighed as the jeep passed him, two armed policemen jutting out from the back, guns pointed straight ahead on the road.

"Please return to your houses. Curfew has been imposed. Please do not venture out. Return to your houses immediately," a loudspeaker on top of the jeep warns. Two more jeeps and a truck full of armed personnel followed. "This is just like the time before last year," Mir said.

                                    Hurriyat leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz killed

There was already a curfew like situation from Monday morning.

The fruit growers of the Valley had called for trucks to march to Muzzafarabad and had called the people to come out in support of the march. Anticipating trouble, the administration had increased security. But the measures were not enough as the march turned violent and resulted in the death of at least five people, including Hurriyat leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz.

                             All party delegation on Amarnath fails to reach consensus           

News of Aziz's death was what turned a curfew-like situation into a curfew.

"These politicians," Mir glowered, hands on hips and loathing in his eyes. "Things were becoming better. The flow of tourists increased. And there was real chance that lasting peace would return. But then they can't do business when things are normal, can they?"

                                'We are determined to take our trucks through PoK'     

Like Mir, the first reaction of the most people in Srinagar is to lament the snatching away of their short-lived return to normalcy. They had tasted life without the constant fear of violence and also the benefits of a rejuvenated tourism industry.

"All the rooms in our hotel were booked from August till the end of November. Almost every one of those bookings have been cancelled after the violence broke out," Ghulam [Images] Nabi, an employee at a leading hotel in town, said.

                                    Jammu is not for burning

Just as the first reaction of the man on the street is unanimous, there are no two opinions when it comes to identifying the culprit who caused this deterioration: the government.

Jammu has a problem with the revocation of the diversion of 40 hectares to be used for erecting temporary structures. Kashmir's problem is the initial order diverting the land itself.

                                    Jammu's Hindu uprising

"Why did the government have to give land to shrine board? Hasn't the yatra been going on without such a move? They wanted to start something and they used this," Nabi said.

When I tell him that the land was not to be sold or given permanently, he is not convinced. The man on the street doesn't want to understand the nuances that set 'allocation', 'selling' or 'diversion' apart. 

                                            In Jammu, a tangled tale is written in blood

Professor Noor Amar Baba of the Political Science Department at the Kashmir University said there is a reason why there is confusion in the understanding of the issue by the common man.

"The previous governor's administration made certain aggressive comments about the land. And land is a very, very sensitive issue in Kashmir. There is a basic insecurity when it comes to land. Under Article 370, no outsiders or non-Kashmiris can buy land. So, for the local, anything to do with control of land is very important. The diversion of land to the shrine board unfortunately led to a perception that soon the Hindutva forces will thrust their ideology on the Valley and then gain control of the region," he said.

                                            Pakistan flays 'excessive use of force' in J&K

The professor added that if the Kashmiri is living with a feeling of insecurity -- it is not entirely without reason.

"People have been witness to the yatra for several years. Sadhus and people from all over the country would come and worship and go back. But about five-six years ago, the atmosphere became politicised. The state started interfering. People also saw the Hindutva forces gradually become increasingly unsympathetic towards the common Kashmiri local. This created an atmosphere of mistrust in the minds of the locals," he said.

                                             Pilgrims deserve better

Whatever the level of understanding of the local population, it is tough to find fault with their logic.

"The yatra was going on peacefully. Why did they bring in the land issue? If, as you are saying, it is only for temporary structures, hasn't the administration been providing facilities? Wouldn't it continue to do so? Just where did the issue of title to the land come in?" asked Nabi.

                                           'We didn't anticipate this reaction'  

While this is their grouse against the ruling class, they are at a loss for words when the topic moves to Jammu and the agitation there.

For one, the Kashmiris see the blocking of the national highway as a blow below the belt.
"Even during the time when militancy was at its peak, we did not have any problem in taking our produce to the rest of India. We didn't even have fertilisers then. We were under constant threats, but this route was never disrupted. But today, when I see the highway blocked, my blood boils. How could those people do this?" asked Ghulam Rasool, the leader of the Kashmir Fruit growers association, hours before he led the disastrous march to Muzzafarabad.

                                           Amarnath impasse: Parties call for dialogue

The two regions have always been close to each other and the blocking of the highway and the alleged economic blockade of the Valley is unbelievable, the Kashmiris say.

"Leaving aside politics � the hardliners here and the right wing parties in Jammu � there was always cordial people-to-people relations between the two people. The Dogra people always held the Kashmiri people closer to their hearts and the Kashmiri Pandits are always held in high esteem by the people of Kashmir," Professor Baba said.

                                       Unrest continues in Kashmir

M Ashraf, a columnist in the Valley daily Greater Kashmir, wrote: "Tourism, which was badly-hit in the valley during militancy, was sustained by Jammu travel agents who organised package tours to destinations in Kashmir for the pilgrims who came to Vaishnodevi and Katra. To bolster the confidence of the tourists, Hindu taxi drivers from Jammu risked their lives to ferry them to Pahalgam and Gulmarg."

                                          Srinagar erupts in violence

So, even as they are smarting from the blockade of the highway that has choked them of essential supplies, they are not blaming their compatriots from Jammu. Yet. Instead, they feel that Hindutva forces from outside are fueling the fire. This is due to reports that various saffron outfits are leading the agitation in Jammu.

"We are told people from other states have come there are and are spearheading the agitation. So, on either side, it is the work of the politicians. The people have nothing to do with this," Mir said.

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