Jammu fires spread, Cong reaches out to BJP: help us defuse crisis

3 August 2008
The Indian Express
Suman Jha& Neeraj Santoshi

New Delhi: With the violent protests against the order scrapping transfer of forest land to the Amarnath shrine board spreading to new areas of the Jammu region — after Jammu and Samba, curfew had to be imposed in Udhampur Rajouri and Bhaderwah — the Congress leadership, despite the bitterness over the trust-vote in Parliament, reached out to the BJP today, seeking its help in defusing the situation there. Following up on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting with BJP leader L K Advani on the Jammu flare-up, Congress president Sonia Gandhi telephoned BJP chief Rajnath Singh today while Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil called up Advani who was away in Pune to attend Sadhu Vaswani’s birthday celebrations. Patil, who was present during the PM-Advani talks, later spoke to BJP’s Arun Jaitley who was in Jammu on Saturday. Gandhi’s call to Rajnath Singh lasted five minutes and was made around 7.30 pm, said BJP leaders. “The Congress president wanted the BJP’s help in controlling the Jammu situation. I told Soniaji that the Union Government must come up with some concrete proposals, in keeping with the agitating people’s demands. I have never seen this kind of anger against the Government, being witnessed in Jammu today,” BJP president Rajnath Singh told The Indian Express. Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed said “Soniaji told the BJP president that the no political party should politicise the issue of Amaranth shrine land, and all parties should work together to restore peace in the state. The government is trying its best to come to an amicable solution, but nobody should try to take advantage of the tense situation there.” Patil’s talks with Advani, too, are believed to be a follow-up move after the PM-Advani talks. In their July 31 meeting, Advani is believed to have told the PM that the restoration of land to the Amarnath shrine board alone could help bring the situation under control. The Congress is also trying to activate back-room channels with the BJP. Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad is believed to have spoken to Jaitley in the past few days. Some Congress leaders have apparently told the BJP that they could at best expect see an increase in their tally by “five-seven” seats but the “state might have to pay a huge price in form of an unbridgeable chasm between Jammu and the Valley”. The BJP has one member in the state Assembly. The BJP interlocutors have, in turn, told the Congress that they have not “fully understood” the extent of the people’s anger against the move to revoke the land transfer to the Amarnath board. While a handful of former Congress legislators have expressed their support for the Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti, some BJP leaders also see a “Ramjanmabhoomi-kind of passion” in the people’s anger in Jammu. Curfew had to be imposed in Udhampur, Rajouri and Bhaderwah towns today following violent clashes and apprehension of communal trouble. Authorities sealed the offices of two dailies and blocked transmission of programmes by two local TV channels. Despite the curfew and presence of troops, people came out on the roads to protest. There were clashes between troops and protesters in many parts of Jammu where the bandh has been extended till August 8. In Rajouri and Udhampur, the situation turned volatile after several people were injured in clashes. The Army staged a flag-march. Jammu and Samba districts remained under curfew. Protesters burnt tyres and placed trees and boulders on roads. Stones were hurled at securitymen, forcing them to fire teargas shells. Police had to fire rubber bullets in Janipur to disperse a mob. Dy SP S K Arora was roughed up by protesters at Digaina while the office of a local TV channel was being sealed. In the evening, people held a protest rally in Talab Tilloo. In Samba town, women and children joined the protests on the streets. The Army had to be called in and people were warned that they must leave because troops had shoot-at-sight orders. Declaring that their agitation would be intensified, Amaranth Sangarsh Samiti convener Leela Karan Sharma said they had decided to extend the Jammu bandh by five more days. Sharma said they had sent their demands in writing to the Governor and were awaiting a response.