Meanwhile, in Jammu, an all-party protest: Cong, NC, PDP join the crowd

5 August 2008
The Indian Express
Arun Sharma

Jammu: Cong, NC, PDP join the crowd Jammu, August 5 As all parties meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tomorrow in Delhi to find a way to douse the flames in J&K, there will be many red faces around the table. For, as the protests in Jammu gather steam, they are also picking up people from the Congress, BJP, PDP and the National Conference. Such blurring of political lines has made the Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti — the conglomerate of over three dozen pro-Hindu organisations that started the protest over the cancellation of the land transfer order — call it a “people’s movement.” And a forum to “vent pent-up feelings of discrimination over the last 60 years,” says its chief Leela Karn Sharma. Consider the following • Former state secretary of Congress Pankaj Dogra has organised a langar for protesters at Kalibari near Kathua, while former Congress MLA Girdhari Lal Chalotra led a procession at Hiranagar. Although he said he was with the Congress, he announced his support to the agitation. • Former Congress MLA Sham Lal even visited Sangarsh Samiti leaders at Geeta Bhawan along with his supporters to extend his support to their agitation. • Jammu Bar Association president B S Salathia, who is one of the persons behind the continued agitation, is a known Congress supporter. On July 8, when the Sangarsh Samiti had suspended its bandh for a week, Salathia was critical of the decision. • Surinder Singh Fouji resigned as PDP’s Udhampur district president along with all office-bearers and they are now actively participating in processions taken out by local Sangarsh Samiti. • Former MLA of Jammu Kashmir National Panthers Party Balwant Singh Mankotia is also taking out separate processions in Udhampur over the issue. • Surinder Shingari, National Conference corporator in Jammu, resigned from the party and joined the protesters a few days ago. • “Traders and industrialists are suffering losses, people don’t have essential commodities. There is no cash with banks and ATMs closed but everybody is supporting the agitation,” said former Congress MLA Raman Bhalla. • Says NCP state president and former minister Thakur Randhir Singh “This is a mass movement involving all communities.” Sangharsh Samiti leaders claim that if these politicians switching over is an indication of the general sentiment in Jammu, it also reflects the mood on the street. Evidence of this, they say, are the disparate groups, not visibly led by any political leader, hitting the streets to cries of Bum Bum Bholey. These include torchlight processions where marchers are galvanised by neighbourhood associations and women and children beating utensils and singing bhajans. In many neighbourhoods, people are seen helping each other share essential commodities. What is more disturbing, say officials, are groups that blockade roads, attack security personnel and participate in violence and arson. Many in the administration say that people from outside the state have come here to coordinate the protests and often fan them as well. Visitors have included firebrand Hindutva icon Sadhvi Rithambara and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharati. Local BJP and VHP leaders claim that Rithambara had come to launch the Buddha Amarnath yatra to Poonch but the administration says she was scheduled to address rallies at Parade Ground and Bishnah town, where the situation was already tense following the death of a local youth in the protests. She was immediately taken into custody and sent back to Delhi in view of the ban imposed by the District Magistrate on her entry into Jammu. Similarly, Bharati, who arrived here en route to the Amarnath shrine, addressed public rallies at Udhampur and Chenani before being sent back to Delhi by the administration. “It cannot be a coincidence that Bharati and Rithambara, who are bitterly opposed to each other, reach Jammu the same day to address rallies,” said an official. The state police apprehended nearly 50 people from the Aggarwal Mahasabha at Jammu on Friday, a day before the visit of Rithambara and Bharati. On being questioned, they said they had come from Madhya Pradesh to participate in a “pro-Amarnath” rally. “However, all of them were taken into custody and sent to their state,” said a senior police officer. There were attempts by “Balidani jathas” of the Shiv Sena from Punjab to enter Jammu during the first phase of the agitation early last month. However, they, too, were pushed back from Lakhanpur itself.