(Article written in 2010)
The Government of Jammu & Kashmir didn’t stop at revoking the land allotment. It actually affected status quo ante by taking over the Yatra arrangements from the Amarnath Shrine Board and placing them under the Tourism Ministry. This issue, which is tantamount to literally dismantling the Shrine Board, has somehow been completely ignored by the country.
It is sad that by taking back the land allocated to the Shrine Board the J&K Government has completely surrendered before the Jehadi forces. It is clear to the entire nation that the Shrine Board wanted that land to provide some improved facilities for the pilgrims during the two months of the Yatra. It is a tragedy that pilgrims embarking on such an important pilgrimage had to use open pits as toilets with jute sheets separating them. The effort by the Board in the last couple of years to build prefab sheds and toilets with proper arrangements for hygiene are laudable.
In view of the fact that these facilities had to be dismantled every year involving unnecessary expenditure the Board approached the State Government in 2005 with a request for transferring the land on lease basis to the Board so that those prefab structures can remain there and can be used every year during the Yatra time. The State Government sat on the request for three years. Finally the State Cabinet approved land lease in 2008. Law Minister Muzaffar Beig and Tourism Minister Quaza, both from the PDP, were a party to this decision.
However a huge controversy was kicked off. The Jehadis entered the scene with absurd arguments that it was a Israel-type conspiracy to settle Hindus and change the demography of the Valley. Baltal is a place which is covered by snow and under constant threat of avalanches for almost 8 months in a year. Moreover, the only permanent thing that the Board thought of constructing there was a 3-feet high wall to protect the prefab sheds from the snow slides. In any case the State has a reprehensible law that prohibits non-State subjects from settling down in its territory. More than 2 lakh Hindus, who migrated to J&K at the time of Partition, still don’t have citizenship rights in that State whereas their fellow-travellers like Gujral, Manmohan Singh and Advani became Prime Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers of the country. How can any Hindu go and settle at Baltal, thus affecting “demographic change” in such a scenario?
Forest land argument too is equally specious. Hundreds of acres of forest lands were freely granted for many civic purposes like erection of electricity towers, telephone towers, construction of schools and hotels and even construction of Golf courses for the fun of biggies like Farooq Abdullah. In fact the Shrine Board was granted land on the condition that it would put up two trees for each tree uprooted from the land. In any case how can replacing open pits with prefab toilets be called environmental hazard?
It is pretty clear that all the arguments against the allocation of the land to the Shrine Board are hollow. And that is what makes the entire episode murkier. What prompted the State Government to take back not only the land but also the entire Yatra arrangements and confining the Shrine Board’s authority to performing rituals at the shrine? It is understood that pressure was mounted from Delhi on the State Government to not just take over the land but actually take over the entire pilgrimage. Surprisingly, why is the country silent over this dangerous move and talking only about taking back the land?
It is now becoming clear that the Jehadis are out to destroy symbols of Indian nation in the State completely. What better way is there to do it by destroying two most potent Hindu shrines – Amarnath and Vaishno Devi!
Amarnath and Vaishno Devi are two main pilgrimages that attract millions of Hindus from all over the country and abroad to J&K. They are one of the major bonds the rest of India has with that State. It is this bond that the Jehadis want to destroy. We must not forget that the Jehadis have tasted blood.
Amarnath and Vaishno Devi pilgrimage has become increasingly popular and successful ever since they came under the management of independent Boards. Credit should go to Governors Jagmohan and Lt. Gen Sinha. In fact the very fact that the Amarnath Shrine Board started building prefab structures and was ready to get land on lease spending crores rupees is in itself an indication of how successful the Board has been.
Similarly the Vaishno Devi Board too has become hugely successful in the last several years. These Boards have good income too. The Vaishno Devi Board has started a University in Katra and is in the process of setting up a big Cancer Hospital. All these things have made these Boards very popular too.
It is this success, and the money that perhaps became intolerable for the Jehadis. The argument of the Jehadis that the Amaranth Yatra was being run even when there was no Board is a clear message that they don’t want the Board. Going by the same logic it can be argued that we don’t need Hajj Houses anywhere in India. But the Hindu psyche is different from that of the Jehadis.
It is a pity that the Chief Minister, who got his Cabinet sanction land to the Amarnath Shrine Board, now singing a different tune and arguing that the Tourism department is better placed to conduct the Yatra than the Board. With this success the Jehadis would step up their campaign for the removal of the Vaishno Devi Board also. There is no dearth of secular Jehadis in media and intelligentsia who would be more than happy to toe this line and insist that a secular Government has no business to patronise Hindu Boards. The clamour will soon begin, first to remove Governor from the post of the Chairman of the Board and then to gradually dismantle it.
It is necessary to understand this Jehadi game plan whose ultimate objective is to finish off the vibrant symbols of Indian nationalism in J&K – the Amarnath and the Vaishno Devi.