Again, A Mountain To Climb
The Amarnath Yatra has become a tool for the mainstream and separatist leadership of Kashmir and also for state government to extract maximum political mileage.
The dates for the official commencement of the annual Amarnath pilgrimage have been announced but like its past records, the yatra this year too has its own share of confrontation and disgruntle. According to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), the pilgrimage would commence from July 1 and conclude on August 24. The Shrine Board was set up in 1996 as an autonomous body, which looks after all aspects of the yatra except security since it has always been on hit-list of terrorist groups. In the past, some fatal terrorist attacks have been executed during the yatra killing dozens.
Initially, hardline Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani attempted to flare up the sentiments as he demanded that the days of the yatra should be reduced to a fortnight as according to him the heavy influx of tourists was having a drastic impact on the ecology of Kashmir. “I am not against the pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave, but the continuation of the yatra for two months is causing irreparable damage to the forest ecology in Baltal and Pahalgam areas”, he said: “The yatra period should be reduced to a reasonable length in order to save the ecology of our mountains”, the separatist leader said.
The Hurriyat leader’s comments angered Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti (SASS), which spearheaded the agitation in 2008 for restoration of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). “Geelani is trying to vitiate the atmosphere ahead of the yatra. The dates for the two-month-long pilgrimage have been fixed and there is no reason for reducing the duration. Geelani should focus on Haj rather than interfering in the religious affairs of Hindus,” Brigadier (retd) Suchet Singh, convener of SASS, said.
The firebrand PDP president Mehbooba Mufti too echoed the sentiments of Geelani and stated that while adequate and maximum facilities are a must for the pilgrims, it is also essential to restrict the yatra “in its scale and duration”. “When the entire world is in uproar due to the threats to the environment, and large-scale measures are being taken to arrest ecological degradation, Kashmir, which is abundantly blessed with nature’s wonders, is being sought to be deprived of this wealth,” she said.
“No Kashmiri is against the yatra, nor should he be. But it is important that natural resources be safeguarded along with religious beliefs. Pahalgam and Sonmarg would be irretrievably damaged in the near future, having a disastrous impact on the ecology of Kashmir,” she further said.
The Amarnath Yatra for the past several years has become the centre of a political clash in Jammu and Kashmir. During the rule of former Chief Minister Mufti Mohd Sayeed, it became the bone of contention between the ministers and legislators elected from Jammu region and those from Kashmir—each trying to impress upon their hold on the pilgrimage proceedings.
But, in 2008, the yatra witnessed one of the biggest political clashes between the Jammu and Kashmir regions, snowballing into a major controversy bringing the masses of the state against one another. It all started with the allotment of some forest land to the Shrine Board for the construction of temporary huts for the pilgrims, but the action was doubted by the Kashmir’s mainstream and separatist leadership as a ‘ploy to change the demographic structure of Muslim Kashmir’. The allotment of land was cancelled by the Amarnath Shrine Board head to dispel the Kashmiri doubts. The action however evoked sentiments in Jammu, which remained closed for over two months bringing normal life to a grinding halt seeking the revival of the order.
The current Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had faced hard times over his comments as MP in Parliament when he said: “We will not give an inch of land in Kashmir to outsiders.” The last year however was quieter, but Geelani and Mehbooba’s statements could arouse sentiments again.
IAS Topper from J&K
A Shining Example for All
There was a time when the Indian Administrative Service in Kashmir was considered to be the ‘East India Company’! Except for some brief periods during the rule of Sheikh Abdullah, most of the important administrative positions in the state have been held by the central services officers who were mostly from outside the state. These officers were considered colonial officers and they were resented by the local officers, who in some cases were more competent than the outsiders. The members of the central services played the same role as they used to play during the British rule in India when the service was called the Indian Civil Service. The British had created the service to control a vast country like India. The British inducted people from the elite class into the Civil Service to ensure the writ of the Crown ran throughout the length and breadth of the country. They created an edifice with its centre at Delhi to keep the colony as part of the empire. The Governor General administered the country through these central services.
After Independence, the Government of free India also depended upon the same colonial edifice to run the country. Only the name of the service was changed to Indian Administrative Service. Delhi continued to be the seat of absolute power and the system of governance remained virtually unchanged. Earlier the British aristocracy was running India through the Indian Civil Service and after Independence the Indian elite ran the country through Indian Administrative Service. For quite some time the service was the most sought-after and the competition to get into the service was the toughest. The brightest and the most competent opted for induction into its ranks. The prestige of the service started getting diluted after the reservation quota and the globalisation phenomenon. With the opening-up of the economy and the entry of multi-national corporations, the most sought-after area of employment for the brightest and the most competent from the elite became the corporate sector. This somehow lessened the glamour of the central services. Government Service cannot compete with the private sector, with regards to perks and compensation. The only attraction of the central services especially the administrative one is the taste of power it gives to the individual officers over the destiny of their fellow citizens. There has been politicisation of these services in recent times and the politicians have been patronising specific officers of their own choice. Frequent transfers based on political considerations have made it an annoying service in some states. Moreover, a number of retired bureaucrats have been joining different political parties which have also given a political tinge to the service.
The recent topping of the IAS selection list by Shah Faesal from Kupwara is no mean achievement. In a country of over one billion people if a young man tops the selection list of the toughest competition, it is a commendable feat. He truly deserves kudos he is getting. In the present choked atmosphere of siege in Kashmir, any achievement by a Kashmiri anywhere in the world makes a sense of pride. Over the years an impression has been created by a section of the media that Kashmiri youth are only capable of creating disruption by stone-pelting. In reality, outside India, Kashmiris have excelled in many fields. They have risen to appreciable positions in various multinational organisations. Kashmiri Muslims have been shying away from the Indian central services for two reasons. First, they have considered everything Indian to be alien. This alienation has been created by the attitude of the Kashmiri leaders especially the ones advocating azadi who have kept a distance from everything Indian. For them everything short of azadi is taboo. The other factor has been the attitude of Delhi. It has distrusted the Kashmiri Muslims. The alienation would have been less had there been sizeable representation of Kashmiri Muslims in the central services.
Shah Faesal’s feat is food for thought for everyone. The leaders of the azadi have to think about it. Their goal is not going to be diminished or diluted if they attend to all other pressing issues being faced by the common man. The induction of the elite into the Central Services during the British rule did not in any way affect the Indian freedom movement. In fact, some members of these services had been instrumental in furthering the cause of freedom. If the alienation of the youth is to end, Kashmiris have to be fully trusted. They have to be encouraged and provided facilities for competing in all central services including those connected with national security. Shah Faesal through the IAS selection has shown the way and it is for others to follow it, to demonstrate that the Kashmiris are no less talented than any one else. Given the trust and the opportunity, they have the capability to rise to the top in every sphere of activity. (IPCS)
By Mohammad Ashraf
The author is former Director General, Department of Tourism, J&K
The pilgrimage to the holy cave shrine of Lord Shiva, which houses the naturally-formed ice Shivlingam at a height of 3,880 metres in the south Kashmir Himalayas is expected to draw nearly 4,00,000 pilgrims from across the country. The devotees brave difficult terrain and weather every year to reach the holy Amarnath cave, for them, this arduous journey is possible only through faith.
Simultaneously, courting a new controversy, SASB this year has decided to impose Rs 25,000 as non-refundable security deposit and approximately Rs 15,000 as tax on goods brought from outside the state for the langar on organisations setting up community kitchens during the Amarnath Yatra. The decison has invited great criticism and is on threshold of burgeoning into yet another controversy.
Insiders say that the decision has come under pressure from Kashmiri leadership who wanted business opportunities for Kashmiris. “The Rs 25,000 fee would automatically reduce the number of free community kitchens along the pilgrimage route, resulting in better business avenues for the locals”, said a senior official involved with the yatra on the condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, Shri Amarnath Baltal Langars Organisation (SABLO) has decided to boycott the yatra against the fee. SABLO organises free community food and lodging facilities en-route for devotees visiting Amarnath. The organisation has shot off a letter to the SASB listing their grievances. “They are forcing the devotees to stay in private tents where agencies charge them heftily. The Shrine Board has even failed to provide accommodation to pilgrims. The Shrine Board instead of lending a helping hand is scuttling our noble efforts for the best reasons known to it,” said VHP state chief Ramakant Dubey.
In addition to this, the J&K government has increased the allowance of the yatri bus from Rs 300 per day to Rs 2,300 per day. Protests and demonstrations continue against the new decisions of the Shrine Board. Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) has warned of intensifying the agitation if the authorities did not withdraw their order.
BJP state president Shamsher Singh Manhas said that charging of such huge amounts from the langar parties and the buses is not less than jazia and such decisions are taken whenever the Congress joins hands with any regional party to share the power in the state. He said it was during the 2008 coalition of PDP and Congress also that the Jammu province had to agitate for complete 63 days to get restored land in favour of Shri Amarnath Shrine Board.
The principal secretary to Governor, RK Goyal, who is also CEO, SASB, has however refuted all the allegations and said all the decisions have been taken keeping in account the ground realities and anyone who has a grievance or any kind of disagreement should come forth to Board and a solution could definitely be found. All efforts to make the pilgrimage free of any violence, a multi-cordon security blanket will be thrown to thwart any terrorist plot. “Fidayeen or no fidayeen, we will ensure that the yatra takes place peacefully. If terrorits try to disturb peace, we will hunt them down,” Inspector General (Kashmir) of CRPF, PVK Reddy told a visiting group of journalists.
While the Indian Army is to man the heights to prevent any infiltration from the mountains, BSF personnel will guard the trek route. The safety of the camps put up for the pilgrims for night halts will be handled by CRPF jawans. “The idea is that even if terrorists breach one cordon, they will be checkmated by one of the remaining two,” Reddy said.
The Home Ministry is also expected to send some additional forces to the state during the yatra to augment the strength of the security personnel currently posted there. Last year, 67 companies (about 6700 personnel) of central paramilitary forces (CRPF—40 companies and BSF—27) were deployed for the yatra. Besides, the state police had deployed their own forces. With about seven weeks still to start of the pilgrimage, how the things go is anybody’s guess.
Meanwhile, members of the Hindu Jagriti Manch Punjab have warned that they would not allow the movement of buses of Jammu and Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation if the state government did not roll back the unjust increase of cess on various essential services during the Amarnath Yatra. The group has condemned the Jammu and Kashmir government for increasing the rates for increasing the cess on various services which are provided by the langar organisers to the Amarnarth Yatra pilgrims.
By Prakriiti Gupta from Jammu