Even as Jammu and Kishtwar districts continued to simmer with anger over the communal clash that took place in Kishtwar town on the day of Id, curfew remained in place on Tuesday in the two districts though it was relaxed for a few hours in other areas of the Jammu division.
With Independence Day coming up on Thursday and the tension in Muslim-dominated areas, usually seen around this time in the State, authorities are unlikely to lift the curfew in Kishtwar. It has emerged as a communal flashpoint in the State ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha election and the political machinations that triggered the riot are set to get sharper.
On Tuesday, Hindus led by the BJP boycotted a peace meeting called by the district administration. The RSS-controlled Sanatan Dharamsala in the town issued instructions saying that Hindus irrespective of political affiliations would not talk to the district administrations. Sunil Sharma of the BJP, who contested the last Assembly election from Kishtwar, told The Hindu: “The State government is victimising Hindus and when the Minister of State for Home himself is involved, how can we trust this government? We will discuss peace only if a Central minister from Delhi comes to talk to us.” On Monday, police fired tear gas shells and lathicharged Hindu protesters in several parts of the town.
Though the National Conference — led by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah — and the BJP are accusing each other of fomenting trouble, the role of both the parties has come into question. Minister of State for Home and NCMLA from Kishtwar, Sajjad Ahmed Kichloo, resigned from the Cabinet on Monday, but there was no word yet on how and who ‘looted’ arms from a house in Kishtwar owned by the Minister’s family.
Official sources told The Hindu that neither were the rioters — who took away rifles and ammunition from the shop — identified nor the rifles recovered. “There is a question mark on his [Mr. Kichloo’s] role in the riot and it is now for the judicial inquiry to ascertain the truth,” said a top officer.
At 10.30 a.m. when the first clash took place, the Deputy Commissioner told his superiors in Jammu that the incident was not very serious and would be controlled. It is now known that there was a lull in the rioting at that time because the Muslim protesters that broke away from the Chowgam ground — where Id prayers were taking place — to clash with Hindus, went home to arm themselves with petrol bottles, axes and other weapons. From then till the Army entered the town around 3p.m., Mr. Kichloo and top district officials were holed up in the dak bungalow with about 200 security personnel. So great was the confusion that when Director General of Police Ashok Prasad and other senior officials landed by helicopter late in the afternoon, there was no one to brief them. Even the army columns twiddled their thumbs for almost two hours because the army officers were not given any instructions by the district administration.
The inaction, Kishtwar residents say, was deliberate as the administration was quite aware of communal tensions brewing in the town, and cannot take refuge behind the excuse that it was taken unawares. According to the latest assessment by the district administration, done for the purpose of giving compensation, 68 shops, seven houses and four hotels were burnt.
Heads in the State police, meanwhile, have started rolling.The government has already removed the Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police. The new Deputy Commissioner is Baseer Ahmed Khan, a highly controversial officer who was allegedly involved in the Gulmarg land scam and was removed as DC Srinagar after the Jammu and Kashmir High Court held in March that a “person facing serious charges of corruption” could not be permitted to be posted in the State capital. Riyaz Ahmed Zargar, a civil society activist in Kishtwar, said: “People here are wondering why someone like him has been posted in this sensitive district, under these circumstances. The new SSP Sanjay Kotwal is also from nearby Bhadarwah. It would have been better if the government had posted neutral officers from other areas at this time.”
If the NC is on the back foot because of misgovernance and corruption, the spectacular gains made by the BJP in the 2008 election, when the party won 11 seats, has considerably eroded. The Hindu population in Jammu region voted for the BJP in large numbers in 2008, but eight out of the 11 legislators betrayed the trust by supporting the NC-Congress combine in the 2011 election to the Legislative Council. The party had to expel those eight legislators for cross-voting. Udhampur-based activist Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed said: “We can see that both the NC and the BJP have lost ground in the State and the only way they can get votes is to communally polarise the population. Both parties benefited electorally from the 2008 Amarnath agitation and attempts to reignite those passions are amply visible now.”