BOOK EXCERPT: Mass upsurge in Jammu - 2
by Hari Om on 07 Jun 2010 2 Comments

[T]he BJP was the first to react to the opposition in Kashmir to the land transfer order. On June 18, 2008, the state unit of BJP denounced Deputy Chief Minister Muzzaffar Hussain Beig for his stand on the issue and asked the Congress in general and Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in particular to sever all kinds of ties with the PDP and stop work on the Mughal road. The BJP spokesman said that the “construction and reopening of Mughal road would not only pose a real danger to wildlife and harm bio-diversity, but would also help the protagonists of Greater Kashmir comprising the Muslim Kashmir and the Muslim-majority areas of Jammu and Ladakh to achieve what they couldn’t during the last sixty years”. It told the Congress that “late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her security advisors had put their foot down saying the construction of the Mughal road would help Pakistan establish its control over the Poonch-Rajouri areas” (Kashmir Times, June 19, 2008).


A very significant development took place on June 20. That day, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani, stood solidly behind Governor Sinha and declared in Srinagar that the “problem” was within the State Government and not with the Governor. “I do not see why the Shrine Board set up in respect of the Vaishno Devi (in Jammu) should be given all kinds of facilities and Shrine Board relating to Amarnath in the Valley should not be given similar facilities”, asked L.K. Advani. At the same time, he appealed that the pilgrimage should not be “dragged into any controversy…” (Greater Kashmir, June 21, 2008).


On June 22, state BJP president, Ashok Khajuria, said that Muzzaffar Hussain Beig had incited “communal passions” by making an outrageous statement against Governor Lt. Gen. S.K. Sinha and his Principal Secretary. He described the PDP leader’s statement as a deliberate move to “communalize the atmosphere across the state” and warned that the people of Jammu will observe a complete shutdown and resort to “economic blockade” in case they refused to abandon the path of confrontation (Kashmir Times, June 23, 2008). The threat of economic blockade was repeated by the BJP on June 25. It also asked the Congress to break all its ties with the PDP saying such an approach had become absolutely imperative in view of the fact that the “PDP has not only vitiated the Amarnath yatra, but it is also opposing almost every step of the government for vote-bank politics and polarizing the state on communal lines” (Indian Express, June 26, 2008). Four days later (June 29), Ashok Khajuria once again declared that the BJP had made up its mind to enforce economic blockade and declared that Jammu shall observe a complete hartal on June 30 (Dainik Jagran, June 30, 2008). Jammu observed a complete shutdown on June 30. The BJP cadres and others clashed with police at several places and blocked the capital city’s main roads.


On the other hand, the BJP high command made its intentions public by stating that it would make optimum use of the Amarnath land issue during the general elections. In fact, on June 30, L.K. Advani declared in Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh) that the “Amarnath Shrine Board-related land matter would be a chief issue in the next general elections”. He did not utter a single word against or in support of the threatened economic blockade, although it and the reaction against it in Kashmir had been widely reported between June 23 and June 29. (L.K. Advani was there in Bhopal to release the Hindi version of his autobiography Mera Desh Mera Jeevan (My Country My Life.) He spoke extensively on the land issue and stated that the decision of the State Government was “communal” and that it was not just the PDP which had opposed the decision, but the Congress was also against the “allotment” (Daily Excelsior, July 1, 2008).


The reaction of BJP national president, Rajnath Singh, and vice-president, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, was no different. While Rajnath Singh decided on June 30 to convene a meeting of office-bearers to review the situation arising out of the “recent developments” in Kashmir and prepare an “action plan” following the State Government’s “U-turn…”, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi asked the Union Government and the State Government the same day “not to succumb to the machinations of anti-national and anti-Indian forces…” (Ibid). Like L.K. Advani, Rajnath Singh and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi also did not say anything about the threatened economic blockade. … …


The statements of L.K. Advani, Rajnath Singh and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi only demonstrated that the BJP had seen in the row over Amarnath land an invaluable opportunity which, if exploited, could enable it to beat its political rivals in the general elections and regain power at the centre. Earlier, it had adopted a similar line on the Ayodhya issue to expand its constituency and come to power in Delhi in 1998. It is an altogether a different story that the BJP did nothing between 1998 and April 2009 to help the VHP construct a “magnificent Ram temple” at Ayodhya. It was for the first time after eleven years that the BJP thought it necessary to incorporate Ayodhya in its 2009 election manifesto. The reasons are not far to seek. The most notable one was vote-bank politics and nothing else. Indeed, one of the factors which led to the defeat of BJP in the 2004 general elections was the people’s realization that it was not really committed to its core ideology and that it had simply exploited the Ram temple issue for electoral gains. 


It needs to be underlined that the BJP was not really committed to enforcing economic blockade. It turned out to be a mere rhetoric as it took no step whatsoever in this regard. However, the threat of economic blockade electrified the situation in Kashmir and evoked very strong reactions. ...  …


Formation of Sangharsh Samiti


… the most significant development which took place between June 18 and 30 was the formation of a Sangharsh Samiti, about which the people came to know only on July 1. The formation of the Sangharsh Samiti was the brain-child of the RSS and the BJP, though several other saffron groups, all affiliated to or created by the RSS, were part of the process. What led to the formation of the Sangharsh Samiti was the opinion of the RSS, the BJP, the VHP, the BD and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) that the BJP, which played an important role in mass mobilization by addressing press conferences, issuing press statements and organizing demonstrations at different places between June 22 and 28, neither have the required capacity nor the required support-base and strength for taking the agitation to a logical conclusion. All these formations were of the view that only a “non-political platform” would be acceptable to the people and that to allow the BJP alone to spearhead the movement any longer against the authorities would be to ensure the collapse of the agitation.


All this transpired in an emergency meeting of representatives of the various Hindu organizations, held on June 29 at 10 am at Ved Mandir, Jammu… convened by RSS Pranatiya Pracharak Arun Kumar to discuss the situation arising out of the June 28-29 Governor’s communication to the State Government and chalk out a strategy aimed at defeating the authorities’ decision to take back from the Shrine Board the Baltal land. The prominent among those who participated in the meeting included Arun Kumar; BJP state president, Ashok Khajuria; member national executive and former BJP president, Nirmal Singh; BJP general secretary and RSS Pracharak, Ajay Jamwal; VHP president, Rama Kant Dubey, former VHP president, Tilak Raj Sharma; in-charge RSS-sponsored Purv Sainik Parishad (PSP), Brigadier Suchet Singh; the RSS-controlled Sanatan Dharm Sabha (SDS) president, Dharni Dhar Sharma; former co-chairperson of the RSS-sponsored Jammu State Morcha (JSM), Romesh Sabbarwal; and ABVP organizing secretary, Shrihari…


It was in this meeting that a decision was taken to form what they called a “non-political” body, which would be charged with the responsibility of spearheading the land-restoration-movement. It was styled “Shri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti (SAYSS)… It was also decided in the meeting that the BJP would neither rake up any political issue during the course of agitation, nor would it organize any demonstration on its own… the BJP would extend its support to the SAYSS from outside... Later on, a senior RSS functionary, Ashok Kaul, and former Minister of State in the Union Cabinet and BJP leader, Chaman Lal Gupta, also became members of this decision-making core group. The meetings of this core group were held at the “safe” Ved Mandir at regular intervals. The venue remained the same throughout.  


Leela Karan Sharma, an advocate by profession and a pledged RSS follower, was made convener of the SAYSS. Not because he was an established leader, but because he would follow instructions without any reservation. He had no constituency of his own. Nor was he ever known for his oratory or clarity on issues or for any role in public life. His role was simply to lead the agitation. In due course of time the SAYSS established its branches in almost all the towns, particularly in the Hindu-majority area, mostly headed by the RSS, the BD and the VHP activists. The objective was to ensure implementation of the decisions of the SAYSS.


The real actors, who would actually work behind the scene and guide Leela Karan Sharma (who had not attended the June 29 Ved Mandir meeting) and his team, were some top RSS and BJP leaders, Pranatiya Pracharak Arun Kumar; Kshetriya Pracharak Dineshji and BJP national general secretaries Arun Jaitley and Ram Lal included. It can be said without any hesitation that Jhandewalan and 11 Ashoka Road, Delhi, were the real decision-makers and Leela Karan Sharma no more than a makhota (mask)...


The strategy worked out in the June 29 meeting to make the SAYSS broad-based and enlist the support of the masses clicked. On June 30, Leela Karan Sharma, at the behest of the core committee, convened a meeting of representatives of various organizations at the Jammu’s Geeta Bhawan, a RSS-controlled building, to enlist their support and ascertain their views on the Amarnath land issue. Besides several members of the core committee, the meeting was attended by representatives of several Jammu-based social, religious and marginal political groups…


It was here that a formal announcement regarding the formation of the SAYSS was made. The announcement was made, along with a call for 72-hour-long Jammu shutdown, a plea for unity among Hindus across the country (Indian Express, July 3, 2008) and three specific demands – restore the Baltal land to the Shrine Board, recall Governor N.N. Vohra and dismiss the Congress-led government (Daily Excelsior, July 1, 2008)… That the efforts of the SAYSS had produced the desired result became quite evident when the people observed a complete three day hartal. There was no coercion. The people’s participation was voluntary.


Those who took part in the meeting on June 30 became members of the general house of the SAYSS… For the first few days, it was up to the convener of the SAYSS and his team and the core group to call or not to call meeting of the general house. Things changed particularly after July 23, which made it incumbent on the part of the SAYSS leadership to hold general house meeting everyday at 5 pm. It became a regular feature. The venue (GB) remained unchanged. When the movement became very strong and popular after July 23, when Kuldip Verma of Bishnah committed suicide at Parade Ground, Jammu, in reaction to the Omar Abdullah’s July 22 statement in the Parliament that “we will not give an inch of land to the Shrine Board”, the real forces behind the agitation decided to constitute one more core group. (Omar Abdullah was applauded by everyone sitting on the treasury benches, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. This turned out to be an additional cause of provocation.) The formation of a broad-based core group had become necessary because after June 23 almost all the Jammu-based organizations representing various interests and segments of society had become constituents of the SAYSS.


This was a 33-member core group. Convener of this group was Leela Karan Sharma... The composition and complexion of the 32-member core group shows that as many as 20 of its members belonged to the RSS family.


Most of the members of the 32-member core group, like a vast majority of members of the general house, also did not know if another core group existed. The role of this core group was similar to that of the general house... to endorse the decisions taken by the other core group, which was under the complete control of its Delhi-based masters. The broad-based core group would meet at regular intervals and endorse all the decisions taken by the smaller core group after some discussion. Thereafter, the SAYSS leadership would go to the general house, place before it the decisions already taken by the broad-based core group and obtain its consent which would again be not a very difficult task because most of the members of the broad-based core groups were also members of the general house. This was the line the SAYSS pursued all through, notwithstanding the fact that on several occasions certain radical young and impatient members did raise their fingers against certain decisions. They wanted the samiti to adopt all kinds of means to achieve the goal.


The moral of the story is that there were practically three core groups. One, which was all-powerful and based in Delhi, the other operated from Ved Mandir and the third broad-based core group functioned from Geeta Bhawan and on certain occasions from Ved Mandir. It can be said that the SAYSS took no decision except in consultation with the Delhi-based RSS and BJP leaders as well as Dineshji and Arun Kumar.


The activities of the SAYSS were closely monitored by the RSS. The RSS headquarters at Nagpur and Jhandewalan assigned the task to Kshetriya Pracharak Dineshji and also sent to Jammu the ABVP national secretary, Romesh Pappa, to coordinate things. Dineshji visited Jammu at regular intervals. When the agitation was at its peak, he remained stationed in Jammu for nearly two weeks, During his visits, meetings of the smaller and the real core group would be organized … at the residence of Chaman Lal Gupta. On occasions, Dineshji would direct the BJP not to react to the statements of the separatists or the opponents of agitation. When the agitation was at its zenith, he asked the BJP to stop holding press conferences – a direction the BJP accepted but with considerable reluctance...


Problems of SAYSS


Though the SAYSS was successful in enlisting the support of the already rather willing people, it faced some serious problems. It was intellectually ill-equipped… Leela Karan Sharma was not able to articulate things. The single-point agenda of the SAYSS was to compel the government to give back to the Shrine Board the Baltal land. It had no mandate to rake up the issue of discrimination against Jammu or make any political statement. But the office-bearers of the SAYSS, including Leela Karan Sharma, created confusion umpteen times by going beyond the confines of the declared mandate…


The failure of Leela Karan Sharma and his team of office-bearers compelled the small core group to think in terms of nominating certain persons with a clear vision as spokespersons of the Samiti... They suggested that Leela Karan Sharma, who had bungled several times, should be debarred from going to the local TV channels and meeting the press, and that persons like Ajay Chrungoo and Agnishekhar of the PK and RL Bhat of the JKVM should be requested to perform the job. Their argument was that they were not only good orators, but also persons with a clear vision. But their suggestion was apparently overlooked. Instead, Leela Karan Sharma appointed Narinder Singh and Rajinder Mishra (university teachers), KK Khosa (known for his very soft attitude towards the APHC) and Jitendra Singh (doctor-cum-columnist) as spokespersons of the samiti. Obviously, he made this selection with the consent of the RSS top brass.


While Narinder Singh performed his job well, Rajinder Mishra and KK Khosa played havoc...


The other problem was gross indiscipline and urge of the representatives of the RSS-affiliated constituents of the SAYSS for stealing the show and hoodwinking and humiliating others… On Independence Day, the SAYSS was to boycott the official function and organize its own (one hundred) functions across Jammu region at all district and tehsil headquarters. The samiti leadership had assigned the task of hoisting the national flag at stipulated place and time to heads of the various constituents much in advance so that the functions were well-organized. But to the surprise of most of the non-RSS constituents, the flag hoisting ceremony took place before the stipulated time. The BJP, in particular, did not come up to the expectations. The hoisting of national flag by certain BJP leaders before the stipulated time led to heart-burning...


Three phases of movement

Second phase


There are reasons to believe that certain anti-movement elements and a section of the business community might have motivated sections of people to resume normal activities. The curfew was lifted from all the trouble-spots only on July 9 after the SAYSS abruptly called off strike on July 8. Leela Karan Sharma described the fall of the Ghulam Nabi Azad-led government as a “victory for the Jammu people”, saying “it was one of our demands”. However, it is interesting to note that Leela Karan Sharma, while expressing happiness over the fall of the government, had also said that the strike will continue on July 9 as “48-hour extension will expire” that day (Daily Excelsior, July 8, 2008).


Calling off the 8-day-long bandh on July 8, Leela Karan Sharma also said that the SAYSS had taken this step “keeping in view the hardships being faced by the common people, compounded by the curfew imposed by the state administration”. He told media persons that “bandh is not the only solution, for the agitation has acquired a bigger dimension. The fight now would take a vigorous course, if the pending two demands – dismissal of Governor and independence of the Shrine Board – are not met” (Hindustan Times, July 9, 2008). Besides, he announced that a “massive demonstration will be held in front of the Raj Bhawan tomorrow” (July 9), where “the government will be served a seven-day ultimatum for conceding other two demands, failing which the next phase of agitation will start” (Daily Excelsior, July 9, 2008).


However, it needs to be noted that there were certain samiti constituents which were not in favour of calling off the strike. The Shiv Sena Jammu and Kashmir was one such constituent. There were heated exchanges between the SAYSS leaders and representatives of the Shiv Sena. The Shiv Sena leaders were of the view that “until the agitation reaches a logical conclusion, lifting the bandh would amount to deceiving the sentiments of the people, who are ready to stand by the cause for any number of days”. The SAYSS convener did try his best to convince the “agitating mob”, but failed as the protesting Shiv Sena president and his supporters walked out of the meeting. Thereafter, Leela Karan Sharma and BJP president Ashok Khajuria “held a closed-door meet for half an hour”. After the meeting, Leela Karan Sharma told media persons that the government was using its “touts” with a view to “subverting the agitation” (Hindustan Times, July 9, 2008). The meeting between the SAYSS convener and the BJP president was a proof that both these organizations were working in tandem, notwithstanding some differences here and there. The Bar Association Jammu (BAJ) members, who had played a very important role in mobilizing and educating public opinion, too, felt deeply hurt. The samiti also came under fire from the People’s Revolutionary Movement (PRM) for calling off the strike.


Third phase


… No one had imagined that any person would ever take an extreme step and end his life by consuming some poisonous substance. This had, unlike Tamil Nadu and some other states of the country, never happened in Jammu. This was for the first time that one hunger striker, Kuldip Verma of Bishnah (a jeweler by profession), committed suicide in front of the Brahmin Sabha and took this extreme step to register his anger against Omar Abdullah and the Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre. Kuldip Verma reached the venue of hunger strike at noon, sat there for a few minutes and left the venue. But he again returned after sometime. When some electronic media persons reached the venue for coverage of the hunger strike, Kuldip Verma suddenly stood up from his place and started reciting a poem, he himself had written. He began with “Bigul baj raha hai andolan ka” (Indian Express, July 24, 2008). Soon after the poem recital, he fell down and collapsed. He had committed suicide by consuming poison. The samiti members immediately took him to the Jammu Medical College, where the doctors declared him as brought dead. In the meantime, the Sub-Divisional Police Officer, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Bakshi Nagar, Mohan Lal Kaith, recovered a suicide note and poem from the pocket of Kuldip Verma. The suicide note, among other things, said: “He had given up his life in protest against what Omar Abdullah said and motivate the people of Jammu to launch a relentless campaign so that the land was restored to the Shrine Board”. The suicide note also revealed that he was not happy with the mode of agitation.


The samiti members brought the dead body of Kuldip Verma to the venue of hunger strike. The news of his death, described by the SAYSS as “martyrdom”, spread like wildfire in no time. The result was that hundreds of people, including samiti leaders like Leela Karan Sharma and Brigadier Suchet Singh, reached the spot. The situation near the venue and several other areas in the city soon turned extremely volatile, with the agitated younger people burning tyres and raising slogans against N.N. Vohra, Omar Abdullah, Mufti Mohammad Mohammad Syed, Mehbooba Mufti and local Congress leaders. Hundreds of people also marched on the city roads and held protest demonstrations at all the busy crossings of the city, thus disrupting normal activities.


After some time, certain persons, who claimed that they were the family members of Kuldip Verma, took the dead body to the Government Medical College mortuary in a police gypsy. This episode further aggravated the already rather tense situation. The samiti members accused the police and civil administration of hatching a conspiracy, in collaboration with the anti-movement elements, and said that the Governor’s administration was trying to hush up the matter. However, it is true that none of the samiti members, including BJP leader Chaman Lal Gupta, resisted the shifting of the deceased from the venue of death to the medical college. This action of the samiti members further angered the people, who questioned the role of the former. In the meantime, the activists of the various organizations reached the Medical College. The family members of Kuldip Verma, including his wife, Shilpi Verma and two small children, too, had reached the hospital by then. They got dumbfounded when they came to know that autopsy had already been conducted by a board of doctors in the presence of magistrate without the permission of the family members (Dainik Jagran; Daily Excelsior; Amar Ujala, July 24, 2008).


However, the developments during the intervening night of July 23 and 24 and the subsequent developments in Bishnah changed the whole scenario. What the people saw around 2.30 am at Parade was the inhuman and barbarous face of the state police. A large number of policemen, led by Mohan Lal Kaith, reached Parade Ground and started beating mercilessly not only the samiti leaders, including Brigadier Suchet Singh, but also the family members of Kuldip Verma. They also did not spare the few media persons who had reached there to cover the police brutalities on the mourning people. An elderly woman, who was mourning the death of Kuldip Verma there, too, faced the police wrath. The game-plan of the police was to shift the body to some “undisclosed location” and cremate it. The samiti members and the members of the deceased family tried their best to “overpower the policemen” but failed. The extent of the police cruelty could be determined from the fact that they “forcibly dragged the dead body of Kuldip and shifted it to the police vehicle before heading towards Bishnah, 22 kms from Jammu” (The Pioneer, New Delhi, July 25).


The police action crossed all the limits on July 24 at 4.30 am, when the “senior police officers” made a “desperate” attempt to “perform the rites” of the deceased “against the wishes of his family members” (Ibid) using “tyres, “kerosene oil and liquor”. (Hindu scriptures do not recommend cremation in the night)…


Between July 1 and July 23 and July 24 and August 31, a total of 10 persons lost their lives (five in police and military firing at Samba {4} and Kathua {1}); two persons committed suicide (Kuldip Verma in Jammu and Balwant Khajuriya in Hiranagar); seven persons in different parts of Jammu attempted suicide; two persons lost their eye sight; at least three persons became physically invalid; a total of 300 FIRs relating to violence and other incidents during the agitation registered; 150 police personnel and 2000 civilians sustained injuries, three of whom were airlifted to the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Chandigarh; Jourian Police Station and Lakhanpur Toll Plaza completely were burnt down and destroyed and the Panjtirthi Police Station damaged extensively; and majority of the police stations were converted into “Satsangh Ghars” (prayer houses) by women and children and remained under the control of the demonstrators between August 18 and 20.


On August 15, for the first time in 60 years, the people across the Jammu region, barring a few Muslim-majority towns, boycotted the official Independence Day celebrations and participated in the celebrations organized by the SAYSS at more than forty places in the province. The main function was held at Mubarak Mandi complex, the erstwhile seat of power of the Dogra dynasty, Jammu. Approximately 40,000 people, including women and children and persons from all walks of life, braving heavy rainfall gathered at Mubarak Mandi for the Independence Day celebrations. …


Excerpted from Chapter 2 of Conflicting Perceptions, by Prof. Hari Om, Yak Publishing Channel, Jammu, 2009 [Pages 417; Price: 975/-]

User Comments Post a Comment
Comments are free. However, comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate material will be removed from the site. Readers may report abuse at
Post a Comment

Back to Top