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Mainstream, VOL LV No 31 New Delhi July 22, 2017

Pilgrim’s Progress

Saturday 22 July 2017, by Kuldip Nayar

When terrorists attack from the front, it means that they are not afraid of the conse-quences. The story of counterattack to kill seven pilgrims, returning from the Amarnath Yatra in Kashmir, is somewhat similar. The Lashkar-e-Toiba did not hesitate to taking on the police or the Army as if the terrorists knew that the counter-challenge would fall short of their resolve to harm the security forces accom-panying the yatra.

The Lashkar is a possibility, particularly when it has not claimed the responsibility yet. Even if they claim the responsibility, there is no certainty that they are doing so to cover up the homegrown terrorists. Even the J and K Police have pointed fingers at the Lashkar. It is quite likely that the Lashkar is the perpetrator. This is being battered so much in most countries in West Asia that it wants to resell itself. If it can frighten India, there is every possibility of nations in West Asia coming under its spell of fear.

The nation is justified in expressing its horror because the yatris were on the pilgrimage of faith which they cherish. It had nothing to do with politics. Unfortunately the whole episode, as the days pass by, is being politicised. The BJP is to blame. It has not bothered that the party has a share in the State Government and some of the blame would come to it as well.

This is not the first time that attacks on yatris have taken place. In August 2000, the terrorists had opened fire on over 95 people, leading to a death toll of 89. The series of attacks, which began on the night of August 1, were believed to be planned. The following year, too, terrorists opposed to the local outfit Hizbul Mujahideen’s ceasefire declaration, had attacked a pilgrim base camp at Pahalgam. A total of 32 people were killed in the base camp strike at Pahalgam, of which 21 were Amarnath yatris.

Similarly, a militant hurled two grenades at a camp and later opened fire near the Amarnath shrine on the night of July 20, 2001, killing nearly 13 people, including three women yatris and two police officers. The attack took place around 1:25 am near Sheshnag, one of the highest stops on the way to the Amarnath cave.

What is baffling is the fact that nearly 15,000 security personnel and policemen were deployed to offer protection to the Amarnath pilgrims in 2002. Yet, a terrorist attack could not be averted as eight people were killed and 30 injured. The attack took place before dawn on the Nunwan camp on the way to the Amarnath shrine, according to reports.

Coming back to the attack on the yatris in Jammu, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi has hit out at the government over the attack, terming it a grave and unacceptable security lapse and asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to accept responsibility. “This is a grave and unacceptable security lapse. The PM needs to accept responsibility and never allow it to happen again... India will never be intimidated by these terrorist cowards,” he said in tweets.

The bus, which was fired upon by terrorists in Kashmir, was not registered with the Amarnath Shrine Board and plying without any security cover long after the evening deadline fixed for the vehicles carrying Amarnath yatris, said the Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep S. Surjewala.

Pakistan may be involved, but that is only a suspicion so far. The government must lay before the country the evidence of Islamabad’s involvement. But we must cleanse our own house. The establishment is involved in training Hindu terrorists and, as Hilary Clinton has said, that “if you nourish snakes in your courtyard, they are bound to bite you one day.” Indigenous terrorists are now a reality and they do strike here and there. The attack on the Samjhauta Express is said to be the handiwork of homegrown terrorists.

The biggest casualty of the Amarnath Yatra is Kashmiriyat, a secular belief propelled by the sufis. This faith asserted itself when Maharaja Hari Singh quit the government and left it to the popular leader, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. There was no communal feeling at that time. Fundamentalists and the propaganda by Pakistan have destroyed what was so beautiful. But why should we throw in the towel? For 70 years we have been upholding India’s ethos, secularism and democracy.

We have added the word secularism in the Preamble of our Constitution. Ironically, Mrs Indira Gandhi did this when she, as the Prime Minister, had imposed the Emergency. She detained one lakh people without trial and imposed censorship on the press. And she openly said that the press did not resist the restrictions she introduced. L.K. Advani was quite correct in chiding the press after the Emergency: “You were asked to bend but you began to crawl.”

Were Kashmiriyat to assert itself, the basic values like the free press would come to be respected. The Kashmiri Muslims have themselves to decide their faith in togetherness that is being replaced by fundamentalism. I was recently in Srinagar and found to my horror that the youth, which has taken to the gun, want to convert the Valley into a sovereign, Islamic country.

Leaders like Yasin Malik and Shabbir Shah have become irrelevant. Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq have a following but that was because they talked about Pakistan and Islam at the same time. They even support the stone-pelters saying that the stones were being hurled in the name of Islam. It is a dangerous trend to emerge.

New Delhi will have to think hard and come up with a solution which is acceptable to the people in the Valley and the ruling party at the Centre. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has accepted the responsibility of arranging the yatra without any mishaps. The BJP should consult with other political parties and take necessary steps which have the consensus behind them.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com

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