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'Jammu is treated like a pariah, because we are patriots'
8/28/2008 12:29:25 AM
The agitation in Jammu over revocation of the allotment of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board has taken an unprecedented turn. The only similar mass upsurge was during the Praja Parishad movement in 1952 to end the two dual constitutional provisions (thanks to Article 370) in Jammu and Kashmir that allowed two flags, a separate head of the state and separate laws.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has been supporting the agitation and the Congress's local leaders too have expressed their support for fear of losing Hindu votes. The agitation has seen small children with their mothers and grandmothers coming out on the roads with the tricolour in their hands and demanding that the land be given back to the SASB.
Leela Karan Sharma, 68, a senior advocate of the Jammu and Kashmir high court for 41 years, has been active in every Hindu religious organisation including the Dogra Brahmin Pratinidhi Sabha as its vice-president. He emerged on the national stage as president of the Shri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti, which is leading the mass movement in Jammu for the last two months. His day begins at 6 in the morning and ends past midnight.
The agitation, which took shape on a modest note on June 29, has taken an expanse none had imagined. Can he control the tiger he is riding? Has it contributed more to divide society on communal lines? He spoke exclusively to Tarun Vijay, director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation.

What was the need to form this Samiti? Was it just the Amarnath land row?
Of course, taking back the land allocated to build facilities for Amarnath pilgrims was a great insult and was the spur for the movement. Now it has become an expression of accumulated anger against the (Kashmir) valley's discrimination for the last 60 years.
In every walk of life, Jammu is treated like a pariah, a discardable part just because we are patriots and lay our lives for the tricolour. As far as the land for Amarnath pilgrims is concerned, it has to be noted that we had not demanded it. It was the government which felt the need and passed the order to allocate land to another government body -- the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board.
Still under pressure from the separatists, the government took back its order, which was earlier signed by ministers belonging to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's People's Democratic Party and the Congress. The state government was hesitant to give facilities to the yatris from the beginning.
Also this year, the governor, who is the ex-officio head of the shrine board, was changed midway through the yatra, resulting in confusion and mismanagement.
After the PDP and National Conference opposed the allotment of land, the new governor, N N Vohra, who is an old confidante of Sayeed, unilaterally took back the letter for land allotment to the SASB and handed over the organisation of the yatra back to the state tourism department on June 29.
The same day we decided enough is enough and took a vow to wage a battle till the land was given back to the SASB.
Did you anticipate this kind of response?
No, this has become the largest-ever mass movement I have ever seen. It's beyond my imagination. Children, old men, ladies and youngsters, all are on the road and it has become a self-propelled agitation growing every day. People are using novel ways and innovative methods to make it more effective.
It is alleged the movement has communal overtones.
It is all the propaganda of the valley's lie masters and Delhi's politicians who would have liked this movement to become a Hindu-Muslim issue. It hasn't so they are baffled and disappointed. No one believes the calumnious charges against us because we have the full support of various Muslim organisations like the Muslim Front, Jammu Kashmir Muslim Federation and Gujjar and Bakkarwal Muslim groups.
Apart from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the doctors association, bar association, engineers, other professionals active in various fields like IT, women's groups, Sikhs -- everyone has come out to support us unequivocally. The BJP and Congress, both are supporting us locally. Congress MLAs and MPs have publicly pledged their support to our demands.
Why did you block roads that take essential supplies to the valley?
We had only appealed for a Chakka Jam (blockade). Immediately, the army was deployed and supplies to the valley were restored. But no one speaks about the stoppage of supplies to Jammu. Why? We are still facing difficulties and essential daily needs are still not coming to Jammu.
In the valley, the separatists go on anti-India strikes every other day and life comes to a standstill. Nobody complains then, because the strike is against India.
When we agitate for securing national integrity and the honour of the tricolour, they complain. Secondly, people are not told that the separatists beat up truck drivers carrying supplies and burnt some trucks too.
Have you seen the eruption in the valley? They say you are the reason behind revival of the anti-India agitation in the valley?
As if before the Amarnathji Yatra Sangharsh Samiti, they were great patriots and held the Indian tricolour high? Every now and then, for the last 60 years, these separatists have used their affinity to Pakistan to blackmail Delhi.
The central government must allow them to leave Kashmir if they are so keen to go to Pakistan. They will surely be treated worse than the Muhajirs were treated. Even US has changed policies toward them after 9/11. They can't get better opportunities outside India.
Don't you think if Jammu and Kashmir remains friendly to each other it helps the national interest?
Indian interests are served only when India lives in the valley. To safeguard Indian interests, the Centre will have to take Jammu's help. You have to strengthen Jammu to strengthen India in this region. After all, how long will we have to suffer because we are patriots?
Kashmir has become the gateway of terrorism in India. Someday this was going to happen and now is the time to take proper remedial measures without any fear.
Are you not being led by a political party? What's the role of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and BJP? Why did you stop BJP leaders from joining your rally?
We are a completely non-political movement supported by all parties, organisations and ideologies. We did not stop any leader of the BJP as none was coming, but have issued a clarification that for the August 27 rally we have not invited any BJP leader.
What's the next course of action? What will make Jammu return to normal?
We are beginning a complete non-cooperation movement on the Gandhian pattern and no Jammu citizen will pay taxes to the government.
As far as the solution is concerned, since day one we have just one demand -- give back the land to the SASB and we will take back the agitation.
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