Valley politicians of all hues are attacking holy Yatra of Amarnath willfully, ignoring the immediate and long-term implications of such a move. Decades of death and destruction that are still unstoppable in the trouble-torn state means nothing to them. They refuse to see beyond a little electoral benefit in the forthcoming elections.
Annual Amarnath Yatra, which draws lakhs of devotees from all over the world, has been a thorn in the eyes of separatists and terrorists from the very beginning. They have missed no opportunity to scare pilgrims away. It is a different matter that these obscurantist forces always failed in their attempts to dissuade the faithful. Bomb blasts, grenade attacks, fatal firing and all other acts of disruption resulting in premature killing of scores of yatris did not shatter the faith of the Shivbhakts. Environmental concerns were raised to influence the opinion and decision-making process with a single motive of restraining the number of pilgrims. State apparatus was used to cite lack of resources and inability to provide facilities for pilgrims even in case of natural calamities and bad weather. And after all these attempts failed the valley-based politicians have come together and joined hands to use transfer of land to Shree Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) and the august office of governor as an excuse to malign the Yatra.
For decades, even prior to the establishment of SASB, pilgrims and service providers like langarwallas have been pleading for some basic amenities like public utilities and sheds for the yatris. It is worthwhile to remember that around 4-5 lakh devotees visit the holy shrine every year over a period of two months. Commonsense is that these pilgrims will need some reasonably stable infrastructure. If administration refuses to discharge its natural duty people will make some alternative arrangements of their own. Those arrangements will always be unorganised haphazard and uneconomic in every sense. Sensitive administration and responsible civil society will come together to find some innovative mechanism to make these honoured guests of the state feel comfortable.
But, communalism, separatism and violence have been used as instruments to achieve political objectives for a long time in Kashmir. This divisive ideology has in fact been the only instrument of public mobilisation in Kashmir valley. A visible protest against rulers and governments from time to time has always been directed to intimidate and torture minority communities. Forces working for creation of a monolithic polity and society based on narrow allegiance to religion have dominated the decision-making process reducing saner voices to helplessness. Forced exodus of minority community in 1989-90 was believed to be the culmination of this process. Amarnath Yatra and involvement of common Muslims particularly the Gujjars is a reminder to these elements that their efforts have been wastage of time.
Growing unpopularity of politicians and political parties in run-up to approaching election to the State Legislative Assembly is forcing them to make desperate moves to rake up communally sensitive issues and force a polarisation. They forget the death and destruction this type of politics has brought to Kashmir during past two decades in particular.
Amarnath Yatra even at the peak of terrorism attracted a large number of devotees to the most neglected area of valley inhibited mostly by Gujjars. This Yatra was the first to bring much needed relief to the shattered tourism sector after terrorism destroyed the local economy. Common Muslims particularly the Gujjar community welcomed this Yatra wholeheartedly as it revived their economic conditions. Separatists with the help of gun tried their best to stop these poor people from associating themselves with the Yatra in any form. Those who have visited the holy shrine in 1992-93 must be remembering the hordes of horsemen and other labourers en route to Pahalgam with pain and hope in their eyes.
Had environment been the real concern of the vocal politicians they would have raised their feeble voices against increased human activities on Affarvat peak in Gulmarg. Dal lake, the soul of Kashmir, is dying a painful death. Wular lake has lost its pristine glory. Vyeth ( Jhelum), the life line of the paradise on earth, is more of a sewage drain than the glorious river it used to be.
Zabarwan has become recreational source for most of these politicians. These are just a few examples of environmental degradation. Plundering of forest wealth going on unabated since 1947 is not unknown. It is clear that environment does not matter to these politicians and bureaucrats; they fear the increased interaction between local masses and the devotees from rest of the country. They know that their lever to manipulate minds of masses is directly related to the level of ignorance generated fear. The moment common Kashmiri Muslim comes to know about the vast opportunities available to him/her, he/she will dump these self-proclaimed leaders to the dustbin of history. Opposition to the Yatra has become a matter of their survival on the positions of privilege.
Hurriyat Conference, PDP, National Conference and all other splinter groups are engaged in one-upmanship over this issue. They are forwarding absurd arguments to mislead the local public opinion. Most provocative is the allegation that construction of temporary structures is aimed at reducing Muslims to minority. They know exactly what they are saying and doing, for it has been their occupation for decades. But will the nation remain a mute spectator?