Former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Lt. General (Retd.) S.K. Sinha is a disheartened man today to witness the deliberate appeasement politics being promoted by the Congress-led UPA government. General Sinha, who was the Governor till the last week of June and was known to be a good administrator in the Valley and has earned a name in J&K for promoting unity, says the Congress has absolutely no idea where it is going. It has resorted to political adventurism. The government it heads has no answer to the spectre of mishandling the Amarnath Shrine Board land affair, which has set off a wave of communal hate and tension not only in J&K but also in other parts of the country. He feels that land allotment to the Amarnath Shrine Board was a non-issue, but the Congress has given it a communal colour. In fact, the Congress high command in Delhi has always given a helping hand to the PDP leader Mufti Mohammad Sayed, who has a dubious agenda for encouraging fundamentalists, and has always acted against the Government of India and its policies. In an exclusive interview to Organiser Correspondent, Deepak Kumar Rath, the former Governor of J&K opines that by revocation of land for Amarnath pilgrimage, the separatists have tasted blood and now they have their own agenda and would not let the Kashmiri Pundits settle in the Valley. Excerpts:
What was the immediate reason for the land allocation to the Amarnath temple becoming a major controversy?
So far as the land dispute was concerned, I looked upon it initially as a non-issue. So the people must be aware of the background first. The land allotted was a barren land and traditionally been used as a camping site for the yatra for the past many decades. We used tents in the first year for the shelter of the pilgrims. In 1996 there was a snowstorm in which 250 people died, many injured and some went missing. Then, a high-powered Nitish Sengupta Committee was formed which recommended that a Shrine Board should be constituted, which would manage the yatra, just like the Shrine Board of Mata Vaishno Devi. The then National Conference government brought a bill in the state assembly, on the lines of Mata Vaishno Devi Board, where the Governor was to be the chairman and with identical provisions. Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board was also given some forest land for their use to build permanent and temporary structures.
What initiatives did you take to improve the facilities for the Amarnath pilgrims?
When I took over as Governor, it was just two months before the commencement of the yatra. My first priority was to ensure the security of the yatra, because up to 2002, every year the yatra was attacked by terrorists. At that time Mufti Mohammed Sayed was the Chief Minister who suggested me that there should be minimum presence of uniformed security men for the yatra. But I strongly differed from his views, as there were regular attacks. I deployed maximum number of Army, CRPF, BSF and J&K Police personnel for the security of the yatra. In a coordinated effort, I organised sanitisation of the 40-km-long mountain track starting from Chandanvari on the Pahelgaon route up to the holy cave. And I am pleased to inform that since 2003 there has not been a single attack on the pilgrims. In 2004, I decided to provide better facilities to the pilgrims and also to increase the duration of the yatra. If we could provide better facilities, more devotees would be able to come to the holy cave and indirectly it would also help the state'seconomy. There is a Malmas according to the Hindu calendar, and there are two Shravana months in every twelve years. So from religious point of view a two-month yatra was also desirable. From Baltal route, a large number of pilgrims go to the holy cave, so that route also needs to be improved. The snow on the Baltal route used to melt earlier. But irrespective of the timing of the yatra, thousands of people go to the holy cave through this route. The yatra used to start without adequate security arrangements and no proper infrastructure facilities for pilgrims. So I thought of starting the yatra a month early so that adequate arrangements for security could be made. Thus taking these points in view, I went to the Chief Minister with a project report stating the findings of the Sengupta Committee Report that recommended putting up of the permanent structures at various sites on the yatra route, so that when the cold breeze comes people can take shelter. The state government even before formation of the Shrine Board had started building 25 permanent structures on the route of the yatra, but none of them was completed. So I suggested putting up temporary structures which could be erected in four or five days and could be dismantled easily. We planned to have temporary structures with wooden floors and insulated walls to keep the rooms warm. In addition to this we suggested not to replace all the tents but it would be an additional facility for those who can afford to it, otherwise pilgrims can stay back in tents. I also recommended pre-fabricated toilets for better hygienic condition, in place of large number of pilgrims using the traditional toilets.
Do you squarely blame Mufti for anti-Hindu activities in Kashmir?
Mufti Mohammad Syed, who is known to have come from a communal background and always emulates an anti-national agenda, has always opposed anything connected with the yatra. I don'thave to repeat the rumours that all over Kashmir, the vandalism of all temples in the late 80'swas carried out by Mufti'smen. Whether he is directly involved or not God alone knows. But he certainly did not do anything to prevent it. Any man in Kashmir can vouch for this. The other rumour was that Mufti was gaining support of the extremists and had stage-managed the abduction of his eldest daughter, when he was Home Minister of India. For the release of his daughter, he struck a deal with the fundamentalists and later released them to Pakistan. And they are the people who started terrorist movement in J&K. It may be a rumour but Mufti was responsible for the release of the fundamentalists who were in jail. In 2002, he won the Assembly elections allegedly by pandering to the terrorists. Mufti was opposing anything that I wanted to do for the Amarnath pilgrims. He did not bother even to reply my letter. But the Deputy Chief Minister Pundit Sharma started announcing in public meeting that they would hold a two-month yatra with better facilities. My conclusion was government had approved the yatra but fifteen days before the yatra Mufti said in a press conference that the yatra would be held for one month only and with no more facilities. Despite my suggestions, they did not allow us to carry out the yatra and the matter went to the Government of India. Four ministers from Mufti government resigned and ultimately the yatra was rescheduled for two months. In 2005, we faced the same problem again from the Mufti government. The matter was taken up in the High Court and a single bench gave a verdict in favour of the Shrine Board and said that the state government would only provide security. Again the state government went to the Division Bench of the High Court and an interim verdict came in 2005, that the Shrine Board would decide the timing of the yatra. So then also we carried out a two-month yatra.
Then what is the real reason for such a hue and cry this year?
This time, we put up the pre-fabricated structures, after getting written approval from the state government. We had a provision of two thousand toilets and all other comfortable facilities for the people. Four to five lakh people were expected to undertake the yatra. We also introduced a helicopter service for the yatra. The Forest Minister Kazi Mohammad Afzal and the Law Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig for the last three years had been examining for providing land and facilities for the pilgrims. I had decided that if the government will grant us permission then its okay, otherwise we will make our own arrangements on behalf of the Shrine Board. On May 27 this year I came to know that the state cabinet has taken a decision for providing land for temporary shelters only for the yatra and demanded the Shrine Board rupees five crore. The PDP minister Mr Kazi issued clarifications to the press that the government allocated land to the Shrine Board for temporary yatra purposes. But soon after the declaration, the separatist elements started agitation, which gained momentum. A section of the Valley press has always been hostile to this cause, so the Hurriyat leaders took advantage of the situation to press their communal agenda. Although I had been making all efforts to promote Kashmiriyat, a communal feeling was infused into the masses intentionally that a conspiracy was going on in Kashmir to bring the Hindus back into the Valley, and to bring up a new colony in Baltal called Amarnath Colony. And like Israel changing the demography in Palestine, the Shrine Board is trying to change the demography in the Valley. Now nothing could be more absurd than this! Geographically it'snot possible to settle township in Baltal and near the holy cave. Who will live there? And can any one put up a township in 100 acres of land where there is heavy snowfall and torrent rain? And secondly, how can the Shrine Board do this? There is an elected state government. A state government, which has such a strong policy on this issue, how can one think of it?
Lakhs of refugees from West Pakistan have been languishing in refugee camps in Jammu faced with worst inhuman conditions for the last 60 years. Comment.
In 1947, 30 thousand West Pakistani refugees (Hindus and Muslims) had come to Jammu and later millions came to India. But the poor refugees in Jammu were not given citizenship status. Their number today is about one lakh. They have been staying there for sixty years, but they can'tget a state government service or cannot acquire any land. Their children can'tgo to higher technical education for learning. Can anyone think of them to get them permanent citizenship even after sixty years? Their concerns have been deliberately blacked out by the valley press and the national press.
Don'tyou think that the state government'slackluster attitude in controlling the agitations in Kashmir put the situation out of control?
In the beginning, Azad was very confident that the agitation would lose its steam and would not gain momentum as has it got. Thousands of acres of land were given by the state government for various purposes, so if the Shrine Board got few acres of land for yatra purposes what was wrong in it? And in any case Jammu is part of the state. Moreover, land has already been given to Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine. So what is wrong in allocating land for Amarnath Shrine Board? On June 25 this year, Azad told me that everything is fine regarding the transfer of land but the PDP ministers who were part of the decision-making body to approve the land for the yatra, played a dual game in the hands of the extremists and a religious fervor was linked to it.
(To be continued)