Gunfire erupted at Sunjuwan army station in Jammu on Saturday as Jaish-e-Muhammad militants launched an attack that has claimed 10 lives so far. Another battle broke out in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly – between the two parties running the state government, with the opposition party wading in.
The latest point of dispute between the coalition partners People’s Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party: talks with Pakistan to end the bloodshed in Jammu and Kashmir.
On Monday evening, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti urged dialogue with the neighbouring country. “There are some media houses that have created an atmosphere where even talking about talks is anti-national,” Mufti said, addressing the Assembly, referring to the prime time chatter on certain television channels. “We have fought three wars in 1947, 1965 and 1971 and have won all of them, even the Kargil war. But our basic problem has not been resolved. Baatchit ke bina koi hal nahin hai.” There can be no resolution with talks, she said.
Virendra Gupta, the BJP’s spokesperson in Jammu and Kashmir, said he would not call the chief minister anti-national but admitted there were ideological differences between the allies on the question of talks.
BJP versus PDP
“When there is such a lot happening, Pakistan is supporting attacks and there is unprovoked firing on our borders, how can there be talks?” Gupta asked. “Pakistan must abide by the ceasefire agreement and stop training camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Kashmir is India’s internal matter, there is no question of talks with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, only on the ceasefire violations.”
The chief minister’s suggestions, he continued, were “not practicable.” “You can’t equate India and Pakistan on this issue,” he argued. “Pakistan is the perpetrator and India the victim. If a person from this side equates the two, there is a serious problem.”
Serious enough to end the already fragile coalition? No, Gupta replied. “When the alliance was made, it was based on governance,” he said. “Each party may have its own ideology. Overall, there has been no problem in governance, though there are some grievances on the Jammu side that they have been neglected by this government.”
Valley versus Delhi?
The question of talks seems to have ranged the Valley-based parties against the BJP-led Centre. Indeed, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman declared on Monday evening, “Pakistan will pay for this misadventure.” Gupta, for his part, felt it was up to the Indian government to decide on the way forward after taking stock of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
The National Conference, the main opposition party, seemed to echo the People’s Democratic Party’s line. “We condemn the attack but at the same time we impress upon the Government of India that the only way to solve the problem is through talks,” said the party’s legislator Ali Mohammad Sagar.
Mufti also referred to the vilification of Kashmiri politicians in the national media in her speech on Monday. “If Mehbooba Mufti speaks of talks she becomes anti-national, if Omar Abdullah speaks of of talks he becomes anti-national,” she said. “So should I say…let people die but I will not agree to talks.”
The Rohingya question
Meanwhile, the presence of a Rohingya camp near the Sunjuwan army station has become the flashpoint of another political duel, this time between the BJP and the National Conference.
On Saturday, as the attack unfolded, National Conference legislator Akbar Lone raised the slogan of “Pakistan zindabad” in the Assembly. His party and the BJP have differing versions of how this started. According to the BJP, some of its legislators had chanted “Pakistan murdabad” to denounce the ceasefire violations along the Line of Control in Jammu’s Rajouri district and that triggered the response from Lone. “He said his sentiments are hurt when someone shouts anti-Pakistan slogans, where do his sentiments lie?” Gupta demanded.
National Conference leaders narrate a different sequence of events. “It was unfortunate,” Sagar said of his party colleague’s sloganeering. “But it was out of provocation from the Speaker who blamed Rohingya refugees [for the Sunjuwan attack], who happen to be Muslim.”
On Saturday morning, as news of the attack broke, Speaker Kavinder Gupta, who belongs to the BJP, had alleged that Rohingya refugees had a hand in it.
Later even Sitharaman said the “demography of the cantonment and adjoining areas indicates the possibility of local support to the terrorists”. While the defence minister did not elaborate, Gupta was candid. “The area around Sunjuwan is inhabited by persons who came from the Valley and there is a Rohingya camp around the periphery,” he alleged. “There were certain elements who helped in the attack. There should be no locality around the camp, the area should be evacuated and the persons living there investigated thoroughly.”
The National Conference took exception to the fact that the BJP had made these allegations without evidence. It was not right, Sagar said, to blame poor refugees without investigation.
But he also asserted that the Rohingya camp was illegal. “They cannot live here,” he said. “Under the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, only citizens of the state can live here.”
On the periphery
As this political debate played out in the media, cameras turned to the localities surrounding the camp. The sudden attention has created unease in Faridia Enclave, one of the residential quarters closest to the site of the gunfight. A large number of its residents are Muslim and it is also home to a Rohingya settlement.
“The media has been here all day photographing these people,” said a retired government employee, a Muslim, who lives in the area, referring to the Rohingya. “They work hard during the day so they can eat at night. Why would they go against the place and people that has sheltered them?”
A Rohingya man from the settlement, barely a hundred meters from the army station, said suspicion of his community had intensified in the last few days. “We are already in a difficult situation having come so far and our problems only seem to grow by the day,” he said, adding that they had faced discrimination first in Myanmar and now in India. “We have paid the price for things we haven’t done.”
Other residents are also wary. They fear the defence minister’s remark will put them at the receiving end of communal politics. “It’s all politics,” said a Kashmiri resident who stays in Faridia Enclave every winter. “We have nothing to do with this but we will become suspect now.”
The retired employee added, “There is already resentment against Muslims by some in Jammu. Now it will only grow. As they [BJP] themselves said, they will clean India by 2021, so that only Hindus live in it.”
Political leaders such as Asaduddin Owaisi, president of the All India Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, joined the debate on Tuesday, pointing out that most of the soldiers killed in the attack were Muslim. It should be a lesson to those questioning the loyalty of Muslims and calling them Pakistani, he said: “Hum toh jaan de rahe hain.” Muslims are sacrificing their lives, he said.
Jammu and Kashmir’s Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh, however, accused Owaisi of playing up communal identities. “Owaisi has polarised society on the basis of community,” he said. “By speaking such things, Owaisi and others like him are weakening society and helping Pakistan, separatist and terrorists in a way.”
But from within the sparring parties in Jammu came a few conciliatory words as well. “We don’t think every Muslim is like that, but there are certain elements,” said BJP leader Ashok Koul. He also distanced himself from Kavinder Gupta’s remarks against the Rohingya.
Sagar felt the Speaker’s remarks had polarised the state but only “to some extent”. “We are clear that we are brothers, and people in Jammu are very liberal in their outlook,” he said. “Peace and tranquility will be restored.”