Every spark in Jammu and Kashmir must necessarily light a fire. Not surprisingly, a local disturbance during an Eid march in Kishtwar in Jammu has spread communal tension in the neighbouring districts and snowballed into a national controversy. Election season is too good a time to let go of an opportunity to sink claws into an opponent. So no matter how hurt Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, may appear to be, he cannot shield himself from a vicious political attack, especially since his administration lends itself so easily to charges of either complete inaction or the use of maximum force when neither is likely to be effective. But perhaps this is also the time to shift the onus of culpability to the less obvious targets. The state administration should undoubtedly carry the blame for failing to arrest the disturbance. But should it alone be held responsible for the worsening communal situation in the state? Be it the communal fury of 2008 or the predictable disturbances during religious festivals, as in Kishtwar, the state cannot hide the religious schism that is tearing it apart. Both the Muslim and the Hindu leaderships, within the state and outside, are responsible for this. While the Muslim leadership has refused to acknowledge the political aspirations of minority Hindus, Buddhists and Dalits in the state, the Hindu leadership has constantly pleaded for the state’s division along religious lines, thus deepening the faultlines created by Kashmir’s history of victimization under Muslim, Sikh and Dogra rule. The Hindu Right has systematically radicalized Jammu’s Hindu population to spread its political base just as radical Islamist groupings such as the Tablighi Jamaat and the Jamaat-e-Islami have radicalized the state’s Muslim population.
The onslaught of this on Kashmir’s syncretic culture has been huge, almost destroying age-old living patterns in regions such as Doda — the province to which Kishtwar once belonged — where Hindu and Muslim populations have nearly been equal. As a site of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s experiments with Hindutva, Doda and its surroundings have a unique appeal for the party, one that has increased manifold in the light of the 2014 elections. But if the party is willing to learn from the past, it should also know that it is dangerous to play with emotions. As in 2008, it may, ultimately, backfire.