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A Hindu CM for J&K: Any Takers?

By: Vivek Gumaste
Jan-01-2009
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Earlier this year when the Hindus of Jammu rose up in arms, their gripe was not merely the revocation of land allotted to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, they were in effect protesting their marginalization for the last 50 years or so in this Muslim majority state of secular India.

Democracy is not synonymous with brute majorityism. Embedded in a civilized democracy are subtle nuances that transcend mere numbers and which exhibit a refined compassionate element that carries with it all sections of a society however minuscule they maybe. Every action in a democracy must reflect this true spirit of egalitarianism; not merely subscribe to the letter of the ideology. And this principle is all the more important to bring about an unity of purpose in a country like India in which every region boasts of myriad religious, lingual , and cultural diversities that outwardly appear to be at conflict with each other.

Indian democracy has done exceedingly well when measured by this parameter. After the horrendous Gujarat riots, Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister of India hailing from the BJP (which has often been labeled as anti-Muslim), brought about a consensus to appoint Abdul Kalam as the President of India. This symbolic gesture was meant to alleviate the nervousness of the minority community, instill a degree of confidence and above all convey this important message: we care.

Despite the perpetual debate about secularism and communalism, religious bigotry has not been the hallmark of Indian democracy. There was no widespread outrage or even a murmur of protest when a Muslim has been elected as the chief minister of predominantly Hindu majority states. Abdul Gafoor was the chief minister of Bihar which has a Muslim population of 16.5%. Maharashtra, a supposed bastion of Hindutva with a Muslim population of around 10% had no qualms about accepting Abdul Rehman Antulay as its chief minister. Other Hindu-majority states like Kerala, Assam and Pondicherry have also had Muslim chief ministers. It is this secular, impartial element that defines Indian democracy and which is the raison d"etre for its success.

Let us examine how the state of Jammu and Kashmir shapes up when viewed against this background. Despite being touted as the only Muslim majority state in a predominantly Hindu India, J&K is not a homogenous entity, either in its geographic distribution or religious composition. The Kashmir valley, the most vociferous of its components comprises barely 16% of its land mass compared to Jammu that accounts for 26% and Ladkah that makes up 58%. Even in terms of human population, the predominance of the valley is more a matter of hype than a fact based realty: Jammu has 45%, Ladakh 3% and Kashmir 52%. Nevertheless, all the chief ministers of J&K since independence have come from the valley. In keeping with the tenets of our democracy it is time that someone else (other than from the valley) dons the premier mantle.

Further, all the chief ministers of J&k have been Muslims as though conforming to an unwritten law that dictates this. Hindus constitute 33% of the combined population of J&K with Muslims making up 64% and the remaining 3% being accounted for by Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians. When Hindu- majority Maharashtra with a Muslim population of 10% can have a Muslim chief minister, can anyone have an objection to J&K with a Hindu population of 33% having a Hindu chief minister?

Better still if a Kashmiri Pandit can be made the chief minister. Would it not atone for the harsh treatments they have suffered and for the marginalization of Hindus as a whole? Will it not encourage the Pandits to return?

Post election, the Congress and NC have charged the BJP with polarizing the state along religious lines. But has the Congress or for that matter the NC or PDP done anything to redress the grievances of the Hindu Jammu. Will they support a Hindu Chief Minister? Or is their secular credential merely a show piece that bats for the Muslim majority but crumbles when challenged by the Hindu minority?

The true validity of an ideology is tested in trying times and the ability to apply the principles of democracy and secularism, impartially and in a just fashion is what defines a truly civilized society. Would it not be a shining example of Indian democracy and Indian secularism, if a predominantly Muslim state accepts a Hindu chief minister? This is a true test of Indian secularism and the composite culture of Kashmiriyaat that the Kashmiris boast of. I will be waiting for the answer.


Vivek Gumaste

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