A lethal mix of administrative errors and political exploitation…
In August 1988 I reached Kishtwar on a punitive ‘Sarkari’ assignment after a long and arduous travel by bus. Like any other town a calm beautiful habitation full of activity with rich heritage and culture Kishtwar fascinated me and I took keen interest in learning as much as I could about Kishtwar and its surroundings. Rich flora, fauna and huge water resource are the greatest assets of Kishtwar; vast ‘Chogaan’ (hundreds of acres of lush green fallow land) in the centre of the town gives it spacious look amid vast mountain range. I don’t know what the fate of Chogaan is now but at that point of time it was untouched and so vast that at one of its corner the French consortium working on Dulhasti power project had constructed an airstrip. This was Kishtwar I had seen and experienced for almost four years till summer of 1992! Now the situation is different. It is growing and growing rapidly but is also losing its harmony, serenity and ecological poise. Reasons are many but this is not the occasion to discuss them as at the moment once calm and beautiful Kishtwar stands bruised and its fragile communal harmony torn into rags; reason, political opportunism and incompetent local administration.
The present wounds of communal riots inflicted on the lush green Chogaan (Chogaan represents the heart and soul of Kishtwar) will take years to heal because the communal equilibrium is so fragile in this area that even a small mistake at the hands of the authorities or for that matter any community will bring disaster. And that is what happened this time round. People with ulterior motives where scheming and looking for an opportune time to strike and the district , even the divisional administration had gone into deep slumber; arranging only obsequious ‘Mehafils’ for their political masters. On Eid eve when thousands of Muslims were supposed to gather in or around Chogaan and in the backdrop of recent alleged rape by some VDC (village defense committee) members in adjoining jungles and tragic Gool incident the district and divisional administration was supposed to be more vigilant. If eyewitness reports are to be believed, it took district administration at least seven hours to handle the situation and impose restrictions. Till then it was free for all! What was the administration doing? An army of officers with king-size perks and unlimited amenities snubbing poor and oppressed to prove their writ and power is mockery of administration.
Beyond administrative failures there are some other reasons for this tragic incident, brewing since long. One is the murky role of politicians and other the local version of ‘Salwa judum’, the VDC. The way politicians are patronizing and pampering communal forces in the area (on both sides) a day will come when God forbid a line may have to be drawn through the heart of Kishtwar town to keep the warring groups at a distance. Just to protect and enlarge their vote bank politicians resort to every overt and covert mean having least concern for harmony, human life and property. The VDC in no way is a solution to any problem but it is now turning out to be a problem itself. Arming people without any set mechanism of accountability will lead to anarchy. It will escalate the problem instead of solving or containing it. Involvement of VDC or for that matter any rouge group or agency erodes the credibility of the administration and makes governance shoddy and murky.
Like Gool local administration has not only failed but can surely be tried for criminal negligence on account of their failure to deliver. They have failed miserably in making assessment of the situation well in time. Now the government has taken the right step, by sidelining the present administrative heads in Kishtwar but it should proceed not only with disciplinary action against the erring officers but start a case of criminal negligence leading to death and devastation against them. To curb the political exploitation government should treat, deal and handle every political outfit evenhandedly leaving no room for any fair or favor for running administration smoothly or for political influence and interfere. And as far the VDC menace government should reconsider this decision laden with many drawbacks than advantages. In a civilized society that boasts of its democratic credentials engaging agencies with extrajudicial powers looks mockery. Kishtwar is in pain! Excruciating pain and requires balm of communal harmony and amity. The rest is all politics—the murky farce.