When East India Company started consolidating British imperial domain over India by the mid-eighteenth century, it was directly pitted against the Muslims who had been ruling India since the eleventh century. Understandably then, for Muslims the loss of power and position of privilege was much more profound than what was felt by any other religious group. This is why the “first war of India’s independence”- the mutiny of 1857 – was primarily a manifestation of Muslim uprising against the British imperial forces. While as the British forces were successfully able to deal with the revolt given its superior military might, in order to keep the chances of future unrest at bay, something needed to be done on the political front.
Aware of the general dislike for Muslims among the majority Hindu community, British colonialists started sowing the seeds of distrust between the two communities while simultaneously patronizing Sikhs who were until then broadly viewed as a sect within the Hindu fold. “Divide and rule” as the strategy has come to be known in Indian history, ensured an unchallenged British hegemony (Raj) in India for the next couple of centuries. However, at the same time, it drove wedges so deep among various religious communities that the religion itself became the major marker of peoples’ identities, much more potent and stronger than any other pointer. As the historical evidence suggests, the religious fundamentalisms in the subcontinent have its roots in India’s colonial past. And indeed it was this “othering” of the “religious other” which actually led to division of the subcontinent along religious fault-lines into three separate nation-states — India, Pakistan and subsequently Bangladesh.
As if this was not enough, it has also polarized more than one-sixth of the world’s population on the basis of religious particularism. Drawing both from the historical accounts as well as contemporary scholarship, it is not difficult to make out how the religious sentiments were and still are exploited to reach the political ends – first it is successfully done by the former colonial masters, and now respective leaderships of all three sibling countries are doing it to their political advantage. However, looking into the evolutionary curve of various religious (Hindu, Muslim and Sikh) fundamentalisms, if one is to draw any conclusions, it would be that use of religion and its imagery in the contemporary politics of the subcontinent has given birth to a dangerous cocktail that fuels ethnic and communal strife every now and then.
Having laid out this context, even if one could discount the role of Pakistan or even the dispute over this state, it still should not be difficult to understand why the relationship between Srinagar and New Delhi has all along remained troubled. It is indeed this troubled relationship that could have the best possible anti-dote in the form of state government which could address the local concerns here in partnership with a ruling dispensation at the Centre. However, unfortunately this didn’t happen. The Congress-NC coalition government here couldn’t achieve this goal even though there was a Congress government at the Centre at that time. Then came the BJP dispensation at the Centre, and the same BJP ruling J&K in partnership with another regional player PDP, but again the history of abject unconcern vis-à-vis the issues confronting Jammu and Kashmir remained neglected. Like the previous NC-Congress combine, PDP-BJP coalition government too did nothing to undo the religious and regional polarization, though it was also ideally placed to do so.
The way people of Jammu are provoked to raise their discrimination bogey every now and then over every second thing is a case to prove the point. This politics of “us versus them” has been promoted for too long now and it has already done a lot of damage. It is high time for the various political groupings to put an end to this abrasive politicking which has a potential to further tear apart this troubled state.