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India Must Delink Religious Pilgrimage Management from Secular State Apparatus

by Kashmir Times, 27 May 2009

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Kashmir Times, May 27, 2009


Perpetuating a dangerous anomaly

High time to delink religious boards from secular state apparatus and insulate them against political manipulation

As the annual Amarnath yatra gets under way the turbulent events of last summer come to haunt our minds. Not because of any perceptible fear of their repetition but because of the ever present probability of the mischief mongers feeling tempted to again fish in the state’s troubled political waters. The wounds of the defeat inflicted upon these elements in the just concluded Lok Sabha elections are still fresh. In fact, some murmuring is already there. The state or its people can ill afford the unbearable cost of repetition of last year’s disastrous events. It would be more advisable to err on the side of caution in this particular case than being complacent. There is no occasion to recount the sequence of events leading to the paralysis of the politico-constitutional system in the face of dangerous polarisation along communal and regional lines. The failure of the state apparatus, however, is yet to be analysed in the interest of preventing its reoccurrence. Much of what happened and why it happened, though, became clear with the statements of the real author of that tragedy. Ex-governor, Lt Gen (R) SK Sinha has left precious little to imagination as to how it all started and why. That he was acting on the definite agenda is by now an open secret. That he was the most unworthy occupant of the Raj Bhavan has been more than proved by his words and actions. That, however, is not really as important at this point in time as it is to ensure that the legacy left behind by Sinha is uprooted lock, stock and barrel.

On a deeper thought, it becomes obvious that the scope for mischief will always be there so long as the ground exists for mischief mongers like Sinha to pursue their dark agenda. The flaw lies in mixing religion with the affairs of a secular state. There is no problem and the arrangement works without any trouble so long as there are men of integrity and understanding at the helm. But last year’s traumatic experience has shown how dangerous it is to take things for granted. It would be folly to ignore the possibility-indeed, probability-of its happening again now or in distant future. Apart from the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, the state has also the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board and the Muslim Wakf Board, all of them under the administrative control of the government. On the face of it, there is nothing objectionable in this kind of arrangement. But that does not take into account the ever present possibility of intending trouble seekers trying to exploit their working or manipulating their prescribed functioning. The sentiment associated with these institutions leaves very little scope for the administrative apparatus to deal with the fall out of malfunctioning within the arrangement itself.

Even otherwise the question of identity in the state is fraught with sensitive implications of far reaching consequence. These are, however, historically built into the psycho-political ethos of the state. Adding a new and combustible dimension to it is certainly not desireable at all. Yet we have these religious-related boards loaded on to the secular state apparatus. Even under best of circumstances there are serious differences of opinion not only between communities but also within them. The state is ill equipped to entangle itself in such controversies. If anything, the state should be insulated from all such entities. This principle cannot be over emphasised in the troublesome atmosphere of Jammu and Kashmir. As both, the Congress and the National Conference claim to be above sectarian politics it should be in their own interest to take initiative towards separating religion from politics by devising an autonomous arrangement without involving high constitutional functionaries and administrative personnel in its working. The fallacy of the existing arrangement was exposed by Sinha himself when he misused the secretary to governor to hurl an insult on the supposedly sovereign legislature. The then governor turned down the demand for legislative scrutiny of the religious boards headed by him although the boards were created by acts of the legislature which by itself binds them to such accountability. The failure of the Azad government to assert itself and correct the distortion only whetted Sinha’s appetite with disastrous consequences. The sooner the anomaly is removed the better it would be for us all. Substituting the existing arrangement with disguised or open politically-controlled arrangement will, however, be a greater disaster, going by the past experience