Jammu: The city is sitting on a powder keg. Since the arrest of eight alleged culprits in the brutal gangrape and murder of the eight-year-old girl in Kathua, it seems people with overt and covert support of dubious groups and political parties are ready with a match stick to light up a communal fire in this highly polarised region of Jammu and Kashmir.
If you go by the mood on the ground, a large majority of people in Jammu are in favour of a CBI probe to "bring out the truth" in the nomad girl's brutal rape and murder while the minority, boxed into a corner by fear of majority backlash and uncertainty, is watching in anger, silently.
Two calves recently turned up dead under mysterious circumstances; one was shot in the head while another's throat was slit, sparking communal tensions which forced the authorities to shut down internet in Jammu in order to stop rumor-mongering. Angry protesters clashed with forces and blocked the Jammu-Pathankot highway for hours.
Such scenes are reminiscent of the 2008 Amaranth land row when Jammu imposed an economic blockade on Kashmir. This winter capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been polarised on religious lines on many occasions in past but today, the division is so clear that you can smell and hear it in the air.
After being named and shamed, the BJP sacked its two ministers, Chaudhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, for participating in a rally organised by Hindu Ekta Manch, an outfit that has been protesting against the arrests made by the crime branch in the case. However, their resignation and subsequent outburst in public had created a sense of defeat among Dogras of Jammu, a minority in the Muslim majority state. They are arguing that if Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti could seek a CBI probe in Shopian rape and murder case, what is wrong if the people in Jammu make a similar demand?
"No one in Jammu is supporting the culprits," Sanjeena Srivastav, a Jammu University student told Firstpost in the main campus. "But what is wrong in handing over the case to a premier agency if people are raising questions over the way the state crime branch carried the probe?"
While Congress, whose president Rahul Gandhi went to India Gate and held a candlelight vigil for Kathua's victim, the party's state president, GA Mir, openly questioned the crime branch in January. The tragedy is that many of its leaders were seen instigating the protesters. They were also behind the making of an outfit, Hindu Ekta Manch, which is at the forefront of demanding a CBI probe and defending the alleged culprits.
"There are some people in Congress in Jammu who still want vitiate the atmosphere. But we will deal with them internally," Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC), Vice President and MLC, Ghulam Nabi Monga, told Firstpost.
"Some people whom I won't name have been trying to support some elements who were trying to divide the state on communal lines but we won't tolerate it," Monga said.
In the Gole Market of Gandhi Nagar Market, Subash, a newspaper seller, says he is watching the situation turning from bad to worse in coming weeks and months, particularly before the elections of 2019.
"Lal Singh is trying to achieve out of this tragedy what the BJP leaders from Jammu, who have no idea about politics, can't even think about. He is by birth a Congress loyalist and by default in BJP, and he knows this case has a potential to put the entire Jammu on fire. He will want to save his hide," he said.
Lal Singh, who addressed a series of rallies few days back, said in Bishna village that these people who had been thumping their chests and have become 'thekedaars' of the victim, are playing communal politics over the issue. Singh spoke at over a dozen rallies on Tuesday in solidarity with the alleged culprits and also to demand a CBI probe in the case.
The BJP's state spokesperson, Ashok Kaul, told Firstpost that the Congress and National Conference leaders were always out in open trying to polarise the community on the religious basis over the Kathua tragedy.
"Congress ex-MLA Subash went and tried to inflame passions in Rasana. Congress and NC leaders were always working behind the scenes since the girl's body was discovered. On every occasion, they have been trying to suggest that the state government was doing nothing and its probe was faulty," he said.
Kant Kumar, secretary, Hindu Ekta Manch, is a Congress leader and former sarpanch. BS Salathia, president, Jammu Bar Association, is spearheading demands for a CBI probe. Salathia denied being a member of the Congress. Romi Sharma, of Chhan Dityal, is a Youth Congress president in Hiranagar. These footprints leave no doubt that the tragedy of an eight-year-old girl has become a treasure for petty politics.
Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh told Firstpost on the sidelines of a press conference that there were "elements from outside" who were trying to vitiate the atmosphere in Jammu.
"We have done in last three years what the Congress could not do in forty years. And it is true they are communally polarising the Jammu region in collusion with few people outside India. We need to understand and defeat their politics of communalism," Singh, a BJP leader and former professor at Jammu University, told Firstpost.
"I think we have succeeded in stopping them," he added.
But the situation in Jammu as well as Kashmir suggests otherwise. With the trial of the eight accused beginning at a court in Kathua amid demands of a CBI probe, and the J&K government promising swift justice, tensions are only going to go up. Mufti must ensure the situation doesn't go out of control but can she first rein in the leaders of the BJP, the partners in her government?