It is time the Ulemas of Kargil reconcile for the larger good

Differences of opinion are generally a sign of a vibrant populace wherein individuals and groups demonstrate their capacity to think. There is argument and counterargument, there is debate and discussion and overall a vitality of thought. However, differences also stem from deep-rooted prejudices and deliberate malice that are carried forward by generations long after their origins have lost relevance in the modern era. The institution of caste system in India is one such example, wherein it has survived for thousands of years simply because people pass it onto newer generations with zeal and do not let it fade into irrelevance.

Closer home, in Kargil where the severity is nowhere comparable to the caste system, a similar rigid compartmentalization of our population is seen. The two leading religious institutions of Kargil, the Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust (IKMT) and the Jamiat Ulema Isna Ashriya Kargil (JUIAK/ISK), serve as the focal point of this compartmentalization. Most people either “belong” to this or that, and there is little scope for cross-movement between the two, especially among the core adherents. It would not be an exaggeration to say that they are almost antagonistic to each other, as demonstrated in many public interactions. There are separate Muharram rallies for both (with police being deployed at points of contact, should there be any clashes like in the past), there are separate Friday jummah prayers and sometimes there are even different dates declared to observe Eid, like in 2020, and other religious occasions.

It is of course a subjective matter to say how severely these different factions interact with each other, but the fact remains that they have occasionally failed to resolve and unite on critical issues that affect the whole of Kargil. (It is noteworthy that the religious institutions with other stakeholders cooperated with each other for larger good of Kargil). But one such instance of competition was the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, where despite hopeful signs of unity the two factions failed to come together and choose a single candidate. This cost Kargil the Lok Sabha seat and allowed a BJP candidate to win despite securing less votes than both of the other two candidates. The consequence was that Ladakh was shown to support its reduction to Union Territory without a legislature in the Parliament. It was a monumental mistake for the socio-economic welfare of the region, with the region being deprived of an important, truly representative voice in the most important house of the country.

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History is witness that when there is in-fighting and the population is divided, it invariably falls behind and suffers. Of course, it is impossible to get rid of all differences or resolve major ideological beliefs. Even the Indian nationalists were a cluster of people with almost opposite ideologies. However, they were wise enough to channelize their energy and efforts for the country’s welfare and stand united. In the case of Kargil, the tragic point of this duality is that both the institutions are one and the same people. Their difference is a difference of degree and not of kind, yet the menial differences are highlighted so much that it blurs every other point of similarity.

Path to reconciliation

When the Ulemas are at the helm of bodies that fractionalize the population, it is a discouraging sight. In their defense, it is said that it is the people who fuel this factionalism and the people who sustain it. While that cannot be denied, people do not have direct control over the structures of these institutions. They cannot bring them to a table and make them delegate and discuss their differences. It is only from within that any reconciliatory movement can find ground, for change is brought by leaders, people only either accept them or reluctantly give into them. The learned Ulema is also believed to possess better judgment than the masses, placing the responsibility on them to carve out a path toward unity.

As with any negotiation, while looking for reconciliation the general approach is to focus on points of convergence and build the rest of the negotiation around them. Undeniably, both the institutions want the best for the region and its people. It is important to mention that compromises on both sides would be central to these negotiations, as uncompromising rigidity and stubbornness has never led to any fruitful outcome. The IKMT and JUIAK (ISK) both lay claim to certain places; both would have to relinquish a certain degree of this claim. The ISK cannot continue to ignore the significance of IKMT as a reality, and the IKMT cannot continue to deny every claim of ISK. Besides this, there are various other nuanced issues that need to be kept at the table and talked about. At present, there is no clear channel of dialogue between the two as they continue to operate in silos.

Furthermore, it is futile for us to get lost in the details of every dispute by arguing the rights and wrongs. Such an approach is bound to end up in a deadlock. The plain fact is that chronic disputes exist that have divided the people in hostile factions, not just masses with different ideas, and the task at hand is to evolve out of them. The strength of any society lies in its ability to live with disagreements. If the learned Ulema are unable to show this accommodating capacity, people are increasingly going to drift apart. When that happens, it becomes significantly easy for external polarizing forces to exploit these rifts and exploit the region in every capacity.

In conclusion, it is time the Ulemas of Kargil reconcile for the larger good. Times are rapidly changing, political scenarios have evolved and new challenges in socio-economic areas have risen. Kargil is still pristine in every way, safe from most evils of society as well as guarded from ecological crises. However, that is about to come under heavy attack very soon with increasing connectivity and influx of outsider elements. In the absence of representative political authority, the people of Kargil need to be strengthened to withstand such challenges. The incredible unity shown in the recent struggles for constitutional safeguards is remarkable. It needs to be praised and even celebrated. However, we still have a weak link in the chain that can be easily exploited at the right time. This mammoth weakness cannot be ignored anymore. Therefore, it is time that our leaders started to come together and free everyone from these imaginary shackles. It is possible for the two institutions to thrive side-by-side as forces of positive change, and we look forward to such a time.


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