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Fire on the mountain
Posted:May 10, 2017
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Kashmir is on the boil like never before. We have been in dark and depressive depths for so long now that we have forgotten our vocabulary and expression. Civilian street anger and spiralling militant violence have made the place scary. Not my word, the Election Commission's; scary is the word it used to cancel the Anantnag Lok Sabha by-election last week.
So, what is the message from here? Very clear and very loud - governments, both in Srinagar and in New Delhi, have lost their writ. Streets, almost all over Kashmir Valley, are controlled by angry mobs armed with stones. They are ready to take pellet and bullet hits, they are ready do die.
The interiors of the Valley, particularly in south Kashmir, are controlled by new-age militants - young, energetic, tech-savvy. They are killing pro-India political activists; they are looting banks; they are killing police personnel, attacking their residences. They are in control, so much so that the police brass had to issue an advisory to its men not to visit their homes if they happen to be in south Kashmir.
After the killing of the Hizbul militant, Burhan Wani, last July, Kashmir has not been what it was before. Alienation has reached such levels that younger Kashmiris are prepared to look death in the eye, mock at it. Nothing frightens them, not the military or the paramilitary, not bullets or pellets, not the prospect of detention and torture, nothing.
In the 2014 assembly elections, we saw the same youth campaigning for political parties, particularly the Peoples Democratic Party. Remember that over 65 per cent voters turned out during that election despite a boycott campaign by separatists. So what has changed? What has angered them to a degree that they won't allow the same PDP government to function?
During the 2014 election campaign, all the major political parties in Kashmir Valley, except Sajjad Lone's Peoples Conference, beat just one drum - 'We have to stop Modi, come what may!' PDP drummers were the loudest: if the Bharatiya Janata Party is not stopped from entering Jammu and Kashmir, the state will lose special status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution; Hindutva forces will engineer demographic changes in the state, and so on.
But after the elections, the PDP jumped into bed with the same BJP, shocking the young generation that had come out in its support. Those who were asked to vote to stop the 'BJP's march' were disillusioned to see that it was actually their votes that had facilitated the BJP's ride into power for the first time in the state's history.
However, there was no immediate reaction. The reason: people probably had faith in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's wisdom and his 'Agenda of Alliance' that talked about dialogue and reconciliation besides reviewing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. As Mufti continued to remind his support base of A.B. Vajpayee's 'era of peace and normality', the young generation swallowed the bitter pill in the hope that it may cure the ailment (Kashmir conflict).
Unmindful of the Valley's unease, the BJP leadership in Delhi made it a point to make things difficult for Mufti from day one. Knowing his people's psyche, Mufti began his fresh innings as chief minister with the tested slogans of 2002 - 'battle of ideas', 'dialogue and reconciliation', 'space to voices of dissent' and so on. He released the hard-core face of Kashmiri separatism, Masarat Alam, who had been in prison since the 2010 unrest. But Alam emerged from detention to wave the Pakistani flag in public. That set India's television sets afire and New Delhi forced Mufti to re-arrest Alam.
Shock upon shock upon shock were delivered to Mufti by New Delhi. The biggest of them came on November 7, 2015, when the prime minister, Narendra Modi, virtually snubbed Mufti at a public gathering in Srinagar, saying, "I don't need any advice from anyone on Kashmir."
Ahead of the prime minister's speech, Mufti had strongly pitched for dialogue with all stakeholders, including Pakistan. Although the prime minister, at the same function, announced a Rs 80,000 crore financial package for flood-hit Jammu and Kashmir, he missed the point that Kashmir was more about politics than money. (The first installment of the prime minister's promised aid came only after Mufti's death at AIIMS in New Delhi.)
Following Mufti's demise, and after prolonged prevarication, his daughter, Mehbooba, occupied the hot seat, but things had already started to drift. The BJP complicated the situation further by backing the controversial proposal for exclusive enclaves for sainiks and Pandits in the Valley, advocating citizenship for West Pakistan refugees settled in Jammu and displaying utter disregard to the signed and agreed 'Agenda of Alliance'.
For the first time since 1947, the Valley began to feel marginalized in the affairs of the state. The BJP was playing every trick to keep its core constituency, Jammu, intact while the PDP couldn't offer any reason to its constituency, Kashmir, to cheer about. Those who voted for the PDP watched their 'darling party' play helpless second fiddle.
With the Modi government hawkish on Pakistan, any hope of a political breakthrough began to die in the public imagination. Shock, disillusionment and a sense of betrayal pushed the Valley populace towards hopelessness.
This hopelessness triggered mass frustration and mass frustration triggered anger. Unfortunately, neither the Mehbooba-led government in Srinagar nor the Modi-led government in New Delhi could gauge the mood of the people.
Frustrations were at a peak and anger was simmering - all it needed was a trigger for Kashmir to explode. That happened on July 8 last year when Burhan, the poster-boy of new-age militancy, was killed in a security operation.
The situation in the Kashmir Valley is bad, very bad indeed - to the extent that it has brought governments in Srinagar and New Delhi to their knees. Yes, to their knees. That's the meaning of the cancellation of the Anantnag election. And yet, New Delhi refuses to understand and acknowledge the reality. The reality is that lookingat Kashmir through the security prism alone will not help.
Opening communication links is the only way. The Modi government can't shy away from it. Mehbooba knows it, and that is why she is repeatedly advocating dialogue, virtually begging for it.
You can't tell the Supreme Court that you will not talk to separatists and then hope that things will improve in Kashmir!
Someone needs to tell New Delhi that if your intention, by not talking to the separatists, is to deny them space, you are miserably mistaken.
The entire space available in Kashmir Valley right now has been occupied by the separatist polity. It is pro-India politics that has no ground beneath its feet here now. So, the offer to talk to separatists will not concede 'unnecessary' space to them. On the other hand, it may grant some relevance to the mainstream political parties.
Similarly, notwithstanding the continued tensions between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control or the international border, the government of India has to initiate a dialogue process at some level with the neighbour. History bears witness that when India and Pakistan talk, Kashmir breathes peacefully. Continued hostility towards Pakistan may help the BJP win a few more elections here and there but it will undoubtedly not help bringing Kashmir back to, at least, where it was before the killing of Burhan Wani.
The Telegraph, May 11, 2017
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