Uncertain Summer Ahead

  • RIYAZ AHMAD
  • Publish Date: May 12 2017 2:04AM
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  • Updated Date: May 12 2017 2:04AM
Uncertain Summer Ahead

                                                   File Photo: Aman Farooq/KI

Unless urgent steps are taken to address the deepening crisis, it won’t be before long that the situation tips into yet another unrest

 

On April 27, fidayeen in a pre-dawn attack on the artillery headquarters of 155 Field Regiment at Panzgam Kupwara killed three soldiers, including a Junior Commissioned Officer Ayush Yadav. Two militants were also killed. By late morning, the operation was over. But soon the youth from the surrounding villages assembled and rose up in protest. They sought the return of the bodies of the militants so that they could be buried in the local graveyard.

But the local administration declined to do so as according to the new government policy, the bodies of the foreign militants are not handed over to the local people for burial lest these trigger massive mobilizations witnessed during the funerals of the local militants.  This angered the people even more, turning the protests violent. They shouted pro-freedom slogans and threw stones at the soldiers. And then the mob started  the march towards Army camp itself forcing the soldiers to open fire. One civilian Muhammad Yusuf, 62, was killed.

This was the first time that protests broke out in Valley even after a Fidayeen attack. Unlike a regular encounter where holed out militants are engaged in a gunfight, in a fidayeen attack it is the militants who storm an Army camp with an intent to cause heavy damage.

What is more, in Panzgam, the people who protested live alongside the border area and are generally dependent on Army for a part of their livelihood.  So, the protest, that too following a Fidayeen attack came as a surprise to Kashmir observers. It only further underlined the endemic nature of the anger and alienation in Valley.

Earlier, last week, the students across the Valley hit the streets to protest against the police crackdown at a South Kashmir college in which around 50 students were injured. The student reaction to the thrashing of fellow students was unprecedented. The protests broke out simultaneously in almost every college in the Valley and everywhere the Government had to resort to the use of heavy force to bring the situation under control. More than 70 students were injured in the clashes.

The students protests themselves were followed immediately in the wake of the turmoil triggered by the Srinagar parliamentary by-poll on April 9 which led to the killing of 8 people. The constituency clocked a meagre 7 percent turnout, the lowest ever in the state. In most of the places going to poll, the stone throwing youth advanced towards the polling booths, forcing the security personnel to use force to keep them at bay.  The widespread protests and the killings during Srinagar by-poll later forced the Election Commission to postpone the Anantnag by-poll for a seat vacated by Mehbooba Mufti after she took over as the Chief Minister.

 

TURN FOR WORSE

These recurrent bouts of violence reveal the grim state of affairs prevailing in the state.  And that too at a time when the harsh winter has given way  to spring and the people were looking forward to an increase in trading and tourist activity. If anything, the fresh protests have come as a reminder that far from being over, the turmoil that followed the popular militant commander Burhan Wani’s death last year is on a pause and may resume soon. 

If last year, the groundswell of euphoric support  for the militancy was reflected  in the ever-growing participation in the militant funerals, this year people are determinedly trying to disrupt encounter sites. And not only those where the militants have been tracked down by the security forces and engaged in encounter  but also where the militants storm a security installation.

What is more, this everyday revolt is predominantly self-driven by the teenagers and the youth in their early twenties. Hurriyat has little control over the situation except for issuing calls for hartal and the boycott.  The amalgam doesn’t control organizational management and the ideological direction of the situation. As of now, the protests are completely spontaneous, triggered by the perceived and imagined, small and big provocations. Hurriyat has no choice but to react to them, and largely follow the youth on the streets.

Alongside this, the militancy has gained some more heft.  From a position  in 2014 where it had declined to an average annual figure of around 150 militants, the number has doubled, with local youth outnumbering the foreigners.

 

INDIFFERENT NEW DELHI

However, New Delhi has chosen to deal with the situation through exclusively military means thrown in by some lame rhetoric about the development. When Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti met the Prime Minister Narendra  on April 25, she was rebuffed on her request for a dialogue with the separatist groups. In her subsequent interaction with the media,  Mehbooba said that the dialogue  with the stake-holders in Kashmir can only be initiated  once the situation was peaceful, a condition that attracted ridicule from the separatist and civil society groups in Kashmir. 

 “On one hand, Mehbooba says that the only way out of the present crisis is the dialogue and on the other she says the dialogue will be held after the peace returns to Kashmir. This is self-contradictory,” the chairperson of the Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies  Hameeda Nayeem said. “So, all that CM is concerned about is her power. New Delhi, as her meeting with PM has once again revealed, doesn’t give a damn about her demands”.

On the other hand, the columnist Naseer Ahmad terms the centre’s approach towards Kashmir as of “out and out security nature”.

“Mehbooba has been forced to go along with this approach. This hasn’t improved the situation but it has taken a terrible toll on her political credibility,” says Ahmad. “The situation is likely to go on like this. New Delhi is unlikely to trust her with her political judgement. Nor is she likely to press for it harder”. ’

Similarly, the separatists snort at the idea of a dialogue with New Delhi geared to usher in normalcy and not resolve the festering political problem. They talk scornfully about Mehbooba’s efforts to get the centre hold talks with stakeholders in Kashmir.

“Mehbooba Mufti is a nobody. Everybody knows the reality of the Kashmiri pro-India leaders. They have no independent political identity of their own. They are in politics to enjoy power at any cost. The miseries of Kashmiris don’t bother them,” says Ayaz Akbar, the spokesman of the Hurriyat faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. “Delhi has no respect for Kashmiri mainstream leaders  and treats them also as its slaves. Who is Mehbooba to ask for dialogue? She herself rules at the pleasure of New Delhi”.

Akber demanded resignation of Mehbooba Mufti for presiding over the killings and blindings of Kashmiris.   “But we know, she won’t do it. All that she wants is power. So, her politics is of little value to Kashmir,”  Akbar  said.

 

J&K GOVERNMENT UNDER STRAIN

Though the centre has chosen to skirt the political outreach to Kashmir, even telling the Supreme Court it didn’t want to talk to the separatists, the J&K Government in which BJP is partnered with PDP has come under  severe strain, threatening its premature end.

In popular perception in Valley, the coalition has long lost its rationale. Adding to the PDP woes is the BJP’s bellicose Hindutva-inspired nationalism. While PDP, a putative soft-separatist party, plays up the fact that it stalled Sangh Parivar bid to repeal Article 370, BJP has moved the political discourse on Kashmir away from the resolution of the dispute to the integration of the state into India. BJP has also reneged on all its commitments such as the partial revocation of AFSPA and initiating dialogue with separatist group.

Besides, the rising intolerance in the country and the attacks on minorities, have been a source of further discomfort.

There is a growing disquiet in Kashmir about the non-implementation of the Agenda of Alliance, and PDP’s silence about it. BJP has shown little inclination to meet its commitments in the agenda, which formed the basis of the ideologically antithetical coalition.  At the same time while PDP seems to have gone quiet over its ideological agenda or entered into a sort of ideological and political trade-off with its alliance partner, BJP has more or less freely plied its agenda.

The issue for PDP is not only how to deal with the worsening current state of affairs but how to restore its credibility which is in tatters. And that can hardly be done by continuing in a coalition that has effectively reduced the party to a second fiddle, letting it only enjoy the power, not exercise it. What is more, the PDP has been complicit in this denial.        

But choices for BJP are also limited. Devoid of an elected government, the centre’s approach to Kashmir would turn overridingly military in nature. And the military means, as has become clear over the past three years, have only further messed the situation up in Kashmir. The choice in Kashmir, however, is not the coalition or its absence but how to address the deepening turmoil in the state. The coalition may not be doing any good but the Governor’s rule will only make things worse. Things are on the brink and unless steps are taken to address the deepening crisis, it won’t be before long that the situation tips into yet another unrest.