Caught Within

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With Delhi unmoved on almost every front, the situation is gradually getting explosive in Kashmir. Tasavur Mushtaq details how the BJP ally in Kashmir is managing itself

The April 25, cool breeze and drizzle did not cool the tempers in the spacious Fair View Guest House, the residence of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. With two back to back meetings with party’score group and party legislators lasting until midnight, the only feedback she got conveyed that  ‘sinking feeling’: “The ground is losing.”

The agenda was a single-liner: “What if Delhi persists with its tough stance. ”Miffed over C P Ganga’s statement and a visible shock during Legislative Council elections, Mehbooba even said a resignation is also an option.

By then Ram Madhav, BJPs national general secretary, had come to Jammu to mend the fences. But his “war and love” tweet, added to the gulf. This was taking place at a time when P Chidambaram in Delhi and the NC-Congress informal alliance in Srinagar was seeing governor’s rule as a viable option.

Next morning Mehbooba met her colleagues separately at Jammu and then took off to Delhi to attend a BJP and ally Chief Ministers meeting and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In the 25-minute meeting, a “cordial” Modi“assured” her of every possible help. Madhav utterances came up in meeting and Modi rang up Home Minister Raj Nath Singh instantly on this and many other issues including Agenda of Alliance.

In the follow-up meeting with Home Minister, Mehbooba found Madhav also waiting in the chamber. This was key to his tweet that “there is no rift between PDP & BJP. It was just a communication gap. ”But the trio quickly started identifying a certain point in the CMP for immediate implementation.Which points were identified remains unknown.Home Minister’s statement about Rs 19000 crore from Prime Minister’s package having been released was a quick follow up.

Delhi under BJP is of the considerate opinion that “Congress has appeased Kashmir” and now they are in process to change the policy entirely! “They see Doval doctrine as the only way-out.”

Despite being hawkish, BJP has its own crisis in handling the sensitive state. Apparently, Home Minister is in-charge but the fact is that Kashmir is tackled by NSA who reports to Prime Minister directly. Then there is another combine: Arun Jaitley, Dr Jitnder Singh Rana and Modi.

A top BJP leader was heard saying in an informal meeting in Delhi recently that Jaitely, the finance minister, is a major roadblock in implementing the Agenda of Alliance. Reason: Dr Jitendra Singh makes him believe that its delay would strengthen Jammu to the extent that Jaitely can contest next Lok Sabha and win. In 2014 he had lost from Punjab.

BJP is unwilling to accommodate voices concerned for Kashmir. Yashwant Sinha, senior BJP leader, who has been visiting Kashmir for some time, meeting people and making suggestions, had sought a meeting with Modi. He is yet to get a response.

“They need not respond to us, but they should respond to the situation,” Sinha was quoted saying. “We would say they have responded to the situation if they abide by the promises they themselves have made in the agenda of alliance, which is now 25 months old.”

Even former soldiers want a dialogue.

Denouncing continuous use of the army, former Indian army chief General Ved Prakash Malik talked about the “messy situation in and around Srinagar” in Pune “We’ve to resolve this, but we can’t leave everything to the armed forces,” Malik said. “It requires the active participation of politicians who should have a dialogue with the people, especially those who have suffered.”

Lt Gen D S Hooda (retd), who advocated dialogue as Corps Commander in 2016 also, said new political dispensation in the state had a role in worsening.“There is anger and a certain amount of angst among the youth,” Hooda said. “See, the answers are not difficult and it is not rocket science to understand what needs to be done. There is a need for engagement, particularly with the youth.”.

In a conference on youth engagement at Delhi that was attended by “security experts”, right wing groups and various NGOs, the overall feeling was that Kashmir is a “radicalised religious issue” and not political. Participants using clips from social media and patches from Kashmir reportage indicated a mindset that the region must cease “violence” (read stone pelting) and then only an outreach should happen!

It was in this parallel state of affairs that Home Minister stated: “Kashmir would be changed in next one year.”After meeting the central leadership, Mehbooba said the situation is improving in three months. A three-quarter difference is what the alliance is exhibiting on the ground too.

Indications suggest the PDP leader is increasingly feeling to have been left alone. Off late, her top aides have been talking about two senior ministers busy in their ambitions. In whispers, one senior minister is being accused of being busy in emerging the first among equals and another senior minister, “hardly bothered” as “he could have another job”.

This is happening at a time when voices within are growing shriller. The old guard feels upset over the party affairs being run by the defeated candidates and government decisions being taken by a group of naïve people. “Politics is not being done by Facebook, twitter or other means of social media,” one PDP minister said. “They are important but can never replace interaction.”

“Mufti Sahab neither had Facebook nor twitter but he still survived harsh times because he would know the ground every time,” the minister said.“But we are not elected by likes on Facebook user.”

The only PDP MP, MuzaffarBeigh also advised Mehbooba to review her style of functioning.

With the situation literally in the hands of the security grid, a “worried” Mehbooba flew back to preside over the first Unified Headquarters meeting after 2016 uprising. She laid emphasis to adopt “humane approach”, restraint and ensure “no civilians are killed during law and order situations”. Insisting on “healing touch” to tackle youth, she directed the commanders to ensure “no militants’ family is harassed.”

Soon, she got a snub from her ally. BJP president Amit Shah termed her statement “personal.”

“MehboobaJi has given a press statement. Our party’s team which deals with our policies on Kashmir will sit together and discuss the issue,” Shah said during a press conference while referring to Mehbooba’s proposal to counsel youth.

“The team, after discussing the issue, will come to me and then we will take a decision.” Shah is visiting the state on April 29 and sources say he will convey to his party men about the BJP’s “commitment not to tolerate any anti-India movement”.

A few days after UHQ meeting, Lt General J S Sandhu, Commander of Srinagar-based 15 Corps termed the situation “grim” and reiterated the army stand.: “We will kill militants only. We should not need to kill anyone else. Basically, our intent is that.”

It created news. “When the CM has to seek an end to civilian killings in a UHQ meeting she heads and chairs, nothing more needs to be said,” NC spokesman Junaid Azim Mattu said.

In between the verbal wars, an encounter broke out in Kupwara consuming two militants and three army men.. Protesters demanded body of slain militants. Army fired killing civilian Ghulam Hassan Bhat, father of a soldier. Witnesses said the situation did not warrant firing.

For Mehbooba, it is a tight rope walk. Historic boycott, delay in the second phase of polls, killings of polling day, non-implementation of AoA, anti-Kashmir stand by BJP and, of late, brewing crisis within her party make a Himalayan load.

Even the bureaucracy and police are indifferent. When Ram Madhav was in Jammu, state’s police chief reached BJP office in Trikuta Nagar to brief the senior RSS leader about the security situation. For this unprecedented act, even PDP insiders hold their government responsible.

“It seems DGP is reporting to Nagpur,” one PDP worker said. “Home Ministry is under the charge of Chief Minister.”

“She has built this party from scratch,” admitted one former minister. “She gave this party to her father and now it is facing an existential threat, she must be a worried politician now.”

“Problems are there but the fact is that right now Delhi is a problem for Kashmir and not vice versa,” one party insider said. “The impression we have is that some kind of outreach may happen but we are unsure about India Pakistan talks.”

Delhi indication that “talks” can follow “peace” is another worry for the party as it is literally impossible, party insider admits. Delhi is yet to accommodate their request that by-poll for South Kashmir, slated for May 25, should be cancelled for October.

“There is little regard for the credibility of our (J&K) government in Delhi,” Tasaduq Mufti, Chief Minister’s younger brother said in an interview.He seeks an answer: “why are so many youngsters being killed and injured in firing?”

In contradiction to the government stand about “youth being misled”, Tasaduq, the party candidate from south Kashmir, affirms “we are dealing with a tech-savvy, sensitive, politically conscious, intelligent generation. They have no appetite for gimmickry and bluster.”

A cinematographer by profession, Tasaduq warns “The way mainstream politics is conducted currently in the state wouldn’t work. We won’t be able to sustain it in this way too long.”

In the reign where fear seems to have died, the ruling party seemingly is frightened.

Last week when PDP district president Abdul Gani Dar was shot dead, the party issued a statement condemning the killing. Nobody visited the place from the top leadership so far. Four days later, the party leaders assembled in Jammu to offer Fateh for the departed soul.

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