Within days after teenage rebel was killed soon after the Eid 2016, Kashmir started changing rapidly. A year later, almost everybody in Kashmir is grappling with one or the other challenges, all created within a year

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A rare capture: CRPF personnel arresting an alleged protesters in Arwani village near Bejbehara after the latter jumped into the Jhelum river. Photo by Asif Shafi

Kashmir is unpredictable. The year that has gone by since Kashmir celebrated the last Eid explains this phenomenon in detail. Unlike last Eid, the June 26, 2017 celebration after a month-long fasting in scorching heat, Kashmir has huge challenges to manage in coming months. This holds true for a common man as starkly as it is visible for the governors of the place. The ideological split of the space offers no discount to any side.

As diplomats have started reposting those ‘what if’ questions on the first death anniversary of teenage rebel Burhan Wani, the tensions in the ruling system have multiplied. With the security situation so hot and dicey, the ruling party is increasingly becoming unsure of itself. Now it has reached a level that even routine could get disrupted.

While the Goods and Services Tax (GST) will be in vogue in the entire Indian market, J&K played the ball in such a way that it is closer to a self goal. It summoned an assembly session to discuss the issue, then skirted it to obituary references and then called it a day. The reason: it wanted to settle the issue outside the assembly and then create a distinction for its politics. Opposition knew it better and Delhi pulled a bit of strings. It enforced a new inertia.

“I do not know how to transact the business from July 1,” Area Manager of a top FMCG company said. “One day of halt to the supply chain means Rs 5 crore and that is not a small amount.”

Ruling party and the opposition is on the same page. Both believe there is no escape from the new tax regime. Both believe this dilutes the state’s exclusivity in deciding its tax systems and want safeguards. The broad way-out, they talk at their own levels, is almost similar. But still the government is unable to manage ending the uncertainty.

The lethargy with which the government has handled the issue is very costly. There is no possibility of manufacturers selling anything to J&K in absence of a clear linkage under GST systems. Similarly, there is no possibility of buyers for any taxable ‘exports’ to the mainland. Even if there are purchases from the mainland India, the lack of input tax will make things dearly for the consumers in J&K and a possible VAT back home will make them almost unaffordable. This is despite the fact that most of trade in J&K retains almost a 60-days stock.

Ruling PDP had, apparently arrived at some consensus with its ally in Delhi, about the GST rollout in J&K. That was primarily the reason why Finance Minister Arun Jaitely started talking about the rights of the J&K to invoke its constitution for that purpose. For BJP, working overtime to hawk a single socio-economic culture in India, a silent GST rollout in J&K would not have impacted its politics in the cow belt. Now the GST becoming a noisy affairs in J&K, the positions have started hardening. BJP in the state has already started talking about “undiluted” GST. Given the fact that the trade and the manufacturing lobby in Jammu will be the first to be impacted by the absence of GST, the situation is causing its own pressures which can adversely impact the situation in Kashmir.

Taj Vivanta in Srinagar. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

The economic tensions came at a time when Kashmir has already suffered a serious slowdown because of a failed tourist year. “In April, we were all right with more than fifty percent bookings,” an executive in Srinagar’s Taj Viventa said. “Then all of a sudden, things started going off the script and the bookings started getting cancelled so quickly that we have not even 10 percent occupancy.”

With tourist season almost decimated, one option for Kashmir was to be the Amarnath yatra. Trade insiders said they are expecting good number, if one goes by what the Shrine Board says, but most of the expected footfalls are from the lower economic classes. This means that the hospitality sector is unlikely to see a huge benefit in the yearly Hindu pilgrimage starting later this week.

The pilgrimage, at the same time, has very strong links with the governance of the place. Though Syed Ali Geelani has dismissed the reports of any tensions to the yatra, the security grid is unwilling to take chances. It has drawn an elaborate security plan about escorting the convoys of pilgrims from Jammu up to the cave and the massive area domination. The security set up is so tense that any confusion can trigger a crisis. And in that situation, what will be the fate of ruling coalition? That is the real worry being discussed in whispers within and outside the civil secretariat.

The TV networks are massively contributing to drum up the security threats. In a TRP race, they have already dented their credibility in the state to an extent that now anybody can sit in the studio and get molested. In recent days, they have dubbed the Kashmir “guests” on various shows as Gandi Nali Kay Keady (gutter worms), pigs, and more recently rascals. While these lazy, noisy debates have started seriously impacting the ground situation, the government is watching as mute spectators. Any media organization in J&K with even a fraction of this irresponsibility would have invoked a serious action but the government is not exercising its rights even in blocking these channels within the state. The fact is these TV channels lack any role in policy making, but they are emerging as major hate mongering platforms. This hate will eventually find some space to manifest itself. That phenomenon will seek costs from Kashmir society.

Hindi Media crew

Tensions are up within and outside Srinagar because of the unusual shift in militancy. The security grid, especially the state police is facing so much of heat at societal level that they have seemingly started seeking the rebels, a phenomenon that did not exist a year back. Almost on daily basis, there are encounters. And every encounter sees massive mass involvement both at the action level and post-encounter rites. In last one year, the massive gatherings have been either on Fridays in the mosques or in the funeral prayers.

This insecurity has led to increased contact between the counter-insurgency systems and the civilian population which, sometimes, has colossal costs. The return of the withdrawn garrisons in certain areas of south Kashmir has added to the tensions because their reopening came after a protracted debate over reducing the presence of the soldiers. For a society that is trying to emerge out of pellet-dominated 2016 summer, the hate and anger appreciates with every police action. A good number of people rounded up in 2016 are still in jails and hundreds of young men are still frequenting hospitals to see their wounds heal. This is happening at a time when some of them are already on the police radar.

Student unrest was one of the many manifestations of this situation. It has impacted the education to large extent this season and is anticipated to limit the celebrations of the post-Ramzan wedding season. This is happening at a time when the media is reporting increased supplies of riot gear from Delhi that does not exclude pellets and other so called non-lethal weaponry.

A rare capture: CRPF personnel arresting an alleged protesters in Arwani village near Bejbehara after the latter jumped into the Jhelum river. This is the second click of the sequence. Photo by Asif Shafi

The only intervention that could have doused the flames to an extent was the political intervention. But Delhi – in wake of the state elections it is facing in coming days, is hard posturing towards Islamabad and the Kashmiri separatists. This situation is simmering Kashmir and has led to the belief that it was an extension of the ‘reverse social engineering’ that BJP has used in elections in the cow belt: keeping India’s one percent population in turmoil to manage the 99 percent better!


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