Coinciding with targeted killings, Home Minister, Amit Shah’s first post-August 2019 visit, talked more of development and less of politics and lacked a clear idea about the way forward, reports Minhaj Masoodi
Home Minister, Amit Shah’s first post-Article 370 visit, assumes significance because he personally led the restructuring of Jammu and Kashmir by undoing the hollowed special status. There was an expectation that the apparent follow-up to the All-Party Meeting by the Prime Minister, the visit could indicate some exit towards some forward movement.
The timing of Shah’s visit, however, coincided with the surge in civilian killings including some members of the minority and non-locals workers, earning their livelihoods during summers. These killings led the BJPs political opponents to ask uncomfortable questions about why ‘abode of peace’ offered a dystopian look prior to the Home Minister’s visit. Srinagar had converted into a security fortress with a three-tier security presence, increased frisking of motorists, passengers and passers-by, popping up of bunkers throughout the city and an ‘unofficial’ ban on two-wheelers.
The visit, however, was eventful. The Home Minister straight away drove to the residence of the slain police inspector, Parvaiz Ahmad in Nowgam on Srinagar outskirts and handed over a government job to his widow.
At Raj Bhavan, Shah co-chaired a security review meeting with the heads of security and intelligence agencies, the heads of which had flown to Srinagar. In the meeting, he reportedly asked uncomfortable questions to the security grid leaders while discussing civilian killings ‘radicalization’ and infiltration. He also stressed providing a joint strategy to protect areas where minorities live.
Later that evening, Shah interacted with the families of slain civilians, cops and political workers. Those invited for the interaction included the family members of M L Bindroo and the Sikh school Principal, Supinder Kaur who was shot dead by the militants at her school in Eidgah Srinagar on October 7. He also met families of other slain policemen and BJP Councillor, Riyaz Ahmad at Raj Bhavan.
Using a video link, Shah interacted with the members of the newly formed Jammu and Kashmir Youth Club. He also flagged off the inaugural direct flights between Sharjah, UAE and Srinagar from the Raj Bhavan through video conference.
Shah flew out to Jammu for a day where he addressed a public rally at the Bhagwati Nagar area.
Drawing on the narrative of alleged discrimination between Jammu and Kashmir regions, Shah said, “I came to Jammu today to say that the time of injustice to the people of Jammu is over, now no one can do injustice to you. Some are trying to disrupt the era of development here, but I want to assure you that no one will be able to disturb the era of development.”
“What did these three families give to the state except for 87 MLAs and six MPs?” Shah asked while pointing towards Mufti, Abdullah and Gandhi families. “Today every village has an elected panchayat, councils in block and districts. These panches and sarpanches could also become ministers at the Centre or chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir. Coercion by these three families is no longer possible.”
Asserting that Narendra Modi had taken Jammu and Kashmir to the path of development after the reading down of Article 370, he said Rs 12,000 crore worth of investment has already come to the union territory and while the government is aiming at a total investment of Rs 51000 crore by 2022, end.
“Nobody can stop the era of development that has started in J&K. It’s the land of temples, of Mata Vaishno Devi, of Prem Nath Dogra, the land of the sacrifice of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. We won’t let the people who disrupt the peace in J&K succeed,” Shah said while prodding the youth to join the path of development.
Justifying the August 5, 2019 decision-making, Shah said that Article 370 was abrogated to end the discrimination towards Valmiki Samaj and West Pakistan refugees and for implementing the Minimum Wages Act.
Shah also interacted with Kashmiri Pandit families, West Pakistan Refugees, Gujjar and Bakerwal families. He also visited the soldiers on the forward posts along the border near Maqwal area where he interacted with the BSF soldiers and distributed sweets among them. Earlier, in the day Shah also inaugurated the new campus at IIT-Jammu.
In Kashmir Again
Clad in a Maroon pheran on an uncannily chilly autumn day, Shah paid obeisance at Mata Kheer Bhawani in Ganderbal upon his return to Kashmir on October 25. Shah then reached the Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre where he addressed the public while also inaugurating and laying the foundation stones of some projects
Addressing the crowd, he said that he wanted to talk directly to the youth of Kashmir than to Pakistan in a reference to National Conference president, Dr Farooq Abdullah’s suggestion of engaging Pakistan in talks.
“I was taunted, condemned. Today I want to speak to you frankly, which is why there is no bulletproof shield or security here. Farooq Sahab has suggested me to speak with Pakistan but I will speak to the youth and people of the Valley,” Shah said.
Shah then spent a night at the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp in Lethpora, Pulwama in order to “understand their issues and problems” and had dinner with the CRPF personnel.
Talking with the personnel, Shah said, “Kashmir was known for everyday stone-pelting incidents. With the professional dealing of situation, the stone-pelting incidents have been brought to almost zero at present.”
While presenting the figures, he talked about the dip in the number of casualties of security forces personnel and civilians. “From 2004 to 2014, 208 civilians were killed and 105 civilians were killed on an average every year. The figure was reduced to 60 and 30 respectively every year from 2014-2020. But we aren’t satisfied yet as 30 civilians is still high.”
The following morning, he paid homage to the CRPF personnel who were killed in the Pulwama attack in 2019 and then left to head back to Delhi.
Although the visit was touted as a success by certain sections of media, Shah’s visit coincided with the killing of a 20-year-old youth, Shahid Aijaz allegedly in cross-firing between a CRPF party and militants in Shopian’s Zainapora area on Sunday. A school dropout, he was earning his livelihood in the orchards and was on his way home when he was killed. “The photograph of his dead body lying against the vehicle with his hands inside his pheran was poignantly in contrast with Shah’s talk of engaging the youth while himself donning a pheran,” somebody wrote on his Facebook.
The visit witnessed massive disruption in public movement with two-wheelers being seized everywhere. Inspector-General of Police, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, however, said these seizures are linked with militancy and not the visit of the Home Minister. The cricket related crisis was the other sidelight coinciding with the high-profile visit. The Internet also remained suspended in parts of Srinagar and South Kashmir. Authorities attributed it to a security measure in the aftermath of the killings of non-locals.
The visit was expected to offer some hint towards a possible breakthrough on the political front. Almost the entire political class had issued a statement asking the Home Minister should announce the restoration of the statehood and a time frame for the elections in the erstwhile state.
Shah did mention all this. “Why should the delimitation be stopped? Delimitation will happen, followed by elections and then the statehood would be restored. I have promised the people of Jammu and Kashmir statehood in the parliament and this is the roadmap,” he said in one of his speeches. “I have come here to make friends with the Kashmiri youth.”
Insisting that August 05, 2019, will be written in golden letters, Shah said it was the end of militancy, corruption, nepotism and dynasty rule and the beginning of peace, development and prosperity for which the youth of Jammu and Kashmir would have to contribute. “Stone pelting incidents have declined. I assure you that all the elements trying to disrupt peace in Jammu and Kashmir will be given a proper response and no one will be given a chance to act as a hurdle in the prosperity of the region.”
This, however, did not please anybody in the political class. Political beings are reluctant to talk about the outcome of the visit. Quite a few were willing to talk.
Reacting to Shah’s statement, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said, “Our demand is still the same. We want statehood first, followed by the elections.”
“I had requested both, the Prime Minister and the Home Minister during the meeting in Delhi that state should not have been stripped of its statehood and bifurcated into two. Now that it has been, and you have agreed to give statehood for which we are grateful, but the mistake of doing delimitation first and then giving statehood should not be committed.”
Former Chief Minister and PDP president, Mehbooba Mufti while taking a dig at Amit Shah on the micro-blogging site Twitter said, “HMs Mann ki baat with Kashmiri youth started with the slapping of UAPA against medical students for celebrating Pakistan’s win. Instead of trying to ascertain why educated youth chose to identify with Pakistan, GOI resorting to vindictive actions. Such steps will alienate them further.”
Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party’s Ghulam Hassan Mir on Twitter said, “Reaching out to the youth of jk by Home Minister a welcome step. The unemployment of jk is 23% (more than any other state or UT) If this percentage is brought down that means words translated into actions.”
Insisting that the security situation has gone from bad to worse, NC’s vocal three-time lawmaker, Agha Ruhullah Mehdi said the civilian killings have gone up. “It is like the 1990s. The situation was not as bad in the last decade or so, as it is now,” Ruhullah said. Insisting that the “difference between the rest of the nation and Kashmir has increased in terms of security, trust and belief” Ruhullah said: “There is no confidence among the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”
Taking a dig at his friends and colleagues in the political class who expected the statehood would be restored before the elections, Ruhullah said: “It was not a good message for the people who were expecting and waiting for him to say something about the sense of restoration of statehood.” On engagement with youth, he said: “He meant to engage with the people of Jammu and Kashmir with force and that’s what they have been doing.”