Hopelessly Precarious

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By Khursheed Wani

Governor NN Vohra chairs during a SAC meeting in Srinagar.

Kashmir is going through one of the most critical periods of history. The actors on the stage read ‘stakeholders’, are busy in churning their role effectively for a firm standing in the future. The ground is as uncertain as it is explosive. Clueless, the leaders are consistently engaged in picking up threads and searching for a toehold. The uncertainty is across the board, in the unionists as well as in the stressed separatists.

The unceremonious though inevitable fall of BJPDP government put the lid off the Kashmir cauldron constantly fed with the flame of acrimony between two powerful countries. The direct central rule was found to be the only solution by Delhi to restore its sway on Kashmir at a time when Pakistan is in the midst of general elections and India is gathering feathers to take a plunge.

It is not a secret that Narendra Modi led government in Delhi tried to handle Kashmir unconventionally. It squeezed the separatists’ space, disengaged from Pakistan and made military conduct more conspicuous than it was in the recent past. The political engagement was deliberately left to rhetoric and non-initiation on the ground. The barrel of gun and jackboots ruled the roost.

The policy conceptualized and executed by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval did change the ground, for good or worse, is any body’s guess. BJP’s national general secretary Ram Madhav may boost to his Twitter followers that the number of militants in Kashmir has been reduced from 3000 (in early 1990’s) to 300 (now) but the assessment has its own flaws. The two situations are not comparable.

Look at the instances of hoards of unarmed youngsters attempting to storm encounter sites to rescue entrapped militants. They have the desire to join their ranks and if supplied with arms, top police officials admit, thousands would take a plunge. This is a desperate trend but this is it, nevertheless. After Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat issued shoot-at-sight orders for any civilian going closer to encounter sites last summer, 106 civilians were killed. Neither the policy relents nor the defiance. Has there been such a situation in the past? Never.

Delhi attempted to dismantle the political structure. The compulsion of managing some of them locally was pulverized: Syed Ali Geelani was not allowed to move out of the confines of his home and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s movements were highly restricted. Once a globe-trotting leader, Mirwaiz does not even visit Delhi or show up anywhere in the countryside. Yasin Malik is often in and out of jail.

The biggest jolt to separatists was given through National Investigation Agency (NIA) that whisked away a battery of separatist leaders from the ground and lodged them in Tihar Jail. The latest entry to the list is Aasiya Andrabi of Dukhtaran-e-Millat and her two associates. Andrabi was jailed for longer spells during Mehbooba’s regime but the local courts bailed her out in all cases. This prompted the NIA action.

In such a scenario, claiming that a person like Dineshwar Sharma, Delhi’s ‘special representative’ frequently travels to Kashmir to encourage engagement is merely rhetorical. It has no purpose and takers per se. The separatists are undoubtedly under tremendous stress but this has offset the impact of a campaign against their conduct. The public outlook may not be the same about them as it was earlier when they used to engage with powers that be and live a lavish life.

A heart-rending letter to Modi by two daughters of a jailed Hurriyat leader Aftab Hilali, Mirwaiz’s flamboyant spokesman, was circulated widely by the people on the internet. The sympathy quotient has altered to their advantage.

The pro-India political camp is in a much precarious situation. They have been robbed off strong arguments to face the public. Their survival, political as well as within the public milieu, is under threat.

Mehbooba Mufti’s invocation of Salahuddin and Yasin Malik to remind the consequences of dissention supposedly being engineered by the BJP maybe comical but it demonstrates the level a former chief minister has been reduced to. Mehbooba is unforgivable because she was sacked while clinging to power. Her political rise, irrespective of the discussions on who created the party and for what purpose, was a function of her strong campaign against human rights violations and in favour of political settlement of Kashmir. She has irreparably lost the argument and reduced to the same level where her political opponent National Conference was.

Now the difference is that Omar Abdullah seems to be behaving in a matured manner than he used to be in the past and Mehbooba is left with the options of managing her disarrayed flock and rediscover an argument to manoevre again on the political field. Rebels in her party have thrown enough hints to support the BJP should an alternate government be formed in the state. This is where her party’s vision is ultimately leading Kashmir to.

The sad thing is that the body bags are pouring in. The trigger-happy army’s target fire on the throat of a Trehgam villager or killing of two CRPF men in Achabal reflects the actual ground in Kashmir. The gun is ruling the roost. The voices are stifled.

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