By Khursheed Wani
The soothing sunshine in February comes as a big relief for common Kashmiris who went through one of the worst winters in recent history. The adequate snowfall may be reassuring for the climate and the farmers but the miseries it simultaneously brought to the people in absence of official response are difficult to forget. The crisis-hardened Kashmiris, nevertheless, cruise through the vagaries of weather too.
The question that lurks in everyone’s mind as sunshine reappears and temperature soars few notches every day is what is going to happen in Kashmir this summer. Is it going to be the tumultuous summer as we witnessed in 2016? Will the ghost of unrest revisit the Valley or the situation would remain peaceful as the ruling class in the embattled state would like it to be.
This goes beyond doubt that the massive public uprising that erupted in Kashmir and had a perceptible impact on the Muslim majority pockets of Jammu and Ladakh regions, was a collective reaction to a plethora of events and objectives designed by the state to target the Muslim majority status, directly or indirectly. Burhan Wani’s killing in Kokernag on July 8, 2016 evening only triggered off the public sentiment. Much before that, the resentment was brewing against the ruling PDP-BJP combine on the plans of settling ex-servicemen in exclusive colonies, bringing back displaced Hindus (Pandits) to be resettled in restricted and fortified colonies and absorbing tens of thousands of Hindu west Pakistan refugees (WPRs) in Jammu with full citizenship rights as the other state-subjects boast of.
Going by the history of public rebellions in Kashmir, there have not been two massive uprisings in quick succession, primarily because society ill-affords it. On that premise, year 2017 can be deemed as a peaceful year. But it also depends on the perception management, changes on the ground level and the lessons, if any, learned by decision-makers.
The 2016 unrest mellowed down in November last. The time period ever since has been a major factor in continuation of a relatively peaceful phase. The government began a process to reach out to the victims of violence perpetrated by the security grid. In assembly, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti announced relief packages for the slain youngsters and people wounded and disabled by pellets and bullets besides ordering inquiry in at least three cases of cold-blooded murder. It appears the record number of people detained under Public Safety Act are being gradually released. The separatist triumvirate Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik are under less curbs.
These measures would contribute in perpetuating a relatively passive phase only if Delhi modifies its policy and outlook on Kashmir, which has off late been overwhelmed by arrogance of power and haste to implement the ‘nationalist agenda’. There are subtle indications that Delhi would like to pursue an accommodative approach and refrain from antagonizing the people of Kashmir on highly sensitive issues.
Last week, two junior ministers of home affairs in Narendra Modi government Hansraj Gangaram Ahir and Kiran Rijjiju separately spoke in the two houses of Indian parliament to clarify that there was no plan to set up Sainik Colonies for defence personnel or exclusive colonies for displaced Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir. The statements referred to the state government, of which the BJP is a partner, in negating the notion that residential colony for the former Indian soldiers would be established.
There is no disagreement in Kashmir on the return of Pandits to their homes and hearths. Separatists have oft-repeated their stance on their return. Burhan Wani in his last video on June 7, 2016 welcomed the return of Pandits but warned against exclusive colonies for them. This is the reason that the state legislature’s unanimous resolution on return of Pandits did not evoke any resentment. The government’s initiatives to make conducive atmosphere for the return of Pandits have worked on the ground. Several clusters established in Budgam, Islamabad and Kupwara have seen a sizeable number of Pandits living comfortably. Around 6,000 Pandit employees recruited under the Prime minister’s special package were absorbed efficiently in the government departments back in Valley. At workplaces, they receive preferential treatment from the officers and colleagues. When the Pandit teachers working in south Kashmir refused to report to their duties after the unrest ended in November, they were not penalized. Instead, the authorities ordered release of their salaries.
Delhi also declined that West Pakistan refugees living in Jammu areas are being given domicile certificates even as issues related to their rehabilitation were addressed. Providing nativity and identity certificates to the WPRs is directly linked to J&K’s demography. The majority community in the state is within rights to oppose any move that undermines their exclusive character and threatens their existence.
The clarifications in the parliament on contentious issues indicate that Delhi does not want repetition of what happened in Kashmir in 2016. Perhaps this is also the reason that the government chose to wind up the budget session of state legislature prematurely when Mehbooba Mufti’s remark on Article 370 and subsequent utterance of speaker Kavinder Gupta became contentious.
In 2015 autumn, Narendra Modi declared in Srinagar that he does not require advise on Kashmir. The remark was insulting to the chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed who had a few minutes earlier chosen to offer his advises. A year later, tens and thousands of people who hit the streets in protest and defiance, actually offered the advice to the rulers. The way rulers appear to be responding to the touchy issues, it appears they have taken some advice. Let better sense prevail.