Mehbooba’s Failure

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by A G Noorani

The recent claim that the reaction in India to the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir could bring India and Kashmir ‘together’ is a measure of the depths to which Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti can sink. At the same time, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 49 ex-bureaucrats said, “In post-independence India, this is our darkest hour and we find the response of our government, the leaders of our political parties inadequate and feeble.” Modi spoke on the issue belatedly.

Two BJP ministers had participated in the Hindu Ekta Manch rally in Jammu last month. The chief minister dared not sack them lest the BJP withdrew its support. They finally sent their resignations, not to her, but to their party, which in turn forwarded them over so that she could save face. For much less, she had summarily sacked her trusted colleague Haseeb Drabu.

This was a rape-murder with a huge difference. Besides ‘gratification of lust’, its objectives were political — to drive out the local Muslim population; prevent the nomadic Muslim Bakerwals and Gujjars from exercising their age-old right to have their herds graze in Jammu, and grab the lands. So that the demographic character of Jammu is not changed. The 18-page charge-sheet filed in court deserves to be widely publicised. The efficiency of the J&K police disturbed Jammu’s Hindu politicians, who asked for a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation. They were supported by a minister of state, Jitendra Singh, a particularly vicious champion of Jammu’s Hindu fanatics.

Sanji Ram’s Manch used India’s National Flag to mobilise masses against the police investigation.

This implies lack of confidence in the J&K police, which has borne the brunt of the fight against terrorism. Its men are Kashmiris. The army and the paramilitary are from outside. The DG of the J&K police, S.P. Vaid, argued, “If we can fight terrorism if we can fight stone-pelters, why can’t we carry out professional investigations?” Asked about erring army personnel, he revealed,

Can any Kashmiri sink lower than this?

“Since 90s [J&K police] registered cases where such incidents have happened … We have been taking [the cases]up with the government”. It consistently refuses sanction for the prosecution of the army men or the paramilitary. “Let every party concerned including ‘our neighbour’ [Pakistan] understand that the only way out is to sit together, talk and sort out the problem … The gun is not the solution.”

But Modi is an RSS activist. In March, at its HQ in Nagpur, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat extolled the army’s performance in Kashmir: “You need the power to establish the truth.” He asserted that Kashmir’s Muslims had accepted the faith of ‘invaders’. When Mufti Mohammad Sayeed hailed his PDP’s coalition with the BJP, he was being dishonest. The BJP’s general secretary Ram Madhav tore up his pretensions with the Agenda of Alliance, which reflects the BJP’s triumph on every major issue.

This dishonourable pact arouses wrath for two reasons. Kashmiris had voted hugely for the PDP to keep the BJP out. Mufti’s PDP betrayed them by embracing the BJP. Secondly, the BJP increased its demands with the centre’s support; Mehbooba surrendered. She did what no J&K chief minister had done before. She unveiled a statue in Jammu of their oppressor, the despicable Hari Singh, who in 1947 presided over the ethnic cleansing of Muslims. Can any Kashmiri sink lower than this? It is this perfidy and her tarnished image that drives the youth to militancy in increasing numbers. The hundreds who lost their eyesight because of the use of pellet guns on her watch fuelled the revolt. It acquired greater force since Burhan Wani’s murder in 2016.

Much worse is yet to come. In Jammu, Ram Madhav has demanded that “the directive of the Tribal Affairs Department … be withdrawn”, which forbade the eviction of tribals from forest land. He had also taken up with the centre the issue of the 7,000 Rohingya Muslims in Jammu. Jammu city’s population is nearly 500,000; Jammu Division is around six million. This is another ‘threat’ of demographic (read communal) change.

It was left to Mehbooba’s brother, Tourism Minister Tassaduq Mufti, to utter bitter truths in an interview on April 12: “Today the truth is that while we are in control, we are no longer trusted. We were supposed to be partners in rebuilding this place but … we have ended up being partners a crime that an entire generation of Kashmiris might have to pay with their blood”. He referred to “the massiveness of the funerals given to slain militants” which signified that “the alienation has reached a level now where it can lead to bloodshed on a scale that doesn’t find a precedent in history”.

He might note another form of protest: the graffiti on the streets, art as a form of resistance. This year marks 30 years of militancy in Kashmir. No end is in sight to the people’s sufferings — but they will never surrender.

A constitutional lawyer, Noorani is one of the top Kashmir experts. This article appeared in Pakistan newspaper The Dawn on April 21, 2018.

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