Unmoved

As Kashmir is getting into the fourth week of unrest following Burhan killing in Bamdoora down-south, nothing much is  visible in response from the governments in Delhi and Srinagar. Masood Hussain details the happenings in the ideologically split political space from Srinagar to Delhi

CM Mehbooba Mufti with Rajnath Singh.
CM Mehbooba Mufti with Rajnath Singh.

Fatigued in the ding-dong battles with protestors in last 21 days, top police officers faced the real big challenge last week when mother of one of their colleagues died. For paying condolences, they lacked the option of hotline. They had to personally move deep-north.

“We started shortly before mid-night and after three hours we were back,” a top officer said. “The schedule hit the functioning the other day but the option of travelling during the day was not there.”

Post-Burhan, police are facing massive street crowds. Already 55 youth stand lowered in their graves as hundreds are recovering in various hospitals and at home. Some have even flown out of Kashmir. This has added to the anger that is currently ruling the streets. The strike has forced a new movement system even on civilians. Now people move during wee hours or after the dusk.

But the more efforts the police are making to come out of the Burhan syndrome, the more they are sucked into it.

The last push was from the Chief Minister herself. While coming out of her party’s Raising Day, celebrated off the media gaze for the first time, she raked up Burhan encounter again. “I believe that had they (police) known he was there, (Burhan) Wani would have been given one chance as the situation was fast improving in the state,” Ms Mufti said about the July 8, Bamdoora encounter. “How are we supposed to know everything about every encounter? As far as I know, what I heard from the police and the army, who said they only knew that there were three militants inside the house but did not know who they were.”

Reviving Burhan three weeks after his killing has ‘disturbed’ her party and the security grid. “The fact of the matter is that we were desperate to arrest him because that would have helped us undo the iconic status he had created for himself,” a top police officer told Kashmir Life. “But the party that raided the spot never knew who was inside and this led to his killing in the brief encounter that gave birth to a hero and a saint.”

The officer, speaking anonymously, said that there is no system in place in the state suggesting that Chief Minister should know about an encounter site. Some times, even the officer controlling the territory also does not know. The presence of a top intelligence officer from Delhi in Srinagar, who is also understood to have met the Chief Minister, was merely a ‘coincidence’. “I do not believe even the Home Ministry has any role in Burhan’s killing,” the officer said. “It just happened in routine.”

The officer is disturbed over Chief Minister’s statement that it conveyed the security grid has the option of “giving another chance”, which, he said, has never happened. Top PDP leader and MP Muzaffar Hussain Baig, however, has been consistently asking if there was possibility of capturing Burhan alive “as has happened in past” so that they could be persuaded into the mainstream.

Deserted street of Jahangir Chowk as curfew like restrictions imposed in parts of the Srinagar on Sunday following strike call by separatist organisations on the second consecutive day in protest against the killing of top commander of Hizbul Mujahideen in an encounter with security forces in South Kashmir on 8th July. PHOTO BY BILAL BAHADUR
Deserted street of Jahangir Chowk nearby Civil Secretariat.

Amid the raging debate over ifs and buts of the encounter, the aftermath has proved terrible. With the life surviving besieged, the governance has seemingly taken the backseat. Like Lal Chowk, civil secretariat is also deserted. Like the sets of a horror film, one walks and listens the echo of his own foot-tapping in the corridors. Activity is limited to a few rooms housing the offices of ministers and top bureaucrats. Last week, a minister’s bored and idle personal security officer put on a romantic number of his mobile and the people in the entire floor converged to listen.

The only thing visible in the secretariat is the government’s apparent failure to adequately react to the situation that was created by the teen rebel’s killing. Three weeks later, Kashmir is still counting its dead, the pellet-injured, blind and the one-eyed. In Lal Chowk, bird chirping is audible only if an ambulance siren does not break the lull. The inability of the government’s in Srinagar and Delhi to have a sympathetic response to the happenings is being considered “deliberate” by people who matter in Kashmir’s ideologically split political landscape.

“Nobody has condemned the killings and blinding, so far,” Mirwaiz Umer Farooq regrets. “Normally governments acknowledge the crisis and then engage the society but here they do not even convey a word, there is no concern being shown at any level, it is unremorseful.”

Protest-in-Hyderpora-on-Sunday-July-22-2016
Syed Ali Geelani addressing people from his Hyderpora residence.

Kashmir’s resistance camp comprising Syed Ali Geelani, Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz has not met even once. Malik is in jail and the two others restricted to their homes. A frail Geelani gets a trickle of visitors but his health does not permit him to talk for so long. He offers his prayers on a chair. “Delhi has never acknowledged the sufferings of the people in Kashmir,” he said. “People have given enormous sacrifices and I have a firm belief that they can not get waste.”

“The criminal silence of the government conveys they are not bothered,” Mirwaiz said.

Feeling is no different in the unionist opposition NC that faced 2010 unrest for longer time and with more deaths. “The government is under pressure from Sangh Parivaar so it is not forthcoming,” says Nasir Sogami, former Jr Home Minister and provincial head of the party. “By now, many things could have happened but they seemingly are unwilling.”

From the unionist and the separatist camps, comparisons are being drawn with the last unrest, the 2010. “There was some lip-service in 2010 but this time there is no empathy,” Mirwaiz said. “Though it (strike) is all for Kashmir issue, they are not even talking on AFSPA, demilitarization or even release of detainees. They are not even acknowledging the destruction that pellet guns have led to. They are unwilling to withdraw them.”

Sogami said that in 2010 Delhi was responsive as it flew an all party delegation, which met people, visited hospitals, and later appointed the interlocutors. “This time, nobody is sharing the pain,” Sogami said. “The government is missing and these are not good signs because people feel pushed to the wall.” Despite all the criticism, observers see NC’s overall reaction “measured and guarded”, partly because it survived a similar situation in recent past and partly because the PDP loss in the ongoing crisis may not be an NC gain.

Hurriyat leaders said they have already offered a list publicly that could mark the beginning of any forward movement. Apart from accepting Kashmir as a dispute, the Hurriyat suggested CBMs including withdrawing the AFSPA, and PSA, setting free political detainees, demilitarization, UN human rights investigations and granting political space. “There hasn’t been any response so far,” regretted Mirwaiz.

Veteran journalist Mohammad Sayeed Malik who has been witness to the Kashmir history for last half-a-century sees a pattern in all these happenings. “Unlike scale, the current situation is almost similar to 2010 and 2008 and if you study it keenly the complexion of the response has not changed,” Malik said. “Change in political ideology in Delhi’s governance structure does not change the Kashmir policy.”

For Delhi, Malik said Kashmir is an “expendable entity” and it has been offering high-dividends throughout. For becoming Prime Minister Rahul Gandhi, for instance, made a conscious choice of hanging somebody who was No 28 on the list only because he was a Kashmiri and a Muslim. “If you see Kashmir from Delhi’s perspective, you may find that somebody there manages a scoreboard,” adds Malik, who has spent many decades as editor in Delhi.

“One party stays silent and does nothing and other party makes noise, seem active and eventually keeps quite,” Malik said. “Chidambaram flew the all party delegation and then halted the entire process after situation improved in 2010.” He believes all these things are aimed at “appeasing the Hindu sentiment”.

Scenes of street strife from city.
Scenes of street strife in city.

The silence by the local government is hurting the people more. “Our government did in seven hours what the last regime did in many months,” admitted a former minister. Even medical records establish that 2016 was more intense than 2010. But Naeem Akhtar who speaks for the government insists that they are not hiding in the secretariat.

Akhtar gets angry when told that 2016 has devoured the distinction that his PDP had over its rival, the NC.

“We do not have a comparison,” Akhtar said in his deserted office. “They are conformists, and believe in least resistance. With 28 seats we are attempting to get what they failed even with two-third majority.”

“I am telling you again that we do not believe in anger-management,” Akhtar asserted. “We have taken up things (with Delhi) strictly as per the road map we believe in because our alliance is dictated by new realities and electoral mathematics and not convenience of being in power.”

His party, Akhtar asserts, does not want to get into “histrionics or dramatic argumentation” because it has already conveyed its partner that “dialogue, reconciliation and engagement with the people of J&K” is the only way forward. “Let me tell you there is a tripping point,” he asserted.

Shutdown on July 31, 2016

Apart from two meetings with the Prime Minister by one of its key ministers, PDP’s entire “process” was restricted to Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s overnight visit to Srinagar. Insiders claim there was “unpreceedented  plain-speaking”.

One senior minister has explained to Singh that PDP sacrificed everything by helping the “triangle” get completed for the first time in history – a reference to strong political connectivity between Kashmir, Jammu and Delhi. “It had enormous political costs for PDP,” he has said. “But whatever has been happening in response (from Delhi) is mere cosmetic as the Agenda of Alliance has not been taken up.”

Another PDP leader has told the visiting Home Minister that the sea of people who offered funeral prayers to Burhan also included “voters of NC, PDP and Congress”. “We gave you 80 percent poll participation and you responded by doing nothing and then we lost the argument,” the minister has said. He has said that the ally BJP has not “appreciated” the costs for the visible inertia in Delhi.

Agenda for Kashmir, another minister is reported to have stated, is being set by streets in the plains of India and Pakistan. “You spend Rs 75 crore on PMSSS a year and my daughter in Mumbai is working on a package of Rs 5 lakh per month but is not getting a flat to live because she is a Kashmiri Muslim,” the minister has said, “Now she is flying home. Where is the argument that I have to sell?”

So far one MLA was attacked and is in hospital and another had his home and business already set afire. Some ministers are feeling it difficult to even convince their own families about their alliance.

Yet another minister said the government in Delhi is escaping from what it has committed already. “We have to go from room to room to get what we require and which is part of the routine,” the minister has said.

The situation, insiders said, had infuriated BJPs Lal Singh. “Kashmir has a deep wound inside, treat it,” Singh has shouted in his own style. “If our party is committed to the Agenda of Alliance, why are not we seriously pursuing it?” Praising the Chief Minister for respecting the Jammu mandate, Singh has hinted that situation in Jammu would have been ugly had not the alliance been in place.

“You are occupying the same chair that our founder occupied once,” one angry young man from PDP has told the Home Minister. “Despite doing whatever he could at massive costs, you converted him into a pro-Pakistan politician in last year of his life?” He was referring to Mufti’s first press conference at Jammu after taking oath of office in March 2015 in which he thanked Pakistan and militants for the elections. This statement triggered a media trial pushing Modi to back-foot.

NC that submitted a detailed memorandum to Home Minister sought immediate resumption of dialogue with separatists and Pakistan and restoration of the greater autonomy.

Huge deployment of forces has been made in Srinagar areas to thwart any protest. (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

But Malik says Kashmir’s “masters” are not changing. “Occupants have changed in Delhi but not their policy,” Malik said. “Kashmir is managed by unhealthy, narrow-minded bureaucratic set up.” He sees a serious failure in Delhi’s outreach. “Last time they flew parliamentarians and they talked to all without compromising the position on any side,” Malik said. “It should have been followed adequately but they appointed interlocutors and then forgot what they had said.”

NDA in Delhi is meticulously measuring its steps. Modi was supposed to fly to Islamabad for the SAARC meet. Now Home Minister is going. Fearing it might give some “benefit of doubt” to some people at some levels in Kashmir, an MEA spokesman clarified that he will do nothing on bilateral front. Interestingly, the Kashmir situation has taken Pakistan by surprise, if one goes by what a senior Pakistani diplomat told Kashmir reporters in Delhi.

In immediate short-term, both NC and Hurriyat and even vast sections in the PDP were expecting that pellet guns would be immediately withdrawn. “Home Minister said he has already set up a committee that will report to him in two months,” one former PDP minister said. The issue on ground is that if 3000 people with pellet injuries rushed to hospitals in three weeks, what will happen in eight more weeks?

Two developments are reported to be underway: reducing the physical infrastructure housing the security men by almost half and investing massively in the electoral surveillance especially in the urban spaces. Already in the meeting, Singh had said that some of the space in occupation of troops will be returned. There is a plan to open gates of shareholding in the system for the restive youth.

The curfew-strike cocktail being sustained with a real communication breakdown has triggered its own crisis at various levels other than the obvious impact on economic well-being.

Right now, Jammu is silent. But a top NC leader told Kashmir Life that tensions are abounded but the belt is simmering. “The hawkish right-wingers are getting good audience and support but it is not public,” the leader, talking on the condition of anonymity said. “Since most of industrial Jammu has Kashmir as its market, it is severely impacting the local economy which is adding to the tensions.”

An officer who was associated with the “movement” of encouraging youth to opt for civil service is hurt over how electronic media hit him. “Now you have 4000 people applying for civil service examination against 28000 from other regions,” the officer said. “What will happen? The government will lose its legitimacy for lack of local human resource.” The officer said the youth are in moral dilemma right now. “They feel the pain when the pellets blind the boys and they think they could be comfortable with stone throwing boys on streets rather than secretariat white collars”

Mirwaiz said the anger is unprecedented and the youth are uncompromising. “They are unwilling even to grant people a few hours of respite to bring in provisions fearing it might neutralize the programme,” Mirwaiz said. “Youth say they have not been able to get anything out of what happened in 2008 and 2010 so it is better to do things once for all.”

Barring Chief Minster flying to three districts and meeting some of the families at district headquarters, nobody from the political parties has offered condolences to the bereaved families. “We are not even getting space to meet (with Geelani and Malik), how can we visit the bereaved families which should have ideally been the first step,” Mirwaiz asked. “This regime was talking about healing touch but after seizing power it has lost even basic human values.”

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