PDP Vs BJP: The Army Places Itself in the Midst of a Political Storm
No end in sight as government policy remains ‘no dialogue’.
NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly gave the first firm indication of serious tensions between the Peoples Democratic Party and Bharatiya Janta Party, both together in government. Both sides traded verbal blows about the FIR filed against the Army at the instance of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti for shooting dead two young students in a village at Shopian.
The excuse: the crowd was pelting stones. So the response was to fire into the crowd with former chief minister Omar Abdullah maintaining in the Assembly that the students were killed with bullets fired at the chest and above. Eyewitnesses at the spot told the local media that the soldiers fired with an intent to kill. The Army claimed it had opened fire in self defence as the convoy was stopped by a 100 strong crowd that doubled in no time.
However, in an increasingly polarised environment there are no takers for the Army’s account. Not even the BJP that stopped short of a defence of the Army, but merely insisted that the FIR registered against the specific Major be withdrawn and a general FIR without names be filed in its stead.
"Politics apart, this cycle of killings must end. We all have to end this bloodshed," former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said in the Assembly. He said what every single Kashmiri has been saying since the incident, “Bullets have been fired at chest height, which means the forces were not controlling the situation, but only firing." Eyewitnesses confirmed this to local reporters maintaining that the Army soldiers got off the convoy and fired straight at the protestors killing Javaid Ahmad Bhat, 20, and Suhail Javid Lone, 24.
The villagers were protesting against an encounter and the death of militants earlier.
Mufti told the House, "After the killings I immediately spoke to the defence minister and she was very positive. She told me that I should take action if any carelessness or anything wrong has happened. It's after that we registered an FIR and ordered a magisterial inquiry.”
She said that the FIR would not hurt the morale of the Army. And made it clear that the process would be taken to its logical end.
The BJP, argued that the FIR naming the Major be withdrawn, and it could be refiled then without names. “The government should withdraw the FIR against the Army personnel and lodge a fresh FIR without naming anybody,” BJP’s RS Pathania said while speaking in the Assembly.
Significantly, the Army has no plans to withdraw from Kashmir. Or for that matter reach out to the people as it had tried to under different chiefs in the past. The strategy now is to sanitise the Valley, move from South the North Kashmir and ensure all resistance comes to an end. However, while the number of encounters has increased as have been the numbers of militants killed, this has been matched by a hike in the number of soldiers killed and increased tensions that have prevented the Army from bringing even South Kashmir under its control. Large scale operations have been carried out in South Kashmir, followed by huge protests as entire villages come out to either stop the encounter even while its underway, or conversely protest and close down the adjoining areas with the youth pelting stones at government vehicles or targets.
The fatigue factor for the Army has increased as well, with the protests now involving women and children, and bringing out the masses in angry protest. The soldiers, while under instructions to exercise ‘restraint’ when confronted with such crowds, are unable to follow these always as the Shopian incident demonstrated, with considerable concern within about the continuing confrontation with an increasingly hostile and angry population.
The BJP government’s ‘no dialogue’ policy has sealed the confrontation within violent parameters with no signs of a shift. This realisation is driving both sides to confrontation, with the Army seeing the job of maintaining control as ‘endless’ and the Kashmiri’s driven by a resignation and anger fuelled further by the fact that after a long break their children are being pushed towards militancy, and almost certain death as most of them continue to operate in the state itself. For the BJP, however, a simmering and violent Kashmir is a strategic necessity to feed and buttress the politics of divisiveness in the other states .
As till now the FIR filed by the Jammu and Kashmir police against the Army remains. Although little is expected from this.