On The Spot: Kashmir Sullen And Depressed
A protest in Srinagar (picture courtesy ibntimes)
NEW DELHI: A visit to Srinagar found the city depressed. Kashmiri youth, usually passionate even in their anger, seemed listless and for want of another word ‘resigned’. The hope ignited during the elections to the Assembly seemed to have died with the Kashmiris in the state capital particularly worried about the absence of alternatives, and the ‘no progress’ on talks with their Pakistan or between New Delhi and Srinagar.
There is a palpable sullenness that has in the past taken Jammu and Kashmir to the brink of disaster. The ‘betrayal’ by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is spoke of in desultory tones now, a fait accompli, in which as one young student voting for the first time said, “we were fooled completely.” The Peoples Democratic Party had the Kashmiris come out in large numbers to vote for it with the propaganda that this was necessary to keep the Bharatiya Janata party out of government. The reverse happened and as the student with the benefit of hindsight said, “they used us.”
The Valley is still suffering from the hangover of the devastating floods, with all residents fearful of a repeat. This year saw panic in Kashmir with unusually heavy rains, and as the residents point out, little has been done to fortify the banks or ease the construction. In other words the reasons for the flash floods that inundated the capital and other parts of the Valley have not been dealt with, and hence the fear that heavy rainfall can cause sudden floods remains. Compensation has been low, and the flood victims have sought to normalise life with the help of friends and families claiming that the government has been niggardly in its response.
The PDP has not been able to bridge the deficit of trust. As a group of youth agreed, that the last time they have voted for National Conference leader Omar Abdullah as “we thought he was young, fresh and would change things.” That did not happen. “This time we voted for the PDP thinking they would at least not sell out the Valley, but now we are not even sure of that,”was the consensus. In fact many feel that the chasm of distrust has widened, and Mufti is now widely perceived as having succumbed to the BJP on most issues.
What have you found? is a favourite opening line of Kashmiris for visitors such as this scribe. And then they go on to answer their own question. The PDP support base has plummeted sharply, with the party now being seen as an extension of the BJP. Never again, is the response. Never again, remains for the National Conference as well. The Kashmiris have been left without an alternative, as unlike other states they do not readily shift from one party to another with the conviction that they must vote. In fact quite the contrary, in that the tendency is not to vote and after the enthusiasm seen in at least two elections, it is clear that the young people are following the older generation in erecting barricades between themselves and the polls, and closing doors faster than perhaps New Delhi even realises.
Ever since the government was formed Kashmir has been pushed from virtually one crisis to another. Mufti sought to pander to the Valley by announcing the release of Masarat Alam, obfuscating the fact that this had been initiated earlier by the central government. He earned some brownie points for this, but then Alam who was seen by many during the 2010 agitation as a “creature of the agencies’ had other ideas, and used the Pakistani flag in demonstrations to irritate the centre. In fact most young people one met in Srinagar insisted that the Pakistan flag had reappeared this time not because of any new affinity for the neighbouring country, but as a deliberate red rag for the BJP-PDP coalition.
However, Alam’s re-arrest while expected irritated the Kashmiris as yet another sign of Mufti’s inability to stand up to the BJP. The deaths of two young boys in different incidents added to the ‘nothing has changed, but it has become worse’ sentiment.
Mufti’s inability to deliver, has led to considerable unease within Kashmir about the status of the state and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that of course, is not being revoked. Against this background the proposal for the resettlement of Kashmiri pandits has generated yet another controversy, with vested interests in both communities seeking to further polarise the regions.
Perhaps, the biggest damage since the state elections has been rendered by Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar who while responding to a question at Manthan Aaj Tak in New Delhi, said: “If any country, why Pakistan, is planning something against my country, I will take proactive steps. Of course, not in the public domain. But what I have to do, I will do it. Whether it is diplomatic, whether it is pressure tactics or whether it is using the… woh usko bolte hain na Marathi mein kaante se kaanta nikaalte hain… Hindi mein bhi rahega… you have to neutralise terrorist through terrorist only.”
And against the background of the government’s refusal to even review AFSPA he has created a flutter in the Valley with his assertion, “Do not allow loss of life from our side. But take precautions that you do not make collateral damage… woh precaution lena hi hai (we have to take that precaution). You don’t touch civilians, unarmed. But if some one (is) with arms, shoot him… The instruction has a further line: do not allow loss of life from our side as far as possible. Use whatever equipment, people from our side,” he said, referring to incidents in which Army men have been killed while fighting terrorists.
These remarks have added to deepening insecurity and alienation in the Valley, that is visible at many levels. The attacks on the mobile towers for instance is being seen as the handiwork of intelligence agencies with the Kashmiris refusing to believe that terrorist organisations are involved. This perception is further fed by earlier New Delhi decisions, under the previous governments, to cut off internet connectivity. “Now they have decided to bring down the towers” is the general view with the ‘they’ being the central government and its agencies.
Mufti is clearly unable to rectify the situation, having lost his clout altogether in the Valley. And there are no two views, even amongst official Kashmir hands, that the sullen despondency in the Valley these days can turn the clock back several decades.