So Mr Mufti What Now?
Protests all over Kashmir after trucker Zahid Bhat's death
NEW DELHI: Ever since the Peoples Democratic Party decided to join forces with the Bharatiya Janata Party, Jammu and Kashmir has been hurtling from one crisis to another. The Udhampur violence that has now claimed the life of 20 year old trucker Zahid Ahmad Bhat was clearly orchestrated by right wing groups that, using the same strategy as in Dadri, flooded the area with rumours of cows being slaughtered and carcasses being recovered. The orchestrated tensions spilled out on the streets with the truck from the Kashmir Valley being attacked, with the two truckers sustaining severe burn injuries.
Protests have broken out all over Kashmir Valley after Bhat succumbed to his injuries. Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed visited the hospital earlier, and now as has become the custom in the state offered monetary help to the family of the victim. But the questions he needs to answer are: where were the authorities and the state administration when the rumours were being spread through Udhampur? Why was preventive action not taken? What did his administration do to diffuse the tensions by verifying and broadcasting the truth? Veterinarians have now confirmed that the cows found dead had been poisoned, and not slaughtered as the right wing groups had propagated.
In Jammu and Kashmir, where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Safety Act prevail, preventive detentions have become a norm. Kashmiris are detained for doing little more than crossing the street at times so why is it that the Chief Minister stayed silent while Udhampur was being made to go up in flames?
The tensions are spiralling out of control, and despite the kind of speculation the visible anger and alienation of the young people in the state generates in Delhi, very few have crossed the line to pick up arms as yet. Nor have they returned to the 1990’s with militants and armed men ruling the Valley, and this is largely because of the unwillingness of the common Kashmiri to return to the path of violence despite what many of them have no hesitation in describing as “deep provocation.” There is deep anger about the portrayal of the average Kashmiri as a terrorist or/and an extremist that is hammered home on a regular basis by the Indian media.
Unfortunately, the Chief Minister who heads a regional party of Kashmiris in the state now appears to be too weak kneed to take a position for the people of the state, and for unity between the regions as his silence through the almost daily protests and shutdowns in the Valley have demonstrated. He was in Delhi recently to invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit the state that he will be doing now on November 5, and has spent most of the year praising the Prime Minister and the Bharatiya Janata party he is in coalition with.
In May this year Mufti in fact endorsed the agenda that is creating communal tensions in the state, by saying that he would bring back Kashmiri pandits to the Valley without clarifying that he was opposed to the BJP proposal of settling them in segregated colonies. It was only after protests ignited the Valley that some sort of a clarification came from the state government.
Kashmiris point out that the Chief Minister has gone indoors, is rarely seen, has little to say and governance as one academic put it, “is probably worse than it was even under Omar Abdullah.” The tensions between the regions have sharpened dramatically with communal politics, as evident in the Udhampur violence, taking a toll in other districts such as Rajouri and Poonch as well. Religious flags were burnt in Rajouri, tensions rose, and the Valley protested with a shut down while the state government imposed a curfew. No effort is being made by the state or the PDP cadres to diffuse tensions through counter-propaganda pleading unity and togetherness. Curfew was imposed in Kishtwar, with the calibrated pattern being communal tensions in districts of Jammu, reaction in Kashmir Valley, curfew, protests, firing, deaths.
More than the numbers of the dead or injured, the alienation is intense and as a senior Kashmiri editor said the mood has swung from alienation and resentment against India to “hate India.” Feeding into this is the RSS, BJP and the front organisations with both the Congress party and the National Conference openly accusing the Hindutva groups for fostering violence in the state. As the editor said, “while we had never thought that it could get worse, (under Abdullah’s government) it has become much worse.”
Mufti’s silence that is being read all over the state as support for the BJP is making matters more tense and more difficult for the Valley where a sense of siege is growing. Burhan Wani, a young man, is now in the spotlights being projected as a Hizbul Mujahideen regional commander in position to recruit young Kashmiris. He is all over the social media, but does not seem to be in the real world as yet. No one can place him, leading to some speculation here that he is is a ‘created’ entity with the intelligence agencies reportedly nonplussed, and unable to locate him despite his photographs and loud calls to the Kashmiri youth to enlist and fight for freedom. This would not be the first time that this has been done in Jammu and Kashmir. Again there is no word from the Chief Minister on this issue either, with neither a denial nor a confirmation, or even a word about what is being done by his government to apprehend the young man in battle fatigues.
Trucker Zahid Bhat’s death after the attack on him in Udhampur has led to one of the largest and angriest funeral processions held in Kashmir in a long time. The separatists are now following, rather than leading, the crowds that are swirling around from district to district in protests and/or funeral processions on a daily basis. This can spiral out of control any day, and if it does the silent and ineffective Chief Minister will have to share a large portion of the blame.
Jammu and Kashmir needs to be governed by an iron, and yet highly sensitive and responsive hand, with CM Mufti completely unable and incapable of delivering, He has spent more time in trying to bail out the BJP from tight corners, than in dispensing justice and standing up for the state and its special status. As Kashmiris remind journalists, Mufti came to power on three planks: one, withdrawal of AFSPA, two, keeping the BJP out of the Valley, and three, governance and peace. He has failed on all three counts. Instead according to the Kashmiris the unmitigated use of the Public Safety Act continues, with young people being arrested and “tortured” under its provisions by the state police. The Chief Minister, many allege, has refused to intervene despite petitions being taken to him for action.
After Zahid Bhats death the Chief Minister has expressed shock and spoken out a little more than usual to blame the “politics of hate.” He has, however, taken usual care not to identify the forces behind this divisive politics and instead offered monetary compensation to the family. Nine persons have been arrested, but clearly the mastermind orchestrating repeated incidents of violence all across the state is elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the Chief Minister and his government are preparing for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kashmir.