NEW DELHI: In what is an accelerating slide back to the 1990’s Plus, Kashmir is looking down an abyss from which New Delhi seems to have decided it wil provide no escape.

All efforts by civil society, political leaders from both Srinagar and Delhi have failed to convince Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his advisors to even entertain the suggestion of a dialogue. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh who is in touch with some members is clearly not authorised to sanction any movement, or give any assurances on Kashmir, that is being handled directly by the Prime Minister and his office.

Opposition leaders who visited the Valley in an all party delegation after the indiscriminte use of pellet guns on young people across Kashmir, are of the view that the PM has taken a decision not to move on Kashmir leaving it to simmer or erupt, as the case may be. The strategy seems to be along the following lines:

  • No dialogue, with Kashmiri separatists or Pakistan;
  • Allow Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to remain the face of the government for now, but without making any concessions;
  • Let the police call the shots but bring the Army back, more gradually than initially thought of by New Delhi, into the civilian areas for intense combing operations;
  • Treat the Valley as a law and order issue

While Home Minister Rajnath Singh has met with some delegations and individual members who have visited Kashmir, there is little he has been able to offer by way of assurance, let alone action. PM Modi has met National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah a couple of months ago but clearly the sought after assurance of dialogue was not forthcoming. The centre has initiated no front or back channel moves to open doors, with Srinagar making it clear repeatedly that it will not talk with the Hurriyat and other separatist leaders.

Delegations visiting Kashmir for fact finding, or meetings, have almost all returned on the same page, registering alarm at the rapid decline in the situation and underlining the need for immediate dialogue with all. Not a single Opposition leader or civil society delegation---including one led by BJP leader Yashwant Sinha who incidentally does not have the PM’s mandate, and of senior journalists organised by the Centre for Policy Analysis---has differed with the assessement that there is now a very fine, tenuous line between the stone and the gun. And if New Delhi does not open talks soon, it will not be able to contain the Valley.

Indications that the tide is turning rapidly was evident in the long protests that followed the death of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani in an encounter. The protests and the curfew continued for over four months, with huge crowds gathering to confront the police and the Army as has been reported extensively by The Citizen through the turbulent months.

More recently yet another shift has been noted by the local Kashmiris. Earlier big crowds started turning up for the funerals of militants killed by the paramilitary or Army in Kashmir, a marked change from recent years when these funerals went largely unnoticed. The crowds increased phenomenally after Wani’s death with senior officials admitting that thousands and lakhs were turning out for the last prayers of slain militants.

Now, crowds have started gathering while the encounter is on, to engage in pitched battles with the forces in what is clearly an attempt to rescue the local militants from certain death. The tensions have escalated in South Kashmir, where the Army and paramilitary forces are engaged in combing operations, and where there have been at least two incidents of the crowds gathering to fight back the forces and rescue the militants many of whom who are now local boys. Recruitment has gone up, with militants now appearing at rallies and processions and urging the local Kashmiris to join them. The youth that is the most disaffected section of society now, sees little hope, and is thus most prone to this propaganda according to local officials.

There is deep worry in Kashmir amongst senior political leaders as well as officials, who see in the current non-responsive attitude a push by the Centre for the young people to tilt over. “Without talks what can we expect,” a former civil servant said pointing out that the refusal of the Centre to open channels of communication is moving the Valley towards violence and destruction.

National Conference leaders Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah have been louder than others in demanding dialogue with all sections, with both now supporting the Hurriyat leaders as well. “New Delhi needs to realise that it has to talk to various stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir and resume the dialogue process with Pakistan if it wants to see normalcy and peace in Kashmir,” Omar Abdullah said recently. He said he had conveyed these views to the PM and the Home Minister.

This incidentally is the view shared by almost all legislators from Kashmir, who said that if the Hurriyat is marginalised by New Delhi in this manner, its replacement would be radical and violent. Is this what the government in Delhi wants? This is the question now on everyone’s lips with a senior legislator from South Kashmir maintaining that it does seem that the central government is bent on pushing the Valley over the cliff. “What it thinks it will gain I have no idea, but it is clearly in no mood to open a dialogue and ushering in confidence building measures as an urgent priority,” he said.

Demonetisaton placed Kashmir, despite the continuing tension, on the backburner. A senior Left leader admitted that the situation was moving rapidly from bad to worse, and was of the view that the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was currently in a position to make her displeasure felt. How? “She can resign if they do not listen, this is something that the BJP does not want right now, she can strategise and step down as this will highlight the issue in all its dimensions,” he said.

There seems to be no indication of this, although it is the advice given to Mufti by her own Peoples Democratic Party legislators some of whom like Tareeq Hameed Karra quit the Lok Sabha in protest against what he described as PDP’s “sell out to the BJP.” Others who have stayed back are of the same view, but the CM and her advisors are currrently in no mood to listen. This despite her inability to extract any assurance from the PM to even start examining a political solution. Sources said that there has been no indication by the government in or outside Parliament that it will examine talks as an option, with all statements focusing on the need to maintain law and order in the state and tackle terrorism.

(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR)