SEEMA MUSTAFA | 15 AUGUST, 2019
11 Days Under Curfew - What Now?
Kashmir locked down
Despite initial claims and the much publicised walk about by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval in deserted streets of Kashmir, the government has been unable to lift curfew and bring back some semblance of normalcy in the Valley. This is the eleventh day of a clampdown with all political leaders in jail ---Shah Faesal who had escaped as he was in Delhi being the latest addition to the numbers ---and the masses indoors.
The first attempt to lift curfew after Friday prayers resulted in a huge demonstration at Soura, Srinagar that became top news after a video was released by the BBC. This brought the British broadcaster into direct conflict with the Indian government, in which the BBC not being the Indian media,remained firm. Eventually, the government issued a statement admitting that there had been violence although predictably this was attributed to some ‘miscreants’. The video shows quite the opposite of course.
On Eid the lockdown remained in place and was, as per confirmed reports, a grim and dismal day. There was no celebration in a state that rejoices in this festival. No greetings, with the young people studying elsewhere unable to even greet their families back home as the internet remained suspended, and mobiles off the air.
It is not clear whether New Delhi has factored in the anger of Kashmiris in its plans. And whether it really intends to lift curfew, like the iron curtain, to reveal a Valley of happy, blissful people joining in the applause for the government for removing Articles 370 and 35-A and erasing the state of Jammu and Kashmir in one stroke.
One can presume not, as the government is expected to have strategic wisdom unlike the trolls who are in place to just provide the encore. Some with arguments, the more honest ones without. All with abuse, that is a given.
So it can be expected that the government knows what the international media and some here have been chronicling --- that Kashmir is sullen and angry and scared and traumatised. Perhaps the report from Jean Dreze, Maimoona Sultan and Kavita Krishnan will also provide insights to the government about what people ---who clearly said little to the NSA---feel on the ground. Though they were not allowed by the Press Club of India, a body of journalists when one last checked, to telecast a video these three activists have come out with perhaps the most comprehensive report here till date. The video too is not sensational, but for those who want to draw a plan of action factoring in the sentiments of the people and not just words in the air a must see. As it records voices of ordinary persons in the Valley, that should ring some alarm bells here in New Delhi.
There is no doubt that the Kashmiris will militate when curfew is lifted. There will be no one to mediate as the pro-India and pro-peace people have been neutered effectively. It will be just New Delhi and Kashmir with the Army and the paramilitary in charge. We have seen this before from 1989 onwards, and it was a nightmare for all concerned. Interestingly, the situation was retrieved at the time because most of those perpetrating violence had been sent in by Pakistan and when the local population withdrew its support, they lost the sanctuaries they needed for their operations. And why did the locals withdraw the support, because of the intervention of the Kashmiri regional politicians and individuals who played a major role at the time in cementing relations.
The difference today is that the population of Kashmir itself ---8 million people--- have been alienated. And there are no mainstream politicians left with the inclination or the authority now ti mediate. Any government in the world would tremble at the prospect of what this could entail.
Pakistan of course will be in agitation mode for a while as its Prime Minister Imran Khan is having to repeatedly declare to assuage sentiment within his country. Even though the initial responses from the world have been muted and seemingly supportive, the significant fact is that all countries have again stated that the issue is between India and Pakistan to resolve. Despite the removal of the Articles giving special status to Kashmir, the world has not recognised India’s ownership of Jammu and Kashmir, and continues to insist that Kashmir remains a bilateral issue with Pakistan for both to resolve peacefully. In this the trolls might see a victory, but surely the Ministry of External Affairs would know otherwise.
This is one of the reasons why the government is keen to ensure the image of a peaceful and happy Kashmir. That the move might not have the Kashmiris endorsement, but that it has not agitated them. Social media is full of such statements of peace and harmony that these accounts can see in the Valley.
And even if some media reports bust this, the government knows that in this increasingly divided polity it has put enough material out there for domestic consumption, for those supporting the ‘integration’ to pick up, endorse and circulate. Those opposing it come from the side that has already been declared to be anti national and pro Pakistan, terms used to negate the force of any arguments they might make. Although again a government that functions on divided polity and aggressive sentiment might not exactly ensure a bed of roses for itself. Thorns tend to grow back.
Clearly the government is of the view that it will be able to keep Kashmir down by the use of force a la Israel. Will it, is the question as no country in the modern world can easily contain mass level unrest and violence within. But then that this is a choice that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Home Minister Amit Shah who is now an established independent authority in the government and the party, to make. From the past record of both, it can be expected that Kashmir will be put down by sheer force, with the political stakes high all across.
The issue is far from over, as the world knows that the one peoples for whom the decisions have supposedly been taken are gagged. And that the decision required 43000 troops to be rushed to the Valley.
But unlike the Congress, the BJP revels in politics of high velocity. And has great plans as per its agenda for the country. Kashmir is the first, and the most crucial as what happens here will determine the rest.
Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR from Srinagar