It should have been, but is not ironic that the first anniversary of the abrogation of statehood and Articles 370, 35-A in Jammu and Kashmir is being observed with curfew. A statement by the government that all is not well, that J&K has not been miraculously cured of all it was accused of, and indeed that it has not moved forward towards the ‘integration’ that was promised.

This despite a year of sustained lockdowns, arrests, ceaseless ‘encounters’ that the Valley see as an euphemism for something else altogether, internet suspension, media censorship with everything coming to a halt in the state by way of jobs, work, businesses, tourism, schooling et al. Covid has made little difference to the peoples lives, with barbed wire blockades, body searches remaining an integral part of Kashmiri life.

The Abdullahs have spoken of the restoration of statehood, and given their proximity to the ruling dispensations in New Delhi, this has triggered speculation about the central government looking to take a tiny step back.That is all in the realm of conjecture and hence meaningless for the ordinary Kashmiri who have no trust at all in the father and son.

There is a sea change in Kashmir. In sentiment and attitude, with the people now more alienated than seen in the past. Even during the days of heighted militancy, there was a population that remained singularly opposed to the militant and would appeal to the government to see reason. Now such appeals are not heard from within Kashmir, just a silence that is deadening but also deadly.

We always saw security as journalists in the hard field of conflict, directly related to the ability of governments not just to keep their borders secure but to keep the peoples secure. When governments play politics, or fail to reassure the people, instability becomes the norm. Be it the desperately poor who followed the Maoists on the path of violence in the belief they could snatch back their right to food, to life; be it the Assam massacres leading up to Nellie where the state through bad politics had been unable to assuage the people that their rights were being adequately protected; be it Punjab (and of course the seat of anti-Sikh violence Delhi at the time) where the state played the communal card to divide communities; and be it Kashmir where the people never really got a chance and were always seen as suspect by a belligerent centre regardless of political hue.

The instances are endless but as a journalist who has covered deep conflict the broad reasons are the same - of neglect, injustice, oppression that has sparked off destabilising violence over and over again. Most of it arises from the continuous political manipulation of the vote bank, with ignorance fuelled by propaganda delivering the votes right into the tentacles of the political masters.

J&K has been a colossal victim of such manipulation, both from within and without. Ever since the accession the state has been toyed with, tossed around in the vortex of deep politics with a sea of violence overtaking the peoples during the turn of the 1980-1990 decade and beyond. The innocent Kashmir was caught between the militant and the state, the gun being pointed at his head by both ostensibly in the field to finish each other off. But the dead bodies that piled up were of the ordinary citizens who paid a heavy price with half widows in the Valley still waiting for the return of their husbands; enforced disappearances; loss of life of both the civilians and the men in uniform. An endless tragedy.

The Kashmiri, always resilient, started limping back to normalcy after that period of darkness that left so many skeletons literally, that were subsequently discovered. The fractured polity started mending itself, and a new generation came in with hope and optimism, and a belief that the tide would turn in their favour. Giving an edge to this hope was young Omar Abdullah who emerged as an icon for the young generation who were mesmerised by his oratory, and as many told this writer at the time, they were positive he would help usher in a new era.

The youth despite being born in conflict had a new spring to their step and were prepared to throw out the baggage of violence. The Hurriyat leaders were marginalised for a while, as was Pakistan going through its own tribulations, as the young people moved to take control of their own destiny. While independence remained the ‘dream’ that no one could disown without serious challenge, the youth were happy to walk with India as the preferred and more pragmatic option. Those handling Kashmir at the time were buoyed, as it would then ensure levels of necessary peace. As the military and intelligence men in Kashmir said, Pakistan had really been pushed out of the horizon by the Kashmiris themselves.

As a senior Army officer said, “it has never been a better opportunity for us to bring in trust and confidence.” Then came many a twist and turn and disillusionment and anger started replacing hope.

The process was completed August 5, 2019. And in the process India has lost the goodwill of the people of the Valley. The mass arrests and encounters that followed the announcement led to deep anxiety and depression in some, anger and resentment in others, but this is perhaps the first time in living memory where all Kashmiris have turned away from New Delhi. Even during the years of heightened militancy the Indian government had an in, as there were many in Kashmir who did not approve of the violence unleashed by Pakistan through organised terrorism.

Today India is losing the people of Kashmir through the sheer act of reducing it to territory. The territory is being guarded by the military and paramilitary-- numbers after a point become meaningless-- with the might of the Indian state trained on Kashmir. Despite this men in uniform continue to die, as do the civilians.

Even in the days of the Abdullah government, when curfew had become the norm but not as continuous as this, the paramilitary men posted at barricades admitted to exhaustion and fatigue. An Army commander trying to reach the civilians seemingly outside the scope of the military explained this was necessary to take the pressure off the boys, as security within would keep his soldiers more secure too.

The current dispensation has a plan for the ‘integration’ of Kashmir into the mainstream as its various leaders have said at different points. That the foundation stone of the Ram Mandir is being laid at Ayodya on the first anniversary of the Abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir is no coincidence. It is to send out the message without having to state it in so many words, that the government is moving forward on the political plank of establishing a Hindu rashtra. As two major irritants - Kashmir and the Ram Mandir are settled.

The government is transparent about its intent. The BJP has been clear about it from the very beginning, even when it was not in power. That it was opposed to one, any form of special status for Kashmir; that it would abrogate Article 370; that the process of the integration it spoke of would involve domicile laws and demographic changes; that the people were dispensable as the political objective had to be realised. It did not say so but for any journalist covering the BJP and the RSS it has always been clear that the goal is all important, and justifies the means.

So persons like former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti should have known what they were perpetuating when they joined hands with the BJP that even then gave no false assurances. It just led Mufti to believe that all was good for the sake of power, and continued with its larger plan regardless. Amit Shah on becoming Home Minister was dramatic in his announcements, but the reality on the ground had started to change long before under hsi careful supervision.

What the government has not been transparent about, is the violence within. The arrests, the detentions, the encounters, the deaths, the raids, the searches ---the day to day assault that makes life impossible for the common person.This is not being written about by the media as news does not really filter out any longer, the people are not that visible, and the clampdowns and lockdowns have eaten into even the edifice of rights.

Will the government succeed? We might be judging it by the one year trajectory but the BJP is in Kashmir for the long haul. And after effecting the legal changes it is prepared to weather and whittle down the resistance. The all important and rather difficult beginning has been made, with the machinery now working to make the territory more palatable to non-Kashmiris through a well thought out two pronged action. One, to change the laws; and two, to end the resistance through the military and police machinery with arrests and encounters.

Will it succeed then remains the question? It has borrowed heavily as senior journalist Anuradha Bhasin has written, from the Israel gameplan for Gaza and West Bank. More the latter. This has involved a complete disregard for world opinion with the US watching Israel’s back, and a military that is brutal and ruthless.

India does not have any major country watching its back. The Americans certainly not, as for them Kashmir has strategic importance in their larger gameplan for the region. The silence today might be replaced by a cacophony tomorrow, as the issue has not yet dissolved into nothing for the US State Department and more so the Pentagon. India’s clout was its burgeoning market, but Covid and decisions since have effectively curtailed that.

China is breathing down India’s neck, huffing and puffing as it senses weakness created by an alienated population in the northern areas. Pakistan, that the Kashmiris had marginalised, is now well back into the picture and is waiting for an opportunity to create trouble. The Gulf countries have joined in now for the first time, and while their intervention through select royals was so far in the social media domain regarding Indian Muslims, Kashmir remains very much a OIC concern. Not that this organisation has much weight in itself, but remains an irritant nevertheless. An irritant that can spell trouble as it has at times in the past.

The one year has made it clear, however, that the military has not been able to subdue the Kashmiris. And the two day curfew right now is testimony to that. An alienated population at the borders is every Army’s nightmare, and should be that of governments also except that politicians have a thick skin made out of ignorance and opportunism.

The government would not have hesitated perhaps to ratchet up the controls except for the fact that this would now amount to a human rights disaster that even the more pliable nations in the world will not be able to ignore. This seems to be the maximum it can take at the moment, and clearly insofar as getting rid of the people is concerned, it is not enough.

So the government is in a bind. It might not have the time to complete the agenda if there is a shift in Washington. It needs the kind of support that was being extended by the current US President Donald Trump to be able to further its goal. The Democrats might not be in the party of the willing, as can become the case in the UK as well with the new Labour leader making waves.

In today's world it is impossible for a country like India to become a super power by ignoring global opinion; and/ or by violating human rights codes to a point where it impinges global conscience beyond acceptable limits.

It is a face off, perhaps not as dramatic as that between the militaries of India and China, but perhaps more crucial in determining the future of India.

Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR