NEW DELHI: 2016 has strangled the political mainstream in Kashmr. And New Delhi’s refusal to even consider a dialogue with Srinagar is ensuring that revival becomes impossible.

The credibility of all leaders has collapsed in the current phase of violence, with the mainstream politicians discredited and as they themselves say, rendered totally ineffective. “We remain indoors watching what is going on, as there is no room for intervention. No one is listening to us anymore,” a ruling PDP legislator said.

In 2010, the last phase of prolonged violence that engulfed the Valley under the National Conference-Congress government, there was an alternative in the Peoples Democratic Party. Mehbooba Mufti rushed around the state, visiting the homes of the young people killed, and thus allowing pressurve valves to open to release some of the pent up agony and anger.

In 2016 there is no alternative left.

NC leader and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is struggling valiantly to protest against the ongoing violence, but has few listeners as his party is largely perceived in Kashmir as having ‘dug its grave’ in 2010 when 124 boys were shot dead in separate incidents, and hundreds arrested under the Public Safety Act.

In 2016 it has been the turn of the PDP to join its rival in the peoples grave, with Chief Minister Mufti having lost all support in the Valley with even her own legislators distancing themselves in quiet conversations from her, and her policies.

The PDP legislators have fallen silent, they do not visit their constituencies, as they are greeted with hostile responses. Some seniors have left the party, and some others remain as they have nowhere else to go. The PDP had provided a second regional alternative to Jammu and Kashmir, a state that had been ruled almost entirely by the Congress with the allies it chose to create, and accept, along the way.

The PDP had struck a balance, that made some in New Delhi describe it as soft on separatists, but an approach that reached out to the people and was seen as refreshingly different by the Kashmiris even though the Muftis had no hesitation in declaring their support for India. So much so that South Kashmir, where the CMs constituency is, came out in large numbers in 2014 to vote the PDP in for its promise to keep the BJP out of the Valley. The same South Kashmir is facing the worst protests in 2016, with demonstrations attracting strong police action and large casualties.

The environment is such that even the separatist leaders are struggling to survive. As pointed out in an earlier article after this writers recent visit to Srinagar, the youth are driving the protests and are in no mood to listen to the same homilies, or accept the same old promises. As elder after elder from all walks of life said in Srinagar, the concern now is how the young teenagers are wilfully and openly defying death by going up to the Army soldiers and baiting them. Even a senior police officer, speaking of this said the Army response would be to fire, and this was one of the primary reasons why the police was filling up the gap, to ensure that the youth were not able to directly accost the soldiers.

The collapse of the mainstream political structure in Kashmir, hastened by the BJP and the PDP through their anti-Valley policies, has become a source of major worry to all those who can see beyond their nose. Senior legislators said that the elected representatives who carried some clout were now isolated and marginalised because of the open antagonism of the people, and admitted that the separatist leaders alone had some influence on the people. But that too only when they spoke what they wanted the youth to hear, and were rejected when they for instance sought to dilute the protest calendar at a time when the young protestors were not ready for it.

“We too are struggling to retain control”, the separatist leaders admitted. And that the protest calendar that the BJP-PDP have been decrying, is the only way to have “some control” over the protests. “At least we are in some position to direct the protests, rather than allowing these to be taken over entirely by the streets as is the real danger”, a senior separatist leader said. According to him it was becoming increasingly difficult to strike the balancing act, between those who needed a respite from the curfew and the clampdowns to earn a living and the teenagers seeing this as a betrayal of the aspirations their young minds have turned into a romanticised intifada.

Several journalists and academics, in suggesting solutions, insisted on dialogue with all, and in particular the Hurriyat. As one editor explained, “whether we agree or we do not agree, the separatists are the only ones the young people are listening to these days, and atleast we know who they are, where they are coming from. What I dread is that New Delhi will make them irrelevant as well, and then what? I am too terrified to speculate.”

This is a sentiment voiced by many, who see a dark abyss beyond the Hurriyat. There is a general consensus in the Valley, very visible to those who care to speak to a cross section of the ordinary folk, that:

  1. the mainstream parties have been effectivelys strangulated by New Delhi with able help from CM Mufti;
  2. The Hurriyat leaders are still relevant, but are fast losing control;
  3. New Delhi has to bring back the political process as the first step with a dialogue with all;
  4. If not then the not so distant future will ensure a transition from the ballot to the gun. Who will fill the vacuum?

The fear of the gun returning to Kashmir is real, with even those politicians who had been insisting that this will not happen, now admitting that they can visualise the possibility. This is an apprehension voiced by those in and outside government, with all expressing a certain helplessness to counter it in the face of New Delhi’s obduracy on Kashmir.

The last word should perhaps go to a young father who is extremely worried about the future for his family. “Where is the future, I see these 12 year olds questioning their parents openly when they speak of a political option, or of a dialogue that is of course not even happening; they know no fear, they are almost crazed with a desperation and an insecurity and frustration they do not even recognise. I have seen the elders fall silent, as these young teenagers then take to the streets, directly defying the soldiers with the open message: “kill me”!”

If there is no dialogue, and no effort by New Delhi to step in and ensure a serious effort to restore peace, who will fill the fast growing vacuum? The thought, as a senior lawyer said, is too terrifying to even articulate although now seen by most spoken to as a near reality.

(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR: Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq freed from house arrest this last Friday)