On October 31, as Jammu and Kashmir’s bifurcation into two Union territories came into effect and two lieutenant governors were sworn in, the Kashmir Valley observed a complete shutdown. Large-scale protests rocked Ladakh’s Kargil district, with the Joint Action Committee Kargil (JACK) also asking for a separate Union territory. Smaller protests were witnessed in Jammu, where the Panthers Party is demanding the carving out of Jammu region as a separate state. When Girish Chandra Murmu’s swearing-in ceremony was being held in Raj Bhawan, Srinagar, the only vehicles seen on Boulevard Road along the Dal, which leads to the venue, belonged to the police and paramilitary forces. No Union minister or top BJP leader flew down from Delhi to attend the historic event that reduced into two Union territories a formerly “autonomous” state, which had its own prime minister and sadr-e-riyasat until the posts were rechristened as chief minister and governor respectively in 1965 by amending the J&K state constitution.
Since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, there have been regular protests and shutdowns in Kargil where people are demanding job reservations, protection of land rights and separate headquarters, claiming that Leh cannot represent all of Ladakh. Kargil residents say they cannot consent to being part of a Union territory with its headquarters in Leh. “Kargil’s population is the same as Leh’s. Our issues and concerns are different, and our protests will continue,” says JACK leader Haji Hanifa Jan. In Leh, festivities marked the inauguration of former defence secretary Radha Krishna Mathur as lieutenant governor.
In Jammu, the Panthers Party put up banners reading “Lt Governor Go Back, Hitler raj nahi chalega!” Party leader and former minister Harsh Dev Singh says the J&K state was established by Dogra Maharaja Gulab Singh and that the BJP has betrayed the Dogras of Jammu. “Once they get rid of the fear induced by the BJP, people of the region will join me and raise the demand for Jammu’s separate statehood,” he declares.
Meanwhile, the National Conference and Congress are watching the developments from a distance. “Only when our leaders are released from detention can we take a call on the current political situation,” says the NC’s Jammu president, Devinder Singh Rana. Three former CMs—Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah of the NC, and the PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti—have been in detention since August 5. Hurriyat Conference leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani are under house arrest. Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yasin Malik, who was arrested months before the abrogation of Article 370, is being held in Delhi’s Tihar jail. His organisation was outlawed under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act soon after the banning of the Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu Kashmir. The president and general secretary of Kashmir’s bar association, leaders of trade associations and civil society activists have also been put behind bars.
In the Valley, where prepaid phone connections and the internet are yet to be restored, people have been organising what is being called “civil disobedience”—shops, business establishments and schools have remained shut. No separatist or militant organisation has given a call for the ongoing shutdown that has now entered its fourth month.
In this backdrop, the BJP wants to see a “new leadership” emerge in the Valley as soon as possible. Last month, during his first visit to the Valley after the abrogation of Article 370, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav held both the Abdullah and Mufti families responsible for what he calls the “backwardness” of J&K and complained about “their third generation” giving “sermons”, hinting perhaps at Mehbooba’s daughter Iltija Mufti, who has been critical of the government in her tweets and statements since August 5. He asked BJP workers in the Valley to nurture a new leadership from the grassroots.
Days later, though, it was no new leadership, but PDP leaders Muzaffar Hussain Baig and Altaf Bukhari, besides Congress leader Usman Majid, who met the members of the European Union delegation, mostly from far-right parties, in Delhi before their visit to Kashmir. Back in the Valley, Baig has come up with a proposal asking Kashmir-based parties to forget their differences, speak to the Centre in a single voice to get assurances on statehood and seek the provisions of Article 371, which provides autonomy to Nagaland in the domains of land rights and customary law among others, for J&K.
By Naseer Ganai in Srinagar