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Chairing a meeting of officials of the Kashmir Golf Cub (KGC) at the civil secretariat in Srinagar, J&K chief secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam sounded quite like a socialist orator trying to wax eloquent on the growing divide between the rich and the poor. The top bureaucrat’s discourse, according to an official privy to the meeting, had references to palatial bungalows along the road to the airport, driving home the point about the rich getting richer and the poor being left with no avenues. Confessing that he has never played golf, Subrahmanyam declared that the 52-acre golf course would now be open to anybody who joins the club by paying a nominal membership fee of Rs 100. He also announced the setting up of a golf academy for beginners.
Coming on the heels of the governor-led state administration’s tirade against corruption, the KGC move was hailed as a step against the local elites by many like former IAS officer Shah Faesal, who is seen as a new entrant in Kashmir’s political scene dominated by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference (NC). “Golf-for-all should be linked with the JK Bank clean-up,” says Faesal. “The decision was taken because the golf course had been created mainly with the JK Bank’s corporate social responsibility funds. As the JK Bank is a public institution, opening the golf course to commoners should be seen as a course correction.”
However, even a week after the announcement, there was no communication from the government to the KGC on how to provide membership to people. One of the oldest clubs in India and dating back to 1886, the KGC located on M.A. Road in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk area has been closed since suffering extensive damage due to the floods in September 2014. The J&K Bank revived the club by spending around Rs 40 crore. With membership fee of Rs 20,000 and Rs 40,000, it has 540 members, of whom only 150 are active.
Pointing out contradictions in government policies, many in the Valley also link the KGC move with other orders such as making the national highway out of bounds for Kashmiris during the movement of army convoys and the Amarnath yatra. The highway ban has become a source of anger among all sections of locals. Kashmiris are not allowed to move on the highway for hours when army convoys or yatra vehicles are on the move. Several locals have been beaten up by government forces on the highway in the past two months. The most affected are truckers.
“The traffic police don’t allow Kashmir-bound trucks to move, which then remain stranded on the road for over a week,” says Goods Transport Companies Association president M.S. Ronga. “They don’t realise that the trucks carry perishable items, medicine and livestock. It takes over 10 days for a truck to reach Srinagar from Jammu due to the highway ban. This has crippled Kashmir’s economy.”
While the government clarifies nothing about the highway ban and describes it as mere two-hour restriction, Ronga says the government is confused. “We talked to the IGP (Traffic) and the governor’s advisor, and it looks like they don’t have a clue,” he says. The government’s cluelessness is, in fact, a constant refrain these days. Since the order to open the KGC to the public, several other orders have come up creating panic in the Valley. First, the Centre approved the deployment of an additional 100 companies of paramilitary forces—50 of the Central Reserve Police Force, 30 of the Sashastra Seema Bal, and 10 each of the Border Security Force and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police.
Former CMs Mehbooba Mufti of PDP, (right) Farooq and Omar Abdullah of NC.
This was followed by a letter from a Railway Protection Force (RPF) officer in Budgam asking employees to stock rations for at least four months, drinking water for seven days and keep the fuel tanks of vehicles full as there was a “forecast of deteriorating situation” in Kashmir. The order also asked the RPF not to engage with any mob.
And then came a J&K Police order seeking minute details of mosques across the Valley. “Provide details of your mosques and their managements falling under your jurisdictions,” the order read. These orders created a situation that seemed like a repeat of the week leading up to the cross-LoC attack of February 26 on Balakot, when hospital rooftops had been painted with red cross signs indicating a war-like crisis.
Next in line was a statement by Governor Satya Pal Malik dismissing the orders as “fake” and mere rumours. But the damage is done. “The CBI must be asked to investigate these fake orders and their origin,” asked former CM Omar Abdullah. It is widely believed in Kashmir that the orders are real and the government could be moving to remove Article 35A or Article 370, or it is going to divide J&K into three parts and present it as a “solution” to the Kashmir issue within the first 100 days of Narendra Modi’s second term as PM. Many suspect that the government is preparing for large-scale killings in the Valley. The orders and the panic they generated not just relegated the government’s developmental schemes such as ‘Back to Village’ to the backburner, but also took the sheen off its golf-for-all policy.
The mainstream regional parties have been the most vocal against the government’s orders, while BJP leaders, including MoS in the PMO, Jitendra Singh, is describing them as corrupt. The regional parties say they are being targeted so that they would be unable to raise their voice when the government tries to get rid of J&K’s special status. Officials of the J&K administration, however, argue that NC and PDP leaders have looted the state. “If you check their assets before they were in the power and after they were in power, you would realise what they have done to the state,” says a senior official.
Faesal says corruption has been the defining feature of all previous regimes in J&K. “The day of reckoning had to come. Those who have nothing to fear should welcome this scrutiny instead of raising the false bogey of political manipulation by the central government,” he adds. But Anantnag MP Hasnain Masoodi tells Outlook that his party, the NC, is under the scanner as it raises issues relating to the identity of Jammu and Kashmir. “Forces inimical to Kashmir, its special status and its identity are not happy with our party,” says Masoodi, adding that a key component of the Centre’s game plan is to encourage the fragmentation of political forces in Kashmir and make a dent on the NC’s claim to being a representative of the aspirations of people in J&K. “Once a political platform is fragmented, such forces would be easier to manoeuvre and have the opportunity to align with political forces of their choice. Creating new parties is an effort aimed at pushing the genuine parties to the periphery before an assault on the special status.”
Arguing that the mainstream parties have been the only parties doing constitutional politics in J&K, while the separatists engage in agitations, former minister and PDP leader Naeem Akhtar says, “Now they have a problem with mainstream politics and parties. They have pushed them to an ICU (intensive care unit) that has no ventilator.”
Last Sunday, after the PDP observed its foundation day, many of its leaders were sitting in silence in a room at the party office. Earlier, PDP president and former CM Mehbooba Mufti had in her address warned of dire consequences if J&K’s special status is taken away. Some of the party leaders say the Centre is trying hard to keep the new generation away from mainstream politics. “They are out to alienate everyone here—the local administration, the police and the regional mainstream politicians,” says PDP leader Ashraf Mir, adding that corruption charges without investigation is a bogey to pin down the mainstream politicians and justify an assault on the special status.
It is widely believed that the Centre is out to play “some game” in Kashmir as the BJP thinks the first year of the Modi government’s second term is the best time to make changes in the restive region and make an impact. Since the entire local leadership, including the separatists, have been silenced, the BJP believes the time is ripe to make an attempt. But the past one week has shown that the Kashmir turf is not so easy. The game of golf can go to any side and the risks are huge despite the central government’s security preparations.
By Naseer Ganai in Srinagar