June 26, 2020
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This Isn’t Television, The Remote Doesn’t Work

Faced by spontaneous, intense and leaderless protests, Delhi must wake to its lack of reach

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This Isn’t Television, The Remote Doesn’t Work
High Table
The PM at a cabinet meeting to discuss Kashmir this week
Photograph by PTI
This Isn’t Television, The Remote Doesn’t Work

The outrage over Burhan Wani’s death proves two things, from New Delhi’s perspective. One, winning elections and promising “packages” isn’t the end of the matter in Jammu & Kashmir. Two, delinking security from dev­elopment can be disastr­ous, especially when all Track II and backchannel dialogues come to a pause and a “leaderless” protest stares you in the face.

There is yet a third lesson: Kashmir cannot be run from Delhi. When the government’s top guns scrambled to discuss strategy after the PM’s return from Africa, there was no presence of the PDP, the BJP’s ally in Srinagar. “Was Mehbooba Mufti on conference call when they were discussing how to defuse the situation?” asks Congr­ess leader Ambika Soni. “If not, why not?”

For Mehbooba, the BJP’s pledge to continue with its hardline approach can only further weaken her politically. As it is, the poor attendance at her father’s funeral may have sparked second thoughts about her alliance with the BJP. A sharp dip in voting percentage in the bypoll in Mufti’s constituency Anantnag showed she was walking on eggshells. Remarks like “I’m ashamed of being a Muslim” at a funeral of CRPF jawans killed earlier this year haven’t gone down well. “I fail to understand how anyone can indulge in such senseless acts in the name of Islam,” she reportedly said.

For the moment, Mehbooba is confident she has the Centre’s support. But that’s only because the BJP doesn’t have a base in the Valley and is said to be losing steam in Jammu. Besides, the National Congress and the Congress, rather than jump into the fray, want the BJP-PDP coalition to be discredited. “No one wants elections at this juncture,” says an NC leader.

To Modi sarkar’s chagrin, the 11 security and intelligence agencies active in J&K had all failed to correctly assess Burhan’s popularity and the fallout of his death. Equally, with faceless youth driving the current protests for azadi and established leaders marginalised, there are no interlocutors to build bridges with.

HRD and home ministry officials admit that economic incentives haven’t worked. “Udaan, started in 2013, was meant to red­uce unemployment through affirmative action involving India Inc. As of now, 6,621 people have managed to get jobs,” say officials. “Local boys won’t leave Kashmir for salaries less than Rs 30,000.”

The outcome is a steady increase in radicalisation, with the internet playing an alarming role. In a recent presentation, ADG S.M. Sahai said access to social media had shot up from 30 per cent in 2014 to 70 per cent in 2015. The militants’ recruitment graph too has gone up: from 18 local recruits in 2013 to 83 in 2015, after Afzal Guru’s hanging. This year, army intelligence puts the recruitment figure at 25.

“An unstable Kashmir is fertile ground for an intifada or for ISIS to find roots. There have been no attempts to engage with dissidents, whether they be stone-throwers or the Hurriyat or even the state government,” says Kashmir expert and JNU professor Happymon Jacob. Tweets like RSS ideologue Ram Madhav’s—“Govern­ment will stand firm, eruption or no eruption”—won’t help either.

E.N. Rammohan, former BSF DG who has served in Kashmir, is aghast at the use of pellets. “There is a serious problem. Pellets were never used in Kashmir. This is very wrong. Many of those who suffered pellet injuries are becoming blind. Seeing them, another thousand will pick up guns.”

In Modi’s initial absence, home minister Rajnath Singh reached out to the Congress. But after his return, it is business as usual. D. Raja of the CPI is surprised the government has still not convened an all-party meeting to send the right signals. In Vajpayee’s time, despite the Kargil war and the Parliament attack, the PM had convened a meeting over a Musharraf statement that was attended by Sonia Gandhi, Harkishen Singh Surjeet and others.

All this makes Kashmir a happy hunting ground for Pakistan. The word is that the latest protests have been a spontaneous, home-grown affair, with no leader or group pushing it. But the absence of dialogue bet­ween India and Pakistan, particularly on Kashmir and terrorism, gives Islamabad the opportunity to bring the ongoing violence to international focus.

Pakistan approached the P5 representatives in Islamabad, urging them to raise the issue in the UN and its foreign secretary briefed OIC ambassadors on “continuing Indian atrocities in IOK”, reiterating the demand for a plebiscite. Little wonder, the Congress thinks the BJP has managed to “internationalise” Kashmir within two years of coming to power.

The solution is clearly political. “Release political prisoners, some of whom are und­erage. Repeal AFSPA,” says Jacob. This is echoed by former home minister P. Chidambaram. “It (AFSPA) should be rem­oved from many places. In fact, it needs to be amended first and consensus needs to be built for repealing it,” he says.

As leader of the Opposition in the J&K assembly, Omar Abdullah not long ago said his hair had gone grey waiting for promises the Centre wouldn’t fulfil, like withdrawing AFSPA. Now, as the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s killing plays out, he should be watching out for signs of greying in Mehbooba as her father’s crown uneasily sits on her head.

By Bula Devi and Meetu Jain with Pranay Sharma

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