Republic Day gifts to Kashmir: security clampdown, Internet shutdown, suspension of phone services
Modi Government, say people in the Valley, lost another opportunity of normalising the situation by releasing detained political leaders and announcing confidence building measures
Internet shutdown, suspension of mobile connectivity, phones and curfew-like lockdown marked the Republic Day in Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir. While most people remained indoors, mobile connectivity was partially restored to a few places by evening.
Most observers from Kashmir felt disappointed and said that the Government had lost a major opportunity to salvage the situation. There were expectations in some quarter that on Republic Day, the Government would release political leaders under detention since August last year and restore access to the Internet. Instead, the security was further tightened and the Internet access withdrawn. The Government also suspended mobile services.
What difference would it have made if mobile services had not been suspended, wondered Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin. The Government’s Kashmir policy was beyond comprehension, said she and added, “ The entire country was celebrating Democracy on Republic Day but the Government denied basic services to people in Kashmir …on the one hand it is busy telling the world that everything is normal in Kashmir while on the other it is denying democratic rights to people in Kashmir”.
The Government claimed winds of change were visible in Kashmir and cited the formal Republic Day function as proof. Others tweeted a video of half a dozen people walking down a deserted street with the national flag, citing it as proof that Republic Day marked a turning point.
While mainstream news media maintained studied silence on the situation in Kashmir, the following tweets on Republic Day captured the mood on the ground:
Srinagar always witnessed partial strikes and bandhs on Independence Day and Republic Day, recalls Dr Ghulam Md Malik, a prominent doctor in the city. “ But today it was far more complete and severe with security clampdown, suspension of phone, not just mobile services, and there was a curfew-like silence on the roads. We were cut off from the world,” said the doctor over the phone after services were restored in the evening.
CPI leader from the Valley, Ghulam Muhammad Bhat told NH that the Government wasted an opportunity. “ It could have used the Republic Day to reassure the people; but it opted to flex its muscles,” he reflected and said that Kashmiris who were hoping for relaxations were left distressed and disappointed. The Government, he went on to add, had lost the opportunity of regaining the trust and win the heart of Kashmiris.
A national Conference worker Akhtar Zaidi too felt that it was a black Republic Day in Kashmir. “How can the people here value democracy when the Government so ruthlessly suppresses their democratic rights,” he asked.
“ If all is well in Kashmir and the situation is normal then why shut down phone services on Republic Day,” asked several angry voices from the Valley.