Kashmir stares at another summer of disquiet

The first three hours of repolling on Thursday in Srinagar saw just 1% of the voters turning up. Besides the ‘heavy hand doctrine’, New Delhi seems to be clueless on how to cope with the alienation

Photo by Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Ashutosh Sharma

The low turnout in the byelection for the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency, feels Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Pervez, calls the bluff on arguments that participation of people in elections indicated their acceptance of the Indian state and democracy.

People’s response to the byelection also belied claims of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti that only 5% of the youth were involved in stone-pelting and agitations. It would also have come as a disappointment to BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav, who in a recent interview had expressed his confidence that the Valley would see a ‘calm summer’ this year and that tourism would peak now that the agitation by the youth have been dealt with a heavy hand.

Responding to Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement that the stone-pelters would be dealt with harshly and that the situation would be brought under control within a year, Khurram told National Herald, “The government for long has used fear as a tool to suppress political aspirations. Now, people have started overcoming that fear.”

The prevailing mood in the Valley, he feels, has also been influenced by BJP’s slogans like ‘ghar-wapsi, mandir wahin banainge, beef ban and ‘love jihad’ in the rest of the country. “This kind of politics has a direct bearing on the only Muslim majority state in the country,” he felt.

Most Kashmir observers feel the current situation in the Kashmir Valley is much worse than during parliamentary elections in 1989, when polling in the Valley had not exceeded 10%.

The situation, it is apprehended, will worsen in the coming weeks with the ‘Darbar Move’ – the bi-annual shift of the Secretariat and all other government offices of the state government – this summer and the Amarnath Yatra.

The lone voice of Ali Shah Geelani stands vindicated today and even those who were opposed to him are today seen standing with him in solidarity, some of them point out.

Shahnawaz Ahmed Mantoo, who teaches at Centre for International Relations, Peace and Conflict Studies in the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) conceded, “Alienation is running deeper than ever and reflects on the failures of the state and central governments, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The by-elections were imposed on the people at a time when there was an urgent need to engage all the stakeholders including separatists. The liberal people of India need to introspect why the youth in the Valley are getting radicalised,” he said.

None of the issues addressed

Kashmir, Mantoo said, has suffered from misgovernance, corruption, unemployment, nepotism and favouritism besides other larger political issues.

“Due to denial of democratic rights, the youth have been pushed to the wall. Today they don’t even fear for their lives, which is really worrisome. Well aware that they may get killed, they rush to the encounter sites to express solidarity with the militants. An uncertain future awaits them,” he added.

“Earlier, people in the Kashmir Valley would take part in agitations and also participate in elections. We witnessed overwhelming voter turnout in the 2002 state assembly elections and thereafter. The space for competitive politics was growing and there were not many takers for the poll boycott calls by the separatists,” said a Jammu-based observer, who was reluctant to be named.

“But what the Indian State achieved post insurgency seems to have been completely undone in the recent years. Today, the anti-India sentiment is stronger than ever before as people have rejected electoral politics,” he said grimly.

He apprehends the turmoil in the Kashmir Valley to spill over to Jammu any time. Not only is the demand for Jammu as a separate state gaining in strength, any disruption of the Amarnath Yatra would fuel another agitation of the kind we have seen in 2008.

“There is also a growing popular perception in Jammu that it remains underdeveloped because of disruptive politics in Kashmir Valley. So again there will be strong reactions in Jammu if there are protests in Srinagar this summer,” he said.

“While many middle-class families have already started moving out of the Valley to ensure quality education to their children, the growing cynicism will give a fillip to the exodus from the Valley,” said the Jammu-based observer, adding, “When middle-classes don’t have any stake in the conflict situation, it is bound to get hijacked by lumpen elements.”

BJP busy with its own agenda

Conceding that local support for militants is growing and peace remains fragile in the Valley, Pervez Majeed Lone, a Srinagar-based commentator says, “Even moderates in Kashmir are angry today. People were expecting redressal of immediate political and development issues from the PDP-BJP government. But, instead of working on the agenda of alliance, the BJP started pursuing its own radical agenda. The controversies over issues like Article 370, state flag and beef ban among other follies of the BJP have pushed Kashmir to a critical point – where things are back to the nineties.” In some ways, the situation is even worse.

The deferment of parliamentary elections in Anantnag constituency, the observers feel, is a wise step though; the Centre should have read the writing on the wall beforehand, which would have saved eight lives.

Bashir Manzar, Editor of Kashmir Images, an English daily published from Srinagar, had this to add : “Currently New Delhi doesn’t seem to have any Kashmir policy. It’s not communicating with Pakistan, nor with separatists or the youth in the Valley. Everything has been left to the discretion of security forces – leading to a very dangerous situation in the Kashmir Valley.”

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