In its 26-year-long conflict Kashmir is witnessing the longest ever phase of curfew and that demonstrates how bad and uncontrolled the situation is in the valley. In the past it was 19-day-long curfew imposed by the then Governor Jagmohan’s administration in January 1990. But today’s spell has assumed new dimensions. It is without any break for about 50 days and it has been extended to night as well in order to break the writ of separatists as they call for relaxations in shutdown during the evening hours. Kashmir has a long history of curfews preceding the armed rebellion that broke out in 1989. In 1984 when Farooq Abdullah was dethroned by his brother-in-law Ghulam Mohammad Shah, the latter resorted to curfew to contain people’s agitation that rocked Kashmir in protest against the coup. Today’s curfew is, however, different by all accounts and is apparently aimed at tiring out the people. This is like a capsule strategy that includes forces being given freehand to beat the people, ransack the houses and curtail their movements as much as possible.
IRON HAND METHOD
That, however, has not stopped people from taking out huge rallies in different parts of Kashmir calling for ‘azadi’. In many areas there are free zones where police and administration does not intervene in the rallies, again with the idea that it would lead to fatigue and will be followed by their involvement in fruit packing season and other harvesting business. If the statements of fruit growers are to be believed they would go with the protest calendars issued by the joint Hurriyat irrespective of the losses incurred. Same is the case with other trade bodies that have vowed to abide by the calendars. Unlike 2010, when murmurs about people’s concern over continuous closure of educational institutions and the businesses were heard only after two weeks, this time Kashmir is silent over the future of students. Has the situation been taken as fate accompli with people repeatedly saying this is a “now or never battle”, though it is never explained. But the palpable anger that has taken deep roots with the death of nearly 70 people and injuries to over 7000 is setting a new course that is seemingly out of anybody’s control.
Government’s iron hand method is demonstrative of how the situation has gone completely out of control. Since there is no political reach out, the Army, para-military CRPF and the Police are the only answer to growing dissatisfaction and unprecedented anger the people especially youth have been harbouring. State government, which is combination of two extreme ideologies – Bharatiya Janata Party and Peoples Democratic Party – has failed to reconnect with the agitating Kashmir. PDP that swore by the ideology of “Self Rule” with dignity and honour to people is finding it extremely difficult with the BJP government at Centre doing everything to further discredit it.
For over 50 days now, Government of India has only been projecting it as a Pakistan sponsored “game” but without elaborating what it then meant for India. On August 21, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said at a function in Jammu that it was Pakistan’s fifth war against India, which it had unleashed through stones. He vowed that there would be no compromise with stone pelters whom he called aggressors. Jaitley is considered to be among the core team of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his tone and tenor at the Jammu meeting is a message that again will be counter-productive in Kashmir, where people see it as contempt.
While Jaitley and Home Minister Rajnath Singh have been maintaining aggressive posture to convey that there was hardly any space to conciliate, in a surprise development Prime Minister Modi talked a slightly different language. On August 22, Modi told a delegation of opposition parties from Jammu and Kashmir led by former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah that development alone could not solve every issue. He also talked about the killing of “youth and security personnel” that brings distress and called them “part of us, our nation”. In view of the intensity of situation existing in Kashmir that is full of despair and distress, these words might not help much but this is for the first time since July 9, Modi has referred to the youth who were killed in firing by the forces. Modi also called for lasting solution within the framework of constitution.
Though it seems that New Delhi has brought a mild change in its approach, largely there is no effort to reach out to the people who have been caged for long turning Kashmir virtually into a prison for 50 days. Those who look at Modi’s statement as “huge” have a reason to think so as he had not spoken a word in last over one and a half month. Credit must go to joint opposition of Jammu and Kashmir who knocked at his door and President of India to bring forth the new and painful reality on ground in Kashmir. Being part of the coalition government, Modi could have done this long before not only owing it as a responsibility as PM but also as partner in the state government. Not much may change with this development but time has not been lost if realization is kept in mind and a forward movement is pushed without any conditions. The theory that those creating trouble are “handful’ is bound to backfire and would not create any space for dialogue. What is significant is that Indian Supreme Court too called for a political solution while hearing a petition on August 22. "This issue has various dimensions and therefore should be dealt with politically. Everything can't me managed in judicial parameters,” observed the court thus putting the government that has been in denial in a tight spot.
Today Kashmir is not even ready to tell its stories to journalists from Delhi. A civil society delegation that visited Srinagar last week had to face hostile crowd at SMHS Hospital Srinagar with anti-India slogans renting the air. Though the members of delegation which included Mani Shankar Aiyar, Prem Shankar Jha, Kapil Kak and Vinod Sharma have been more or less sympathetic to suffering population but the trust deficit has reached a crescendo. Leaders of joint Hurriyat such as Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq refused to meet them. This brings us to the point that the spaces for dialogue have been shrunk due to the attitude with which Delhi has been looking at Kashmir. Making the security apparatus as the only visible symbol of the state has further eroded that space. As of now it looks unlikely that spaces for meaningful dialogue will be opened given the indifferent and dangerous approach of New Delhi vis-à-vis Kashmir.