As a fresh batch of over 3,000 pilgrims set for the treacherous Amarnath cave shrine on Tuesday, a day after seven of them (including five women) were killed and several more injured when Kashmiri terrorists attacked a bus, it spoke volumes about the indomitable human spirit that politicians exploit to hang on to the coattails of power.
Truth must be told. The heinous attack on Hindu pilgrims at Anantnag on Monday makes state chief minister Mehbooba Mufti's position untenable. She must go. Mufti has shown a marked inability to administer law and order in the state – a basic requirement of any government – and her loosening grip over the administrative machinery is indirectly proportional to her desperation to stay in power. The incident also doesn’t speak highly of the Centre which has appeared completely clueless and ineffective beyond periodically justifying an uneasy alliance.
The ghastly attack on the unarmed, innocent pilgrims — most of whom were from Gujarat — points to a serious security breach. Nirmal Singh, the deputy chief minister, has owned up to the failures. "Definitely this is a big lapse," he told NDTV. "We have to enquire why the bus left at 5 pm... why it was allowed after sunset. We were told there was a tyre burst and the driver took time to replace it".
But this is of little value now. As the chief minister, Mehbooba must take the lion's share of the blame. Intelligence reports had pointed to heightened risk this year for the pilgrims whose journey to the mountainous cavern in the bowels of the Himalayas at Pahalgam coincided with the death anniversary of Hizbul Mujaheedin commander Burhan Wani.
According to a report in Hindustan Times, Jammu and Kashmir's top cop Muneer Khan had warned of a "sensational attack" on pilgrims this year from terrorists who have been driven to desperation by army's flush-out campaign and were looking for a signature strike.
In a letter shared a couple of days back with the Central Reserve Police Force and the range DIGs, Khan wrote of receiving an "intelligence input" that "terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 pilgrims and about 100 police officers and officials" to spark communal tension "throughout the nation".
If such intelligence was available, why was a bus ferrying nearly 60 passengers from the shrine to Jammu allowed to ply in the night on the national highway, that too unguarded and outside of the security cordon in an area where there are regular check posts (at least there should be)?
The details are hazy. Some reports indicate that the bus from Gujarat, bearing a number plate of GJ 09Z0976, was unregistered and wasn't part of the official convoy that enjoys standardised security cordon. It apparently came under attack near Botengoo village when frustrated terrorists fired indiscriminately at it after failing to penetrate two police pickets at Khanabal and Botengoo in separate attacks.
CRPF DG RR Bhatnagar told The Indian Express that the pilgrims "had not registered themselves, as is advised, and did not even become part of the yatra convoy, which is escorted by security forces, both to and from Amarnath, every day. They also violated the 7 pm curfew on the movement of yatris."
If that is the case, it boggles the mind to think that the government's entire security apparatus failed to notice that a passenger-laden bus was travelling at night on the same route which had just witnessed violence despite the 7 pm curfew.
There is no doubt that the bus pilgrims violated security norms but it is also the duty of the state to ensure that such breaches of protocol do not take place, and the tragedy could have perhaps been avoided had it not slipped through the quite glaring cracks in security bandobast.
This is not to normalise terrorism, which has now become the calling card of Kashmir's 'azaadi' movement. This attack exposes the lie that the Indian state has been fed for a long time. There is no 'Kashmiriyat' in Kashmir ever since the Hindu minorities were forced to leave in the 1990s.
What we are seeing now is a more blatant manifestation of the animus that now feels confident to take more openly the terrorism route.
The fact that it was carried out by foreign mercenaries — latest reports put it as an attack carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba led by Pakistani operative Abu Ismail — makes the narrative even more improbable that Kashmiri intifada is "local".
What is needed at this juncture is a state government that is serious about its job and won't pull in different directions as the Indian state fights a grim battle with terrorists, and won't undermine the efforts of the police force by asking them to apologise for Wani's killing.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also needs to take a long, hard look at the alliance. The painstaking effort by the army to neutralise the terrorists — 92 of them have been killed in first six months — should be buttressed by political resolve, and towards that end a "younger and more energetic governor, who can attempt to fill the gaps that the state government is leaving behind and can coordinate with security agencies" should be installed, a point made by ORF distinguished fellow Ashok Malik in his piece for News 18.
The resilience of the Indian state and its ethos will eventually prevail. But no one should take it for granted.
Published Date: Jul 12, 2017 07:24 AM | Updated Date: Jul 12, 2017 07:24 AM