Srinagar: Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s government in Jammu and Kashmir is quickly losing its grip on the state, with the ongoing unrest spilling into a 41st day, and militants stepping up their offensive against government forces. The Valley continues to be on edge. The situation, after every passing day, is worsening and there is no sign of normalcy returning to the Valley any time soon.
Fearing the wrath of people the state government, its ministers and bureaucrats are confined to their official residencies. The streets leading to the civil secretariat are wrapped in concertina wire and manned by fatigued soldiers. The government is almost entirely invisible on the ground.
The roads leading to Gupkar — where a majority of ministers and bureaucrats have official residencies — are barricaded and blocked by concertina wire. CRPF and Kashmir policemen refuse to allow civilians vehicles entry to this road that was historically thrown open to civilian vehicles when Mehbooba’s father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed become chief minister in 2002, after the militancy started waning in the Valley.
Ministers from Jammu, all of them from PDP’s coalition partner BJP, have already left the Valley and are waiting for the offices to reopen in the winter capital of Jammu. Sensing trouble on the streets, after the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani on 8 July, a majority of ministers and MLAs from Jammu have decided to camp in the city, as they see no reason to continue to be in the Valley.
“We left three weeks ago and are waiting for the Darbar move. If developmental work can’t be implemented in Kashmir, why should Jammu also suffer? We can’t move outside our official residence in Srinagar, never mind taking stock of the situation,” a BJP minister in the state government told Firstpost.
For the moment, no one seems to have any idea who is running the state. Is it the protesters whose writ runs large on the streets during the day? Or is it the government forces who have now decided to impose a curfew during the night?
On the 40th day of unrest (Wednesday), the state government decided to impose a night curfew in the Valley. Local newspapers reported on Wednesday that shopkeepers had been asked to stop opening their establishments during evening hours — something that was allowed over the past month. The curfew will now continue even during the night.
Recently, Mehbooba had ordered the restoration of broadband connections to newspapers after meeting with their editors, but the police has refused to do so. On 15 August, she warned that members of the forces who violate her directions would face action. “This is not a mere statement. It will be done and you will be told about it." The very next day, forces killed five people in the day and seven in 24 hours.
The curfew continues to paralyse life, with schools, shops and business establishments closed for over a month now, and mobile telephony and internet services shut. More than 60 people have been killed, including two policemen, in the protests that erupted after the killing of Wani, and over 8,000 civilians and government forces have been injured during the clashes.
Worried that the state government has lost touch with the common people, Opposition parties — on invitation of the National Conference — met on Wednesday and passed a resolution demanding a probe into the civilian killings in the ongoing unrest by a retired Supreme Court judge, stopping the use of pellet guns on protesters, and a special Assembly session on the prevalent unrest in Kashmir.
"We have decided to seek time from the president to apprise him about the real ground situation in Kashmir. We will try to persuade the Central government to take steps that will at least help in improving the situation in the Valley," National Conference working president Omar Abdullah told reporters after the meeting at his residence.
Surprisingly, no minister from the ruling coalition government has been seen in public since the unrest began in the Valley. Initially, government spokesperson and education minister, Naeem Akhtar, visited some places, but in his hometown of Bandipora, he was stoned by people and extra forces had to be deployed to rescue him from the district.
Mehbooba is the only visible face, although, she too prefers to travel by helicopter avoiding the chaotic roads, and has been left alone to defend government actions and the alliance with the BJP, with none of her cabinet colleagues coming to the rescue. Ministers from her own party have not been seen in public for a long time, as anger against government functionaries is at its peak in the Valley.
The chief secretary BR Sharma chaired a meeting with administrative secretaries to review the attendance of government employees. During the meeting, he found that employees were not attending to their duties regularly, thereby putting the general public to inconvenience in availing various services, an official spokesperson said.
The Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission is facing tremendous administrative issues in the recruitment and selection of candidates against hundreds of notified vacancies because of the unrest. As schools remain shut, volunteers in different districts have started teaching children inside their homes. Recently, the Directorate of School Education Kashmir (DSEK) on its official Facebook page had posted an emotional message urging students to return to the schools.
“Come back, before we forget the art of teaching and you forget the joy of learning, come back to salvage the old friendship. We miss you,” the post on the DSEK’s page read. “Without you our days are lifeless. Children, when are coming back to school? It has been a long time since the last morning prayer, since the last afternoon huddle.”
The department received flak at the hands of people who accused it of “blackmailing” children.
And then a user posted this as a reply:
"Hide children hide.
Till this darkness is over.
Let the tear gas go away.
I will teach you another day.
Hide children hide.
There is butcher with his sword.
Who will shoot you without a word.
Hide children hide.
Don’t mourn if someone dies.
Or They will shoot you in your eyes.
Hide children hide.
Your friend had gone to play.
Luk he now lies beneath the clay.
Hide children hide." (sic)