The attack on Amarnath pilgrims in Kashmir on Monday night is a clear sign that terrorists are now ready to cross the boundary between the Indian state and the Indian public.
So far, terrorists and protesters in the Valley had targetted just the security forces and the local police. Tourists visiting Kashmir and pilgrims going to the various shrines in the state were treated as guests, accorded the famed Kashmiri hospitality. But, the attack on a bus full of pilgrims returning from Amarnath changes the equation completely. It shows that terrorists are now willing to alter the rules of engagement and start an all-out war against Indians, even give it a communal colour by targetting Hindus.
This is a dangerous turn in the history of the Valley. The communal fault-lines in India — in fact, all across the world — are deeper at the moment than they have been in the past. If the Kashmiri militancy acquires communal colours, starts resembling a jihad, it would have ramifications across India. The targetting of Hindu pilgrims would not just contribute to the growing communal distrust and divide in India, the 'othering' of Kashmiris but also create a favourable environment for the hotheads eager to target the minorities.
Considering terrorist groups' potential to foment trouble not just in the Valley but also south of it, India needs to act fast before such incidents become routine in Kashmir. It needs to take control of the narrative before it spins completely out of control.
It is clear that Kashmir is hurtling from one tragic incident to another, testing the resolve of the security forces and the government. But, the Mehbooba Mufti government has been unable to seize control or restore even a modicum of normalcy. Every terror strike in the Valley, every incident of violence is an apt reminder that the government has lost the plot on the ground. It is, perhaps, the right time to think of Governor's rule in the state.
Sending the Mehbooba Mufti government on a vacation would serve two purposes. It would actually help cool frayed tempers in the Valley that have been febrile since the Mufti's PDP struck an alliance with the BJP.
Prior to the Assembly elections, the PDP was tacitly supported by the Hurriyat and some underground organisations. They had hoped that the PDP would continue its politics of soft separatism and keep the BJP out of power in the Valley. These groups are now incensed because of Mufti's about-turn. They go out of their way to create trouble for the government in the hope of teaching Mufti a lesson.
It would, per se, be irrational to argue that the government be sent packing only to appease the hardliners. But, its dismal performance and total loss of political legitimacy — underlined by the abysmal voter turnout in the Srinagar by-poll and the PDP's loss — buttress the case for Governor's rule.
Consider, for instance, the attack on the bus carrying Amarnath pilgrims on 10 June.
At the moment, security in Kashmir, at least on paper, is at the heaviest. Recent terror attacks, public protests and threats from militant organisations have forced the government to not only deploy more troops but also raise the extent and level of vigil. In addition, the Amarnath yatra has always been heavily guarded, put behind a thick security cover.
Official sources claimed that the bus was not registered for the yatra and, thus, slipped out unguarded. How could an unregistered bus move around un-noticed through such high security zones? Did nobody notice it? If yes, why was it not put behind the security cordon? Why was it allowed to move around late at night when other vehicles are asked to halt and start again only after dawn? All these unanswered questions point to huge security and administrative lapses in a state on high alert.
Mufti's government, obviously, has very little control over the ground. Putting the governor in-charge just tighten the administration, lead to better co-ordination and obviate political interference that leads to such lapses and attacks.
The situation in Kashmir is slipping out of India's hand. Maintaining status-quo and a policy of just reacting to events will have dangerous ramifications in the Valley and could jeopardise peace across India, especially with the terrorists now signalling their intent to target Hindus. The Centre needs to act fast and seize control of the narrative before it is too late.
Updated Date: Jul 11, 2017 15:26 PM