Kashmir unrest: Mehbooba Mufti govt's push for 'normalcy' in Valley is unwise when none exists

In Kashmir, normalcy has attained a distressing meaning. As the clock strikes five in the evening, people flock marketplaces in droves. The sight at the city centre Lal Chowk in Srinagar is remarkably confounding and soothing at the same time. Within minutes, the barren roads come alive with a mix of cheerful and anxiety-ridden faces. Traffic snarls are a common occurrence. And for a moment, it seems, all is well.

 Kashmir unrest: Mehbooba Mufti govts push for normalcy in Valley is unwise when none exists

People wait for the shops to open in Lal Chowk in Srinagar. Photo courtesy: Sameer Yasir

As the sun sets and the darkness of night begins to take over, the abnormal normalcy returns. With shoppers long gone, dogs take control of the roads, chasing the last of the cars exiting Kashmir's largest marketplace.

No matter how much the state government's propaganda machinery may try to delude itself, normalcy is far from returning to the Valley. Every day, the police tells people of the number of arrests made to bring normalcy to the Valley. The arrest spree may put a lid on the agitation but it doesn't address the underlying anger and alienation.

Two incidents will illustrate the new low touched by the present dispensation in controlling the normalcy narrative. One was a much-publicised protest in Lal Chowk against strikes and shutdown. Then, a group of veiled women marched towards Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti's residence who was kind enough to come out and meet them, notwithstanding the fact that she hasn't been able to visit her own constituency in the last three months.

In both cases, "protesters" were carrying placards in their hands, and slogans against the strikes were written on government stationery. It doesn't take a Pythagoras Theorem to calculate who could have been behind these protests. The agenda of alliance has been put on the back burner. Now, the ruling dispensation is fighting hard to reclaim its lost relevance.

Normalcy returns to Kashmir, not because of Mehbooba Mufti, her coterie of advisers, or because police want it to. It returns because an 87-year-old incarcerated man called Syed Ali Shah Geelani wishes so. While the government is supposedly run by the executive, it is a boy with a stone in his hands who is ruling the roost.

Kashmir has seen a remarkable phase of civilian rage since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani in July. This fresh spate of violence has left 94 civilians and two security forces personnel dead, more than 14,000 injured while around 7,000 protesters have been arrested or detained to bring normalcy on the simmering streets.

The politics of normalcy-narrative has even seeped into the press statements issued by the Jammu and Kashmir police. These days, the evening press statement first describes the increasing vehicular traffic plying on the streets followed by the number of “miscreants” arrested in last 24 hours.

“The day witnessed increased vehicular and pedestrian movement across the Srinagar city and most of the towns of the Valley. A constant increase in the number of vendors on the streets of the towns was also noticed,” a police release said on Wednesday.

“Barring a couple of stray incidents of stone pelting, situation across the Valley remained largely normal. In its drive to curb the activities of the trouble mongers involved in various crimes of disrupting the public order in different parts of the Valley, police has arrested 104 such individuals during the past 24 hours,” it added.

Seven thousand Kashmiris are already behind bars. No one knows how many more people are going to be arrested for normalcy to take root. No one, except the police, knows for sure how many people have actually been put behind bars. Unofficially, the figure is more than 13,000. Never before in the history of J&K have so many people been arrested to bring back a lost normalcy.

Kashmiri villagers throw stones at Indian security personnel in support of rebels during a gunbattle in Khonshipora. AP

Kashmiri villagers throw stones at Indian security personnel in support of rebels during a gunbattle in Khonshipora. AP

Meanwhile, a verbal war is going on between the functionaries of the government and the ordinary people on the social media over the annual examinations slated to be held in coming months. While the decision hasn't gone down well in the society, jolted by nearly four months of strikes and shutdowns, the government is adamant on its stand.

Recently, I asked a shopkeeper in Lal Chowk about how many months would he be able to survive without opening his shop. He replied that along with other shopkeepers, he would prefer to open his shop only when “something happens" on the Kashmir issue which will bring permanent peace.

When is that “something” going to happen? No one knows for sure.

For the moment, people are suffering. There is no sign of retreat. Delhi is not interested in any dialogue process. Mehbooba Mufti has realised this. It is making her the Omar Abdullah of 2010. While Abdullah learnt his lessons the hard way, his successor is following suit. These days, whenever Mehbooba speaks, she creates more problems then she resolves.

Kashmir is undergoing a grand transformation on the ground. The shutdown may ultimately die down and protests may ebb away. But any return of normalcy should not be taken as a sign of normalcy, especially since the signs of fatigue are still hard to find. Following the 8 July encounter of Wani, militancy has spiked dangerously, gun-snatching is an everyday occurrence and attacks on forces have increased too. If the question of Kashmir issue is not addressed, next time, the ferocity of the rage will be greater than the current one.

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Updated Date: Oct 21, 2016 18:51:19 IST