Both, in 2008 and 2010, the Kashmiris pelted stones, waved Pakistani flags and shouted pro-militant slogans. Both the times, significantly, armed insurgents were invisible in the background. It was clear enough that the architects of the uprising wanted it to assume a 'civilian' colour. Hardliner Masarat Alam Bhat emerged as a key driver of the unrest in 2010. It subsided with his arrest.
This time around, and for the first time in the past two-and-a-bit decades, a lethal combination of protest demonstrations, stone-pelting and armed attacks has thrown a snarled challenge for the political establishment, police and security forces. With phone-cameras in one hand and stones in another, the crowds surge and strike with or without reason. Unapologetically, quite often, their drive is to disrupt a cordon-and-search operation and help the militants escape. They call jihadists like Burhan Wani and Abu Dujana their 'heroes', flock to their funerals in thousands or tens of thousands and shout slogans for Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba. They treat it as their right and call it a 'protest'.
A video shows a Kashmiri militant seeking blessings for his martyrdom from his brother and counselling him not to quarrel with his parents as his mother lends approval with a smile. This was never the case in the past. Over a hundred 'protestors' have died in clashes with the armed forces — several times around the site of the encounter — since the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s death in an encounter in July 2016.
Officials admit around 250 youths have joined terrorist ranks in the past nine months. They liaise with supporters, operate under real names, do not hide faces, maintain accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and remain connected through WhatsApp.
Even when hundreds of the 'protesters' gathered around Chadoora on 28 March, there was little to protest. Four of them died in clashes, triggering a fresh flare-up for the current year. Eight more were killed while disrupting polling for the Lok Sabha by-election in Srinagar-Budgam. On its recent threads, this unprecedented bravado has its genesis unmistakably in the spirit generated by Masarat’s rousing reception for hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani on 15 April, 2015.
Immediately after taking over as chief minister of the PDP-BJP coalition in March 2015, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed released Masarat and permitted him to hold a big show for Geelani. It was first time after 2010 that Masarat’s followers waved Pakistani flags in abundance in front of the Jammu and Kashmir Police headquarters and shouted slogans for Hafiz Saeed.
Even as Masarat was sent back to the jail under pressure from a discomfited BJP, his invigoration of the Intifada did not fade out in futility. Soon Wani grew into an icon for youths and lent a fresh lease of life to the gun. For years after 1999, this breed of the youngsters ratcheted up its hatred for India with brazen encouragement from mainstream politicians who, paradoxically, are now bedfellows with the RSS-driven BJP. With the PDP top brass losing both, credibility as well as grip on administration, none of the ministers and lawmakers contested the separatists politically.
Known as 'the ultimate Indian', Farooq Abdullah took less than two years to make his somersault. Suddenly for Abdullah, the militants who allegedly killed more than 3,000 Kashmiris — including former legislators and ministers for their allegiance to National Conference — became "youths laying unforgettable sacrifices for the (Kashmiri) nation". That for many may be realism, but marks the failure of Kashmir’s mainstream politics.
Apparently none of the political and bureaucratic ostriches in New Delhi had visualised the consequences of the total political vacuum that, for the first time, unfolded on 9 April. The by-election for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat recorded the second lowest voter turnout in Kashmir's history: Seven percent. While the turnout was a stupendous 69 percent in 1977 and 73 percent in 1984, it did not fall below the average of 27 percent in Lok Sabha elections after 1990. This is widely rated as New Delhi’s biggest ever humiliation in Kashmir in 70 years. Not that everybody was for the boycott. None of those, who wanted to vote, felt secure enough to come out.
One can’t but agree with Omar Abdullah that Kashmir is a political issue and its resolution must be political. Nobody would, in fact, spurn the idea of a meaningful dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad. But everybody harping on a dialogue with Hurriyat sounds absurd for it would be unrealistic to expect the conglomerate to take its own decisions.
Failing to deliver on defining moments, Hurriyat has reduced itself to just a postal address for the Intifada and the armed struggle.
Disinclined to play a proactive role, Mehbooba Mufti’s government would not have been wrong to deliver on its promises of good governance, development and employment.
Had everything been imperfect without the soft separatist politics, the Valley would not have witnessed some of the most peaceful years after the 2010 turmoil during Omar’s own rule. Remarkably, not one death occurred over Afzal Guru’s execution or in reaction to the Kishtwar communal riots in 2013. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visited each year and the state’s best Panchayat elections in 2011 were followed by the best-held Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in 2014.
Conversely, today’s unrest can be partly attributed to nonchalance of the BJP that has failed to take appropriate decisions in the whole progression from Masarat’s release and investigation into the JNU demonstration — that set the tone for turbulence — to key appointments in police and civil administration. Someone has to be accountable if 2014’s tranquil South Kashmir turns into a 'liberated zone' for militants and stone-pelters in just two years and the entire system comes to be grinding halt.
With the near-total breakdown of the state government and unprecedented demoralisation in the police, New Delhi can no more afford the absence of a policy that simultaneously addresses the combination of mass protests, stone-pelting and firearms. Threats from the defence minister and army chief are no substitute. And there are few takers for the home minister’s one-year deadline as his promise of putting the genie back into the bottle in one week remained unrealised for four months last year.
The author is a senior journalist
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Updated Date: Apr 20, 2017 10:42:25 IST