Kashmir’s nightmare: BJP-PDP’s bad marriage shrinking political space, further destabilising Valley

Kashmir’s nightmare continues to throw up Daliesque surrealities from which there is no escape. The state is trapped. So are the stakeholders. And in the surreal nightmare, all actors play their roles ad infinitum in a dystopian script that progressively turns worse.

Sreemoy Talukdar January 30, 2018 17:53:26 IST
Kashmir’s nightmare: BJP-PDP’s bad marriage shrinking political space, further destabilising Valley

Kashmir’s nightmare continues to throw up Daliesque surrealities from which there is no escape. The state is trapped. So are the stakeholders. And in the surreal nightmare, all actors play their roles ad infinitum in a dystopian script that progressively turns worse.

Kashmirs nightmare BJPPDPs bad marriage shrinking political space further destabilising Valley

File image of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. AFP

In addition to Pakistan’s relentless asymmetric war, the steady rise of separatist sentiment and spread of radical Islamism and unending violence, the state must also contend with the bad marriage between two political and ideological rivals. PDP-BJP’s differences are ugly, open and contributing to the rapid shrinking of political space. Their colliding ideologies and conflicting compulsions are destabilising the state further.

At its best, the alliance was unworkable. Right now, it’s poisonous. The killing of two civilians in Shopian (the death toll now stands at 3 according to some reports) has yet again brought the simmering discontent to the surface. As usual, there are two completely different versions of ‘truth’.

The army said it came under unprovoked and massive stone-pelting from around 200-250 protestors at Ganowpora in Kashmir’s Shopian district on Saturday and was forced to retaliate in self-defence. According to defence spokesperson Colonel Rajesh Kalia, the crowd inflicted massive damage on a convoy and tried to set four vehicles alight. The belligerent crowd also tried to lynch a junior commissioned officer and snatch his weapon, Kalia claimed.

“A Junior Commissioned Officer accompanying the convoy got hit on his head and fell unconscious. The mob tried to lynch him and snatch his weapon. The violent crowd set the army vehicles on fire. Considering the extreme gravity of the situation the army was constrained to open fire in self-defence. A total of seven army men suffered injuries and extensive damage was caused to 11 vehicles. In the process two civilians succumbed to bullet injuries,” reads a report in The Times of India.

The villagers claimed it was a case of targetted killing. They accused the army of opening fire after an altercation over a black flag outside a slain terrorist’s house. The army objected to the banner which resembled an Islamic State flag and wanted it removed. The villagers refused and resisted army’s attempts. They claimed the army returned in larger numbers and started indiscriminate fire and even pelted stones.

“In the morning, only two vehicles had come, but second time they came with more. They shot at people and threw stones,” a villager was quoted as saying in a Hindustan Times report. Two stone-pelters — Javaid Ahmad Bhat and Suhail Javed Lone — were shot. The villagers also claim that there were 20-30 protestors, not “200-250”.

Caught between these two conflicting versions, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti shut down the state and immediately ordered a magisterial inquiry. Strangely, before even the probe could take off, the state administration slapped murder and attempt-to-murder charges on an army Major and the 10th Garhwal unit. Amid furore in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, where coalition partner BJP demanded withdrawal of the FIR against Major Aditya, the chief minister seemed to have already reached a conclusion. Her statement reflects the administration’s utter confusion and desperate bid to stay relevant in a hostile politico-military atmosphere.

“Immediately after the incident took place, an FIR was lodged against the guilty and Shopian's Deputy Commissioner was ordered to conduct a magisterial probe and submit a report within 15 days,” she told the House, adding, “the army as an institution has done a great job but the grace of an institution only enhances once the black sheep within are identified and weeded out.”

It is difficult to reconcile an argument that simultaneously talks about “carrying a probe to its logical end” and “FIR against guilty” in the same sentence. Her statement about “black sheep” carries an impression that she is convinced of the army’s guilt. She also accused the army of ‘ignoring’ police advisory on taking the Ganowpora route and stated in the Assembly that “during the meeting of the Unified Headquarters recently, I asked the forces to show restraint in controlling law and order. I directed them to fire in the air.”

It will be interesting to see how the chief minister modifies or defends her statement if it emerges after the magisterial probe that the army acted in self-defence. It is held that these inquiries frequently fail to breach army’s AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) shield, but in reality AFSPA provides no blanket immunity. As Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain pointed out on Twitter, the Centre may order a prosecution.

At the very least, Mufti could have waited till the completion of the inquiry before slapping the hasty FIR on a Major and a regimental unit that has extensive experience in dealing with such hostilities.

Mufti’s confusion stems from the fact that she has fallen between the twin stools of power and powerlessness. She is ostensibly the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir but her writ runs nowhere in the Valley.

Panchayat polls are supposed to be held in mid-February but not even the notifications have been released. Legislators and elected representatives prefer to stay at home instead of visiting their constituencies. The Valley is run by a proxy administration of Hurriyat leaders who owe allegiance to Pakistan and possess the ability to shut down civic life at will.

Mufti wants to restore her writ, but she has decided to do so not by exercise her administrative rights but ceding more space to separatists. The state government has launched an array of amnesty schemes, including withdrawal of cases against 9000 ‘first-time’ stone pelters, and is reportedly considering the extension of amnesty to repeat offenders.

The state police, according to Hindustan Times, is encouraging terrorists to surrender by simply “joining their families” under “no case no apprehension policy” and they won’t even have to report to the police station.

If indoctrinated youths who throw stones at army vehicles are given blanket amnesty, violent protesters enjoy State patronage and terrorists are allowed to return without verification, army majors are booked without inquiry and chief minister openly expresses distrust of the military, then it sends a message of weakness. It appears that an elected chief minister has abdicated her role and is subservient to Pakistani proxies. The chief minister must understand that appearing as an apologist for separatists won’t increase her popularity.

At the other end of the spectrum, the BJP is acting out an equally poisonous script. Its MLA from Nowshera, Ravinder Raina, demanded the withdrawal of FIR against the Major and backed the army. Ramnagar MLA RS Pathania also slammed the chief minister. Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy has added to the chorus.

The question is, why is BJP desperate to carry on with the alliance? It seems the party high command has asked its MLAs to pipe down on the issue, as a senior journalist from Kashmir pointed out.

How has the BJP, which has nationalism as its main plank, struck an ideological conciliation with PDP, which alternates between different degrees of separation and openly trashes the Centre’s stand on Kashmir? This is not even political expediency, but dereliction of duty.

It would appear that the BJP and PDP have given up all pretence of governance and laid everything at the police and security forces’ door while simultaneously trying to restrict their ambit of operation. The BJP’s compulsions are political but its actions run contrary to its own or the state’s interests. It is a political, administrative and ideological impossibility. The results are evident.

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