A sharp spike in boots on the ground, evacuation of tourists, Amarnath pilgrims and non-locals from Kashmir Valley, and unconfirmed murmurs over the BJP-led central government mulling to waterdown the Article 35A which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir, have together pushed the fragile peace in the Valley to the edge.
Kashmiris, unsettled by the recent developments and only too familiar with violence and State's crackdown, are silently preparing for an unspoken war, stockpiling food and essential supplies, and locking down their homes.
Following these developments, Jammu and Kashmir former chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah on Saturday demanded a clear statement from the Government of India in the Parliament.
Omar, who was speaking to the press after meeting Governor Satya Pal Malik on Saturday morning said, "The governor's is not the final word on Jammu and Kashmir, it is the Government of India's, which is why we are seeking a clear statement from them."
"It is not in their interest to have a restive and unsettled Jammu and Kashmir," he said.
Omar said that the governor's assurances were on one hand, and on the other were the recent developments, which had unfolded "like a chain reaction". Omar said that these decisions (the spike in troops) are fairly routine and understandable when taken in isolation, but the series of development have created fear and panic among the citizens; Kashmiris are being kept in the dark.
Non-local students in NIT, Srinagar take an early vacation
A day after the Jammu and Kashmir government ordered tourists and Amarnath pilgrims to leave the Valley in the wake of "terror threats", non-local students studying in Srinagar's National Institute of Technology were also seen being ferried out of the Kashmir region.
The announcement to curtail the pilgrimage, one of the steadiest source of tourism-related income for many Kashmiris, came close on the heels of an unexplained troop surge in the State, which is already one of the most militarised regions of the world.
On Saturday morning, hundreds of non-local students from the premier engineering institute were seen waiting for the government buses along with their luggage. On Friday evening, the institute had ordered suspension of all the classwork from Saturday on the "instructions received from the District Administration Srinagar."
However, Srinagar deputy commissioner Shahid Iqbal Choudhary denied these reports. He claimed that the administration has not issued any advisory for the closure of institutions but had merely asked the administration to "remain careful."
"In wake of unstoppable rumours, heads of all institutions were advised in the day to remain careful. No advise/instructions for shutting down any institution. This NIT notice is apparently a miscommunication," Choudhary said in a tweet on Friday.
In wake of unstoppable rumours, heads of all institutions were advised in the day to remain careful. No advise/instructions for shutting down any institution. This NIT notice is apparently a miscommunication. pic.twitter.com/Og9WarThID
— Shahid Choudhary (@listenshahid) August 2, 2019
However, officials at the institute confirmed that the government has asked them to vacate the hostels of institutions and send students home. "All the students have been evacuated. While we have asked local students to go home, government has allotted buses to ferry non-local students outside the valley. The authorities didn’t give any reason behind the suspension of class work," an official from the institute said on the condition of anonymity.
According to officials, 26 buses from the government's State Road Transport Corporation have been pressed into service to ferry the students to Jammu.
However, Chowdhary told Greater Kashmir, that the transport facilities were provided on the insistence of the NIT administration. The NIT administration, meanwhile, 'regretted' the erroneous notice and sought to put on record that the institute already had vacations planned, which were to begin next week. The NIT stressed that the plan preceded the beginning of the prevailing situation and should not be attributed to it, the newspaper reported.
Governor says panic unnecessary
The development comes in the wake of state government’s advisory on Friday to tourists and Amarnath Yatris to "curtail their stay in Valley" immediately keeping in view the "intelligence inputs of terror threats with specific targeting of the Amarnath Yatra, and given the prevailing situation in Kashmir Valley."
This came even as Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik continued to insist that the panic was "unnecessary" calling the sudden surge in troop deployment a "pure security measure."
The Indian Air Force’s Lockheed Martin C-130s are said to be bringing in additional troops on Saturday morning. This comes just days after the Ministry of Home Affairs had deployed 100 additional companies of paramilitary personnel in the Valley. The state police also withdrew security from a number of shrines, mosques and even some courts, apparently to channel all resources in addressing the "arising security situation", News18 reported.
When a delegation of mainstream political parties met Malik on Friday evening, his office noted, "There were serious and credible inputs which were available to the security agencies regarding terrorist attacks on the Amarnath Yatra... It is in this context that the government had issued an advisory asking Yatris and tourists to return as soon as possible,"
"A pure security measure is being mixed up with issues with which it has no connection. That is the cause of the panic," he said and requested the leaders to ask their supporters "not to mix up matters, to maintain calm and not believe exaggerated rumours being circulated all around".
Rumours afloat, Kashmiris prepare for the worst
Meanwhile, the Kashmir Valley continues to remain in the grip of uncertainty and panic following the Friday order.
Despite the governor's assurance that there were no plans to abrogate Article 35A of the Constitution, which gives special powers to Jammu and Kashmir, the locals were seen preparing for quick escalation in situation, should the government make any unpopular decisions that may lead to a possible conflict in the strife-torn region.
There is also speculation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi might break convention and choose to hoist the national flag from Kashmir instead of the Red Fort in New Delhi on 15 August, when India celebrates its Independence Day.
Flag hoisting in Srinagar remains a sensitive issue, where local authorities have stopped overzealous citizens from hoisting Indian flag in the city's main square, Lal Chowk, in the past. However, the flag is traditionally hoisted on Republic and Independence Day every year by security forces since 1991, barring few occasions when the law and order situation was precarious.
Since early Saturday morning, people continued to line up outside petrol pumps, ATMs and pharmacy shops. With locals apprehensive of a major crackdown, or a conflict situation resulting from any unpopular announcement the central government may be planning to make, the residents have been stocking supplies of essential commodities like rice, flour and other eatables.
"I sold 30 bags of rice within three hours of the Friday advisory. On normal days, this kind of sale would have taken place over a month or so. People are mostly stocking rice, flour and cooking oil,” said Fayaz Ahmad, a grocery store owner in Srinagar city’s commercial hub Lal Chowk.
Chowdhury advised people to remain calm and stressed their was no need for 'panic shopping. "In Srinagar district we have sufficient stocks of all essentials including food, fuels and medicines. Roads are open, replenishment is routine. People are requested to avoid hoarding and panic shopping," he tweeted.
So far, 363 pilgrims have been moved out of Kashmir from the Baltal route, the point from where the pilgrimage begins. Local reporters say that the evacuation of the tourists will be concluded by evening. Around 1.75 lakh pilgrims had registered for undertaking the journey to the shrine in batches starting from 28 June till 15 August.
With inputs from Safwat Zargar
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Updated Date: Aug 03, 2019 18:38:29 IST