Kashmir unrest: Faith in mainstream politics crumbles in Valley, with growing calls for PDP-BJP split

In the Kashmir Valley, the return of normalcy after last year’s unrest following Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s killing has proved to be superficial. The violence that rocked Srinagar and Budgam during 9 April’s Lok Sabha by-election and the subsequent student protests across the major towns last week have again made the situation volatile.

The intensity of the student protests forced the state government to temporarily shut down educational institutions across the state. But that has not brought calm. Worried by further flare-ups, authorities have now imposed internet restrictions and a month-long ban on social media websites. Such large-scale mobilisation of students has jolted the PDP-BJP coalition government. There were also some rumblings within the coalition on the government’s inept handling of the student protests.

 Kashmir unrest: Faith in mainstream politics crumbles in Valley, with growing calls for PDP-BJP split

Representational image. PTI

Amidst this chaos, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti rushed to New Delhi on 24 April to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh to discuss the security situation in the Valley. After the meetings, Mehbooba assured them that the situation in the Valley would improve in the next two to three months.While Mehbooba appeared to be optimistic about getting a handle on the present situation, ground realities were playing out differently. And while she was holding meetings in New Delhi, students in the Valley had again taken to the streets demanding an apology from the security forces for beating students in a college in Pulwama, a week earlier. In Srinagar, protests spilled out into the city’s commercial hub Lal Chowk, where the agitating students blocked roads and held up traffic. The students are still clearly in no mood to relent.

The deteriorating situation has caused worries among locals.

"People wanted the PDP-BJP government to look at the Kashmir issue, the way Atal Bihari Vajpayee had looked at it," Sameer Ahmad from Anantnag told Firstpost. He believes that the present government has lost ground by using "excessive force to quell the protests".

The perception that mainstream politics is losing ground in the Valley is also gaining traction — evident in the seven percent voter turnout in Srinagar coupled with the violence in various places in Budgam. A PDP cadre from Anantnag, who wished not to be named, is worried about his party. "People have lost trust in mainstream politics, which was evident in the low voter turnout and violence in the Srinagar bypolls. The PDP made a mistake by forming an alliance with the BJP," he told Firstpost, adding, "Now, they should implement a sustainable strategy by bringing all the stakeholders to the table — something they had discussed before the 2014 Assembly election."

Engineer Abdul Rashid, the firebrand MLA from Langate in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district, while speaking to Firstpost, expressed his anger at the previous governments in Kashmir. He said, "They (governments) did nothing. They have been representing New Delhi in Kashmir, rather than representing Kashmir in New Delhi." He reiterated the idea that people have lost trust in mainstream politics. "The only way to win the trust back is by resolving Kashmir issue as per the UN Resolution," he claimed.

Looking at the situation in Srinagar, the Election Commission has now postponed the Anantnag Loksabha bypoll to 25 May, but the PDP is less than confident that the situation will improve by then. Despite Anantnag being the party's bastion, it is demanding that the by-election be deferred further.

PDP general secretary Nizamudin Bhat said, "The space has shrunk for the mainstream politics for the time being. It has happened in the past as well," He pointed out that earlier election boycotts have been far more serious than the present one. "There are historical reasons for the low voter turnout, like continued mis-governance, trust deficit and Delhi’s (Central government’s) apathy towards Kashmir," he said.

Many in the Valley are of the opinion that people feel betrayed by the PDP joining hands with the BJP. Abdul Majeed Larmi, the National Conference’s MLA from Homeshalibugh constituency in Kulgam told Firstpost, "Kashmir’s new generation has realised that the Indian government has only betrayed the people till now. They have completely lost trust in mainstream politics and politicians." He believes that there is no space left for mainstream politics. "The situation is not going to be normal until some concrete solution is found," he added.

For some Kashmiris, until the PDP parts ways with the BJP, the situation will not normalise.

"Mehbooba is simply whiling away her time in power. She can’t bring the situation under control because the Modi-led government is reluctant to engage the Hurriyat and Pakistan — the main parties of this conflict," said Ishaq Beigh, a writer and political analyst, "Mehbooba should surrender before the people and break the coalition with the BJP, which is not paying any attention to her genuine demands," he said.

The recent statements by the BJP leaders against the stone-pelting youth, by terming them 'traitors' and suggesting that 'they can only be dealt with using bullets' have only made matters worse. Reacting to it, Bhat said, "Statements are not the real cause of anger. The reason for anger lies in history, lack of leadership and the loss of society."

Clearly the task is cut out in the months ahead for the governments in New Delhi and Srinagar to restore trust in mainstream politics in the Valley, while keeping the unrest and protests at bay.

Updated Date: Apr 28, 2017 10:23:16 IST