Written By: Bharat Bhushan, BS
The Kashmiris have Delhi confounded. They have refused to engage the security forces in street confrontations. Their children are not queuing up to take up arms and by and large there has been no significant targeting of security posts and establishments. Having taken a ‘bold’ step in Jammu and Kashmir, decision makers in New Delhi seem undecided about how to deal with the evolving civil disobedience in the Valley.
More than two months after the lockdown, upset Kashmiris are refusing to open their business establishments, notwithstanding the government’s exhortations through newspaper advertisements. Wherever restrictions are lifted in the Valley, people impose their own brand of civil disobedience they call “civil curfew”. This involves closure of business establishments for most of the working day. Shops open either a couple of hours in the morning or evening. The market closure is spontaneous. This form of passive resistance to the state, denying it the symbols of normality – was never witnessed in Kashmir earlier.
The full page newspaper advertisements issued in J&K enjoining people to open their shops and establishments disingenuously suggest that the shopkeepers are under pressure from armed militants. While there have been stray incidents of militants urging people to shut shops – a shopkeeper was even killed in the early days of the lockdown – but subsequently there is no evidence that their influence is widespread. If the militants are really to blame then the government must ask itself how a hundred-odd militants are able to control more than 80 lakh people in the Valley? And it must further ask what then does the state administration control with the assistance of an estimated 9 lakh security personnel deployed there?
In a bid to ‘convince’ the Kashmiris, the speeches of a senior minister who is at the forefront of the Modi government’s Kashmir policy are apparently being translated into Urdu. Either the government is groping in the dark or it has become a victim of its own propaganda. People the world over understand when they are being slighted irrespective of the language used by those in power.
If the civil disobedience of the Kashmiris continues the government would have few options. Without restoration of a semblance of “normalcy” it cannot be repackaged for national and international propaganda. Nor can the government use force to restore business as usual. Any use of force can precipitate a violent confrontation with the people, an outcome that policy makers in Delhi want to avoid at any cost. It would give the lie to those who have been shouting from the rooftops that not a single bullet has been fired and the ground situation is therefore normal. The Kashmiri civil disobedience, has therefore become a major headache for the government.
Today it is hard to find any Kashmiris who stand with India. It would seem that they have finally cut the psychological umbilical cord with India. Perhaps their disillusionment with India as an inclusive, diverse and thriving democracy is complete.
Their disappointment is not only with the Modi government. The people of the Valley feel abandoned by the entire Indian political class. The Bharatiya Janata Party government after all only did what it had promised in its election manifesto. What has shocked them more is that not a single other political party or national leader has asked for the restoration of status quo ante by reinstating Article 370 and the pre-August 5 status of the state. Even the Opposition parties have not objected to the dramatic decision taken through subterfuge to remove the special status of the state and its bifurcation through a presidential ordinance. In giving parliamentary approval to the decisions, they have only objected to the absence of consultation – i.e. to the process by which it was done.
The judiciary has also appeared partisan on events in Kashmir. It has avoided taking quick and judicially sound decisions for protection of civil liberties of the citizens in the state. By allowing suspension of these rights, by default it has discarded well-established judicial principles. Petitions challenging the government’s constitutional and administrative decisions, restrictions on freedom of expression by cutting communication links that make it difficult for the media to function freely and even writs for habeas corpus have been repeatedly adjourned. Strangely the apex court has been adjudicating visitation rights of detained Kashmiri politicians which are normally governed by the Jail Manual. It has also offered its unsolicited opinion that considerations of national security supersede citizens’ rights in Kashmir in the present situation.
The disappointment with Indian civil society is equally acute. Abandoned and isolated, the more political among them warn their friends of the long-term consequences of their silence for the rest of the country.
It is no surprise then that Kashmiris have mentally shut themselves off from India and Indians. This is why neither government propaganda nor stray sympathetic attempts by Indian civil society to open a dialogue with them is likely to fetch results.
The government will go ahead with Block Development Council (BDC) elections later this month as planned. Whether that will allow it to project the Kashmir situation as business as usual is uncertain. Like the village body elections, sullen Kashmiris are unlikely to go to the polling booths on October 24. As in the elections for Panchs and Sarpanchs, the government may produce acceptable poll data by using the turnout in Jammu region to “average” out the figures. But that is unlikely to make those elected any more acceptable to people in the Valley. The new elected council members may well have to live as guests of the government in hotels in Srinagar, unable to travel back to their villages and face public anger. This is what those ‘elected’ to village panchayats last December have had to do in the Valley.
It is increasingly clear is that after August 5, Kashmiris feel that this is the end of the road for politics within India. In their assessment, all avenues of normal politics have ended and a phase of controlling them from Delhi has begun.